Dear 100 Hour Board,
For those writers that served foreign-speaking missions, have you found effective ways to keep up your language skills? I'm coming up on five years having returned home, and worry that I'll lose the skill I worked hard to learn while serving. Beyond praying and reading the scriptures in your mission language, what other opportunities have you found to keep your skills sharp?
Well I minored in my mission language, so that helped. I also try to listen to music in Spanish, read books in Spanish (I'm not huge on reading translations of books that were originally written in English, but I do try to read books by Latino authors that were originally written in Spanish), and most important of all, talk to people in Spanish. I usually don't talk to random strangers in Spanish, because I think it's pretentious for me to assume that I speak better Spanish than they speak English, but I do have several native speaker friends who I speak with, and that's been the biggest thing for me keeping up my grasp of the language. Anything I do by myself, or even speaking with gringos who also know Spanish, isn't nearly as helpful for maintaining my ability to both understand and speak well as having extended conversations with native speakers is.
I agree with Alta that speaking with people is the best way to keep up language skills. The tricky part though is finding opportunities to do so. I'm currently living in foreign language housing at BYU and I love it so much. Immersion is the way to go, so if you can find a way to be immersed such as travel, that would be great. Here are some other ideas to keep sharp without staying immersed:
- Use it at work: Language skills are useful. See if there's some ways to utilize your language skills in your job. Plus, if you work for an international company, using your language skills can lead to paid travel which is amazing.
- Go to church in a different language: This isn't always an option, but in areas where the church is fairly strong there are often branches that hold their meetings in foreign languages.
- Talk to people from your mission: Catch up with the people you met on the mission. I've found sending voice recordings back and forth to be the most effective for me language practice wise.
- Listen to music: Listening to music is good, but it's better if you learn the lyrics to songs so that you can practice vocab.
- Start/Join a book club: Book clubs are great because you read and discuss in your target language. If you have friends that speak the same language as you do it's a great way for all of you to practice together.
- Watch TV series/Movies: I know a lot of people who learned English just by watching movies and TV series in English. I'm sure the reverse works just as well.
- Visit places where people speak the language: most cities of decent size have ethnic supermarkets or restaurants. I'm with Alta about talking to strangers, but if I'm in a places where menus or labels are in Spanish I feel a lot less pretentious speaking Spanish. Really big cities even have whole neighborhoods or communities that use a foreign language. If there's somewhere like that near you, that's a good place to practice.
I hope this helps! I'm sure there are a lot of other ways to practice that I haven't thought of yet. If any of our readers have novel suggestions feel free to leave a correction.