I'd like some advice about preventing
October 11, 2007 6:19 PM   Subscribe

I'd like some advice about preventing "regression" in the ability to speak a foreign language. If I am away from communicating in a foreign language for a few days, it feels like I might have lost it. That's because when I start speaking, I don't feel like I can get into it.

It really comes down to a case of"brain freeze." That basically means that when I want to use combinations of words that I have already spit out thousands of times before, they won't come to me. (Watching or reading material in the language while I am away from it doesn't seem to help.)

Of course, after struggling for about a half an hour or a bit longer, I start to ease into the different language and access the previously-used speech patterns.

But shouldn't it be easier than than that? Sometimes I feel like it would be so nice to feel at ease in a foreign language when I start speaking it and not after a long struggle to get back into it.

Any tips to get my brain to switch into a language with less of a struggle?
posted by gregb1007 to Writing & Language (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
perhaps you could do a video blog in the other language even if you keep your posts private for only your viewing. Or perhaps read out loud.
posted by meeshell at 6:33 PM on October 11, 2007

Drinking. I mean it.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:54 PM on October 11, 2007

Turn on TV or radio in that language as background noise when you're at home/in the car/whatever as often as possible. It will feel more natural to start speaking if you've been hearing it frequently.
posted by xanthippe at 7:41 PM on October 11, 2007

Perhaps it wouldn't necessarily be productive to use the language with people in your daily life who speak a different language, but it could be helpful to use it with people/non-people who/that don't speak, i.e. babies, pets, lost objects, etc.

Crazy? Probably. Effective. Quite. They're not going to judge you because they really don't understand what you're saying anyway (although, I'm almost positive the fat tabby cat down the street from me knows a little espaƱol. or just likes burritos...)

Try to think out loud in the target language. Learn some curse words to yell when you get cut off in traffic. Write all of your notes/to-do lists in the language. Basically, incorporate it into your life as much as possible.

What language are you learning, by the way?
posted by chara at 8:26 PM on October 11, 2007

Tim Ferriss, self-fulfilling 'success story' writer, wrote about this a little while ago.
posted by tmcw at 8:33 PM on October 11, 2007

I don't have the short-term consolidation problem, but I have a big long-term vocabulary and syntax loss in my 3rd and 4th languages: French and German.

My solution: I watch French and German TV news once a week (SBS carries them in Australia, but you may have to look for cable, satellite or -gasp- internet video feeds), and I repeat every second sentence at the screen in tv-anchor tones. I parrot the intonation, try to get the prounciation right, and type all words I think I recognise but don't understand into a monolingual online dictionary.

Yes, I look like a cross between an idiot and a madman, but last week I had a conversation with a French fellow student and we both agreed that I had gotten significantly better in the two months I have been doing it.

That's with two languages, one hour a week (half an hour each), but I once was pretty much fluent in French (not so in German). You may need higher frequency, maybe 15 minutes three times a week. That's what I did 20 years ago, the first time I learnt French, and boy did it pay.

As I have said in a previous AskMeFi thread, you would also do well to find tv advertising compilations, because this method works even better with ads. Advertising slogans are very idiomatic, rymed, and the ads are often humorous. In any case, they can be more entertaining than the news, especially if you are not interested in the politics of the countries where your chosen language is spoken, on in stories about kittens in any language.
posted by kandinski at 9:08 PM on October 11, 2007

There used to be a site called LingUp for language-exchange chatting (text and voice), but it appears to be DOA now.

Alternatively, you can use Skype, provided you have someone to practice with.
posted by Brittanie at 1:29 AM on October 12, 2007

Half an hour doesn't seem too bad to be honest. I get even something similar with my native English after prolonged cabin-fever writing sessions punctuated only by trips to the shops to speak two sentences in my second language.
Having got the Captain Negative bit said, have you tried actually just translating stuff on the fly in your head or even out loud? I know practising without the back-and-forth of real conversation can be a bit bad, but you can fake it up a bit by responding to native-language stimulii - even if just in your head.
posted by Abiezer at 3:10 AM on October 12, 2007

Ditto that -- mumble to yourself. Keep up a constant narrative in your L2. It'll make you feel like a tool, but it's a great way of keeping your second-language muscles exercised.
posted by bokane at 3:43 AM on October 12, 2007

I agree with chara, just think in that language a lot. You can do it anytime you're not talking or otherwise engaging your brain. For example, while eating, walking, shopping, bathing, having sex, gardening, doing laundry, etc.

You can just talk inside your head and say anything you want. If you're stumped about what to say, just look around and start describing things -- the way things look, what they're doing, what you think about things. You can have imaginary conversations with people in the grocery store, or at your job.

Also, I agree with kandinski, but I have to add that watching DVDs in your computer is even better, because you can pause, replay, turn on the subtitles just for a minute to check and make sure, look things up online, etc.

Don't "go away from the foreign language for a few days"!
posted by strangeguitars at 4:31 AM on October 12, 2007

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