Growing up in America, I spoke English at home my whole life. It's pretty normal in American culture to only know one language—English, even if your family speaks more than one. I often begged my mother to teach me her native language of Tagalog but I never ended up learning it. It felt odd to me that I only spoke one language and my cousins halfway across the world all spoke at least three. But then one day my world changed.
High school forced me to study a language and while I opted for French or Latin, I got placed in Mandarin Chinese. Yup. It was totally scary at first. Something so different than what I'm used to. But after my first class I was totally hooked. I went on to study it in college, living in China for a bit, working for some Chinese companies as well. Now I've also studied German, Arabic, and Spanish. But now that I've graduated from school, live in America again, and am no longer working or taking classes, how do I keep up my language skills?
Here are some tips that I've cultivated through my time of trying to keep up.
1. Set small, reasonable goals
When I first started I was setting huge, ridiculous goals. For example—EVERY DAY I wanted to study Chinese for at least two hours a day, watch a Chinese show, listen to Chinese music, and talk to my friends who also studied Chinese. But sometimes if life—you're just tired. I was working 40 hours a week, trying to work out, cooking for myself, trying to make friends.
So instead of starting big, I started small. My close friend who also studied Chinese with me set a goal with me that we would spend every Wednesday talking to each other in Chinese. We texted/called each other almost every day anyway so one day a week helped us practice and slowly get back into the swing of things without getting overwhelmed.
2. Change your phone language to the language you want to learn
Hear me out. It sounds crazy but when you think of it how often are you on your phone? If you change your phone language you'll look at it so often you'll start to naturally memorize certain words and phrases. This also keeps the language in your mind often. Regardless, you'll be surprised how much muscle memory you have with your phone. ;)
If it gets tiring or you need to use directions while driving, you can always change it back!
3. Don't beat yourself up
Sounds cheesy but its true. Learning a language can be incredibly difficult especially if you're trying on your own. It's easy to forget about it. But I truly think if you start small and incorporate language-related tasks into your life slowly things will only get easier.