Returning to a language where you once had fluency

General discussion about learning languages
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tactical_buddhist
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Returning to a language where you once had fluency

Postby tactical_buddhist » Tue Dec 22, 2020 2:25 am

Right now my decreasing level of Spanish appears to be B1, but I would put it at C1 about 15 years ago (couple of semesters in college studying abroad). I have tried maintaining it by going to Latin America once or twice a year and taking a week of language classes, but in the COVID environment that isn't possible. Those trips were also great on maintaining my ability and getting me excited to study grammar or read the news at least for a few months before life would get busy.

I would like to work on Spanish but I don't know where to begin at the intermediate level. I can still listen to the news and understand most is said and can read books in Spanish, but producing Spanish is the challenge. Has anyone else faced a similar issue? What methods work for you?
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Re: Returning to a language where you once had fluency

Postby Caromarlyse » Tue Dec 22, 2020 10:58 am

I've been reviving my German over the past year in similar circumstances. I studied it at university, finishing around 20 years ago, and was somewhere in C1 (the levels didn't exist then though!). I did courses at the Goethe Institut (with not a huge amount of diligence given work demands) about a couple of years out and then again in 2009, but then only properly picked it up again a year ago. I read an easy novel first then tried online conversation with a tutor, which was a massive kick in the teeth as he was, I felt, very patronising and had me reading texts graded A2 and asked me if I understood them. I dumped him, and found someone else, who I've been using to work through B2, using textbooks. She was better at the beginning in looking at my level holistically, and not judging it all on my rusty speaking. I like having a structured approach, but I've also been consuming native media alongside the textbook/lessons. I've also been going systematically through a grammar workbook - I've done the B level one now, and am going to move onto the C level one next. I'm now back up to where I was in 2009, I think, i.e. going back to start with a C1 textbook that was actually the book I was meant to be studying from in the course back in 2009, albeit a newer edition. I've found the grammar is still there, and apparently I'm pretty accurate (no doubt thanks to the academic background), but my fluency leaves a little to be desired and I struggle with vocab. Not sure if any of that will be helpful, as it's just what I've been doing and I can't say whether it's optimal! But essentially some structure so I don't have to invent what to do and also so I fill in gaps in my knowledge, some speaking practice, and lots of reading/listening of native stuff (because it's good in and of itself but also because it's not as demanding, can be fun/interesting, and is far easier to fit in than actual study).
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Re: Returning to a language where you once had fluency

Postby tactical_buddhist » Tue Dec 22, 2020 3:55 pm

Caromarlyse wrote:I've been reviving my German over the past year in similar circumstances. I studied it at university, finishing around 20 years ago, and was somewhere in C1 (the levels didn't exist then though!). I did courses at the Goethe Institut (with not a huge amount of diligence given work demands) about a couple of years out and then again in 2009, but then only properly picked it up again a year ago. I read an easy novel first then tried online conversation with a tutor, which was a massive kick in the teeth as he was, I felt, very patronising and had me reading texts graded A2 and asked me if I understood them. I dumped him, and found someone else, who I've been using to work through B2, using textbooks. She was better at the beginning in looking at my level holistically, and not judging it all on my rusty speaking. I like having a structured approach, but I've also been consuming native media alongside the textbook/lessons. I've also been going systematically through a grammar workbook - I've done the B level one now, and am going to move onto the C level one next. I'm now back up to where I was in 2009, I think, i.e. going back to start with a C1 textbook that was actually the book I was meant to be studying from in the course back in 2009, albeit a newer edition. I've found the grammar is still there, and apparently I'm pretty accurate (no doubt thanks to the academic background), but my fluency leaves a little to be desired and I struggle with vocab. Not sure if any of that will be helpful, as it's just what I've been doing and I can't say whether it's optimal! But essentially some structure so I don't have to invent what to do and also so I fill in gaps in my knowledge, some speaking practice, and lots of reading/listening of native stuff (because it's good in and of itself but also because it's not as demanding, can be fun/interesting, and is far easier to fit in than actual study).


That is helpful. I still understand almost everything and my accent is quite good so people assume I am fluent after a few sentences but then the wheels fall off the cart and I make simple mistakes.

Do you do sentences or conjugate verbs? How are you producing in the language? I need to use the language but just doing grammar exercises or watching TV doesn't seem to do much for me.
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Re: Returning to a language where you once had fluency

Postby Cèid Donn » Tue Dec 22, 2020 7:04 pm

I am in a similar situation with German as well. At times, it's been frustrating because I feel like I should know things that I've forgotten and I want my German skills to come back to me more quickly than they are. Yadda yadda yadda. Managing that frustration has been a big part of reviving my German.

I think the most crucial thing in a situation like this is to identify your weaknesses, especially if you feel that producing your target language is difficult. In most case, that difficulty is rooted in a feedback loop we get into when we are aware of our weaknesses to some degree and it makes us overthink things and it just tanks our confidence. So the key is to shore up your weaknesses.

For me, I lost a significant amount of more advanced vocabulary even though I have retained a lot of kind of vocabulary anyone learns with German up to B1 level--common words and high frequency words., that sort of stuff.

The other weakness I have is with grammar, in particular with recalling a lot of the more precise and nuanced grammar that has become fuzzy and vague, like case endings, more complex sentence structures and certain fussy prepositions--the kind of stuff that wasn't a lot of fun to learn the first time around and even less fun trying to review them after a decade of not using German. :lol:

Anyhow, knowing what my weaknesses were let me focus on what resources that would be most worth my time. In my case, I decided on:

  • Reading at as an advanced level as I was comfortable with, to expose myself to grammar and vocabulary I had forgotten. For me, that was texts aimed at advanced learners or more general stuff like fiction for native speakers that isn't super difficult. With a language you have known at an advanced level in past, you want to aim for a reasonable degree of reading comprehension. I'm a believer in extensive reading, but not for this. You need to be able to understand what you are reading so your brain can start putting those stray pieces of memory back into place. If you need to look up some words or phrases, that's fine, even native speakers have to do that sometimes, but if it's completely going over your head, do not feel bad about finding more accessible reading to help build your skills back up. Start at a level that you can build up from.
  • Vocabulary training to rebuild vocabulary. In my case I'm using Memrise, as they have a lot of German courses (Spanish too) for all levels, but there are plenty of options for this, like Anki, Quizlet or offline methods like flash cards or writing out wordlists. But you gotta do this--there is simply no substitute for having a solid vocabulary. Even if you feel confident with more common vocabulary, start learning some new words and expand your vocabulary. You can never know too many words.
  • Grammar workbooks and oral drills. In my case I didn't need to get anything new as I have a ton of this stuff from years backs. Oral drills especially are very helpful for rebuilding confidence with speaking your TL. In my case, I do conjugation drills where I recite verb conjugation out loud, as well as shadowing 50languages audio files from their Phrasebook.
  • Dictation with audio of well-written texts that have a precise transcription. I learned German in school and we did dictation the old fashion way with the teacher reading a text slowly, including saying the punctuation out loud in German, and we were graded on every detail. Unfortunately, it can be really hard to find resources to replicate that without a paid teacher, but I'm making do with the listening portions of past papers for German certification testing--there are various places online to get these sorts of things for free, for several different languages, but at the moment I'm using the ones you can get at SQA.
  • Easy German on You Tube. Their videos are really good for advancing learners because expose you to a wide variety of topics and vocabulary without it being too tedious. They also make Easy Spanish videos too, and I suspect that those are largely the same sort of format as the Easy German one. I haven't seen too many of the Spanish ones to have an opinion.

If I could afford the kind of tutor that could help me at my level and who was good enough of a tutor to respect my needs, I probably would get one. But since I can't, I don't use a tutor. If that's an affordable option for you, great, it can help a lot with keeping you motivated. But if you can't find a tutor that suits you, it's OK. The truth about language learning is it's all about the work you put into. Tutors are mainly good for answering your questions, giving you feedback and keeping you on track (and I used be an English writing skills tutor, so I know ;) ) and you can largely find what you need in those areas through language learning communities like this one and a bit of self-discipline and determination.

Lastly, I think it's really important to make the learning process enjoyable and not excessively tedious, so I also do other things like watching German films and TV and follow for German Twitter accounts to just keep my motivation with German going and have fun, because it can be a bit of a slog to work my wonky, sad German. But again, once you identify your own weakness, tailor your study regime around that. Good luck! :)
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Re: Returning to a language where you once had fluency

Postby Caromarlyse » Wed Dec 23, 2020 9:27 am

tactical_buddhist wrote:That is helpful. I still understand almost everything and my accent is quite good so people assume I am fluent after a few sentences but then the wheels fall off the cart and I make simple mistakes.

Do you do sentences or conjugate verbs? How are you producing in the language? I need to use the language but just doing grammar exercises or watching TV doesn't seem to do much for me.


Speaking with a tutor and writing, which I've been having corrected. The latter has picked up some stupid conjugation mistakes, i.e. things I knew when told but got wrong when not thinking. But even without corrections these things are useful in making you think and actively use the language. I use writing prompts from my textbook for German, but for another language I write a daily journal, and the big benefit of that is that I look up vocab that relevant to me - which doesn't always correspond to what is taught - and it gives you more of the day-to-day language practice rather than talking about some polemic. I agree that passive stuff alone isn't enough - the magic is in doing lots of different things, which then all serve to reinforce each other.
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Re: Returning to a language where you once had fluency

Postby tactical_buddhist » Wed Dec 23, 2020 4:56 pm

Cèid Donn wrote:I am in a similar situation with German as well. At times, it's been frustrating because I feel like I should know things that I've forgotten and I want my German skills to come back to me more quickly than they are. Yadda yadda yadda. Managing that frustration has been a big part of reviving my German.

I think the most crucial thing in a situation like this is to identify your weaknesses, especially if you feel that producing your target language is difficult. In most case, that difficulty is rooted in a feedback loop we get into when we are aware of our weaknesses to some degree and it makes us overthink things and it just tanks our confidence. So the key is to shore up your weaknesses.

For me, I lost a significant amount of more advanced vocabulary even though I have retained a lot of kind of vocabulary anyone learns with German up to B1 level--common words and high frequency words., that sort of stuff.

The other weakness I have is with grammar, in particular with recalling a lot of the more precise and nuanced grammar that has become fuzzy and vague, like case endings, more complex sentence structures and certain fussy prepositions--the kind of stuff that wasn't a lot of fun to learn the first time around and even less fun trying to review them after a decade of not using German. :lol:

Anyhow, knowing what my weaknesses were let me focus on what resources that would be most worth my time. In my case, I decided on:

  • Reading at as an advanced level as I was comfortable with, to expose myself to grammar and vocabulary I had forgotten. For me, that was texts aimed at advanced learners or more general stuff like fiction for native speakers that isn't super difficult. With a language you have known at an advanced level in past, you want to aim for a reasonable degree of reading comprehension. I'm a believer in extensive reading, but not for this. You need to be able to understand what you are reading so your brain can start putting those stray pieces of memory back into place. If you need to look up some words or phrases, that's fine, even native speakers have to do that sometimes, but if it's completely going over your head, do not feel bad about finding more accessible reading to help build your skills back up. Start at a level that you can build up from.
  • Vocabulary training to rebuild vocabulary. In my case I'm using Memrise, as they have a lot of German courses (Spanish too) for all levels, but there are plenty of options for this, like Anki, Quizlet or offline methods like flash cards or writing out wordlists. But you gotta do this--there is simply no substitute for having a solid vocabulary. Even if you feel confident with more common vocabulary, start learning some new words and expand your vocabulary. You can never know too many words.
  • Grammar workbooks and oral drills. In my case I didn't need to get anything new as I have a ton of this stuff from years backs. Oral drills especially are very helpful for rebuilding confidence with speaking your TL. In my case, I do conjugation drills where I recite verb conjugation out loud, as well as shadowing 50languages audio files from their Phrasebook.
  • Dictation with audio of well-written texts that have a precise transcription. I learned German in school and we did dictation the old fashion way with the teacher reading a text slowly, including saying the punctuation out loud in German, and we were graded on every detail. Unfortunately, it can be really hard to find resources to replicate that without a paid teacher, but I'm making do with the listening portions of past papers for German certification testing--there are various places online to get these sorts of things for free, for several different languages, but at the moment I'm using the ones you can get at SQA.
  • Easy German on You Tube. Their videos are really good for advancing learners because expose you to a wide variety of topics and vocabulary without it being too tedious. They also make Easy Spanish videos too, and I suspect that those are largely the same sort of format as the Easy German one. I haven't seen too many of the Spanish ones to have an opinion.

If I could afford the kind of tutor that could help me at my level and who was good enough of a tutor to respect my needs, I probably would get one. But since I can't, I don't use a tutor. If that's an affordable option for you, great, it can help a lot with keeping you motivated. But if you can't find a tutor that suits you, it's OK. The truth about language learning is it's all about the work you put into. Tutors are mainly good for answering your questions, giving you feedback and keeping you on track (and I used be an English writing skills tutor, so I know ;) ) and you can largely find what you need in those areas through language learning communities like this one and a bit of self-discipline and determination.

Lastly, I think it's really important to make the learning process enjoyable and not excessively tedious, so I also do other things like watching German films and TV and follow for German Twitter accounts to just keep my motivation with German going and have fun, because it can be a bit of a slog to work my wonky, sad German. But again, once you identify your own weakness, tailor your study regime around that. Good luck! :)



Wow, you have quite the process going. I started doing Clozemaster which is a great way to review and do some basic practicing. I learned everything once so review can get pretty boring but I really like the gaming environment. I have also started doing grammar lessons before I go to bed. I find it boring so I get some practice in and it does make me tired so a win-win.
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Re: Returning to a language where you once had fluency

Postby tactical_buddhist » Wed Dec 23, 2020 4:57 pm

Caromarlyse wrote:
tactical_buddhist wrote:That is helpful. I still understand almost everything and my accent is quite good so people assume I am fluent after a few sentences but then the wheels fall off the cart and I make simple mistakes.

Do you do sentences or conjugate verbs? How are you producing in the language? I need to use the language but just doing grammar exercises or watching TV doesn't seem to do much for me.


Speaking with a tutor and writing, which I've been having corrected. The latter has picked up some stupid conjugation mistakes, i.e. things I knew when told but got wrong when not thinking. But even without corrections these things are useful in making you think and actively use the language. I use writing prompts from my textbook for German, but for another language I write a daily journal, and the big benefit of that is that I look up vocab that relevant to me - which doesn't always correspond to what is taught - and it gives you more of the day-to-day language practice rather than talking about some polemic. I agree that passive stuff alone isn't enough - the magic is in doing lots of different things, which then all serve to reinforce each other.


I like the idea of a daily journal to practice so I will start to include that.
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Re: Returning to a language where you once had fluency

Postby leosmith » Fri Dec 25, 2020 2:07 am

tactical_buddhist wrote:Has anyone else faced a similar issue? What methods work for you?

Here is part of a post I made recently:
leosmith wrote:I'll relate an experience I had with Swahili. I learned the language 20 years ago to a B1 level, then dropped it completely for 17 years. Last December I relearned it for 3 months, with techniques I'd acquired since dropping it, to prepare for a trip to Tanzania, and reached a low B2 level.

My point is, there is a good chance that you can regain and even surpass your previous level in two or three months of study. My Swahili had dropped from B1 to A0 in those 17 years, then it took off like crazy when I got back to it. That's why I wonder about the occasional stories we hear regarding people forgetting their native language completely after 30 years, give or take. I wonder what would happen if they study them using solid language learning methods.
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Re: Returning to a language where you once had fluency

Postby IronMike » Sun Feb 21, 2021 7:56 am

I'll be doing this later this year with my BCS. At one point many years ago I was a 3L/2+R/2S in the language. Then I didn't use it for almost 20 years. In 2018 I tried to revive it, but didn't really have a plan, assuming I could rely on my prior knowledge. I was shocked when I got a 0+ on the Reading DLPT. I didn't sit for the Listening.

This coming fall I'm going to put my nose to the grindstone and get to work, with the goal of at least 1/1/1 (I'm being realistic, this time). That level is enough that I can then get one-on-one training with DLI instructors, which is really what works for me. Not sure yet what my revival plan will be, but if I had to decide now, it would look a lot like the multi-track approach (thanks as always, iguanamon) combined with L-R.
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Re: Returning to a language where you once had fluency

Postby Iversen » Sun Feb 21, 2021 7:20 pm

I got my final exam in French and literature (haha) from the university in January 1981, and at that point I could speak at least Danish (my native tongue), English, German, Spanish, Catalan, Italian and Romanian, and I could read a couple more, including Icelandic, Latin, Ancient French and Ancient Occitan. When I got out I discovered that jobs at the university level might not be easy to get, so instead of settling for a dismal life as a mere prof in French at the 'gymnasium' level I waited some time and then got the chance to take an economical exam. Unfortunately I got a temporary job when I was about to write the final dissertation, so I never finished that exam, but I learnt some really useful stuff there. And after another period of unemployment I got a brief elementary course in IT and managed to land a job, which I essentially kept for 29 years.

The point is that I quickly lost those those of my languages which I didn't use, like Latin, Romanian and to some extent Italian. English and German of course survived, and French too, albeit at a lower level. My Spanish also survived because of a series of trips to latin America in the mid 90s, but all in all the situation was rather disheartening. When I discovered HTLAL during my preparations for a trip to Romania and Moldova I decided to do an attempt to resuscitate my Romanian, and luckily I had the necessary tools - although my otherwise excellent grammar by the Swede Lombard was tiring to use because it basically was a copy of a typewritten manuscript. I couldn't not do a monolingual trip yet, but the attempt was just successful enough to wet my appetit on more language revivals. However the next language I learned was Portuguese (because of a trip to Cape Verde), and the strange thing was I acquired that language at least as fast as I could revive my Romanian.

When I have revived an old language I have always returned to ground zero and in several cases even reused the same materials I knew from my first initiation to the language - like for instance the Mikkelsen's "læsebog" ('reading book') in Latin, which is one of the most systematic textbooks I know in the language. A few few ago I spent some time over approx. a week or so to reawaken my Albanian, but it was never really active so that was only a temporary bandaid over a bleeding disaster - however I am now at a stage where I at least can get through even new texts with the help of a dictionary (and even better: a translation). I'll write more about Albanian in my log soon - I'm studying Corona in Albanian for the moment.

And right now I'm using the same approach to revive my deepfrozen Irish. I have started on page 1, line 1 of Harry Potter book 1, and that will be my text reference for a couple of weeks, like it was a couple of years ago. But I have also spent time collecting materials for a set of green sheets, using the same grammatical sources as a couple of years ago (primarily the very throrough and systematical Gramadach), and this time I hope that I can manage to compress almost twenty pages of copied material to a few green sheets of my own. I feel my progress is faster than last time, but one reason could be that I have decided not to be too fuzzy about the pronunciation since it is quite unlikely that I ever will get any chance to use the language in practice - and the weird pronunciation was one of my main reason for temporarily suspending Irish temporarily last time - a short pause that ended up lasting several years...
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