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Hi all,

I'm finding it harder to RE-learn (emphasis on "re") a forgotten language than to learn a new language, so I thought I'd ask for pro help. I've been doing self-study and spending time in a country where the language is spoken, but I still feel like I'm trying to touch up a faded painting and am missing too many spots! It's rather overwhelming.

Has anyone been through this? What worked and what didn't work for you? Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you!

asked 25 Jan '18, 08:41

TheInterpretator's gravatar image


edited 25 Jan '18, 08:42

Thank you for your answer regarding your experience with the language.

For me it is also harder to RE-learn a forgotten language than to learn a new one, so I can most certainly relate to that :). In my case, I think it's kinda psychological ;): learning things I once knew can be pretty frustrating as I don't feel like I'm making any real progress, and the fascination with a brand-new language is long gone.

My recent projects of this kind were easier than yours as I would get back to languages after a much shorter period of time. (I must admit discovering new languages is my hobby, and every time I'm learning something, I feel like I'm probably forgetting something else... with the exception of my working languages, of course.)

Anyway, with one of my languages I'm in a very similar situation to yours. I've studied it for two years at the university, and it was a pretty intensive course. A year later, I spent a month abroad, taking part in a very intensive summer course. When I got back home, I did quite a lot of self-study for several weeks and easily passed a B2 certificate in fall (in fact, I was getting close to C1 back then). This was 12 years ago... Ever since, my contact with the language has been very limited. Not surprisingly, my active skills have been reduced to the bare minimum. Now I'm thinking about getting back to this language (had I known 12 years ago I would work as a conference interpreter one day, I would have not let this language go that easily).

I've observed the biggest loss in vocabulary (especially the active one, including some pretty embarassing gaps in the simplest everyday words). However, re-learning those simple words is pretty effortless: if hear them/see them again once or twice (provided that I'm paying attention), they're back. Therefore, I would probably start with large amounts of passive input (TV, radio, podcasts; e-books are great because you can quickly look up unknown words). Talking to patient native speakers would be a great complement to that: going to your target language country is obviously a good idea, although I would try to re-learn a lot before going there, to profit from the stay abroad as much as possible. I would also take some one-to-one classes with a strong focus on conversations (this is what works best for me when I'm re-learning the language).

I'm different from Andy in that I would hate starting from scratch. This is exactly what would be "overwhelming" and boring rather than motivating for me, but this is very subjective, I suppose. In any case, I believe that an approach based more on ‘reviving’ than actual re-learning works better for me. However, I would certainly actively re-learn/revise the grammar, including the basics, to avoid leaving any gaps there.

My general observation is that whatever you once knew really well is pretty easy to bring back. On the other hand, words, grammar rules, skills you learned shortly before taking a break (the knowledge that was not consolidated properly) are much more tricky and will require more effort and real RE-learning.

You got me thinking, especially with this faded painting. I don't know whether this is true in your case but I have a general reflection that I may now be overestimating my past knowledge of the language in question. It's not that I didn't know it quite well (I've got papers to prove it ;)), what I mean here is a subjective feeling (how I felt when speaking this language). I think that in the meantime, as I worked on other languages, studied interpreting etc., I became more conscious and much more demanding, as far as language skills are concerned. Possibly, I wouldn't be now as happy with my level from the past as I was back then ;).

Well, it has been a lengthy post with lots of personal or perfectly obvious statements and much less advice ;), sorry for that! But as I wrote before, I think finding the right approach here is really very individual.

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answered 31 Jan '18, 15:22

Joanna's gravatar image



Thank you so much! You understand me :)

(24 Mar '18, 00:23) TheInterpret...

If there are that many holes in your "faded painting" then start from scratch. Then you'll see what you still know rather than what you've already forgotten and that way the experience will be motivating rather than "overwhelming". In general there are loads of posts here about advanced language learning and they would all apply at least in part, eg.

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answered 26 Jan '18, 07:44

Andy's gravatar image



It sounds like my situation was a bit different than yours, but here’s what I did.

My current C (French) was a forgotten language. I originally received my MA in conference interpreting with my languages being: English A (native, active), Russian B (non-native, active) and French C (passive). I ended up working English<>Russian for my first 14 years in the US, where working from a C was very rare in my market. I didn’t speak French, and rarely read it, for those 14 years. When I moved to Europe, it took me 3 years to bring it back up to a working level again.

What I found was that I had never really lost passive vocabulary, and I could read at a pretty high level, though having to look up words and expressions. I could hardly speak - until I went back to Nice, where I had spent my junior year in University. When I arrived in Nice I started speaking like I used to, with great fluency, probably horrible grammar, but with vocabulary limited to what I used to speak about years before. When I left, I couldn’t speak again. It was like being where I used to speak the language fluently opened a door that slammed shut once I left.

I kept reading, looking up words and expressions I didn't know. I also tried to prepare those meetings I was working English<>Russian in a French>English direction as well, gradually re-building my knowledge. I also watched French films with French subtitles, to make sure I was understanding what was being said. And I read articles on the same topic in all my languages, being very careful about the source of those articles, so the language levels were good.

As I said, it took me 3 years to be able to work from French again, though I can’t say I speak it well. My biggest barrier is that Russian, the foreign language I work into, has different grammar and, more importantly, different genders than French. So I have made the conscious decision not to worry about producing flawless French, but instead to make sure I understand it well.

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answered 25 Apr '18, 11:40

JuliaP's gravatar image


What was (roughly) your level before?

It could also be helpful if you wrote a bit about your previous 'history' with this language.

Do you aim at developing your passive or also your active skills? Are you thinking about working from this language in the booth?

I'm asking all these questions because I think the right approach here is a highly individual thing, and heavily dependent on your learning history and your current goals.

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answered 25 Jan '18, 11:08

Joanna's gravatar image


edited 25 Jan '18, 11:10

Thanks, Joanna!

I studied it for 2 years in college - it was a very demanding course (only 2 out of some 20 students managed the full course). I achieved what I considered upper intermediate level, though my professor said my skills were enough for a bilingual secretary job. That was 15 years ago!

At this point I'm hoping to get back to intermediate at least, and then take it from there, with the goal of making it an active language in the future (that's my intention but it's an overwhelming thought right now).

(26 Jan '18, 00:08) TheInterpret...
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question asked: 25 Jan '18, 08:41

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