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cue eye-rolling and people muttering 'how long is a piece of string'

bear with me though - I'm just curious as to how other people approach maintaining their non-native languages. How long do you spend, how frequently, and what do you focus on? Acquiring new vocabulary? Brushing up on rusty grammar? And specific to interpreting - do you practice sim more than cons? Thanks!

asked 12 Mar '16, 08:48

Jack%20Taylor's gravatar image

Jack Taylor

It's a blurred line between active maintenance, living your life abroad, and working as an interpreter - all of which contribute to maintaining your languages. But he's a rough idea of my week...

I have FR DE and PL as C languages. I live in France so I get plenty of all sorts of French - wife, TV, papers, life in general. It's difficult to put a figure on that in hours, but it's a few a week!
Also I do most of my interpreting work from French and German, that includes several hours reading documents in preparation each week, which I would include in your 'how much'. I also spend 3-4 days in Germany most months (for work, but it's also immersion and therefore maintenance!) Because of the above I find it's mostly, but not only, Polish that I do extra homework on. To balance things out if I read novels then they tend to be in Polish, sometimes German. Do I read for 2 hours a week? Probably on average, yes. I also listen to about 2 hours of political interviews in Polish each week (podcasts). That keeps me up with current affairs and is also the style and register of the Polish I have to interpret. I look at newspapers as well of course, but not for more than a few minutes.

Whatever figure you come up with for 'hours per week', you have to be able to maintain that rhythm for years, not weeks. I see now that it's the constant repetition of subject matter, language, and information over the years that has been most useful, not the fact of having read about something once ever. That repetition is only possible with massive quantities of language going in, and that in turn is only possible over years and years.

To keep all that up I think you have to be doing stuff you enjoy. So find anything you enjoy in a foreign language and spend time on that. Or teach yourself to be curious about all sorts of stuff and start enjoying new stuff. (I used to read specialist magazines (aviation, potholing, finance, law etc) in Polish and German and developed interests in some unlikely technical areas!)

For a nice explanation of why we forget stuff and why we should keep working on our languages have a look at Gile's Gravitational Model of Language Acquisition.

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answered 13 Mar '16, 05:14

Andy's gravatar image


One quick addition to Andy's excellent answer is that we don't always live in the country of our A language, and we need to maintain that one as well.

As someone from the US and much more exposed to British English here, I make a point of knowing where pronunciations (capillary, respiratory, controversy, Peshawar, etc.) and usage (to table a document, to be sick vs ill, "quite" as a modifier, pavement - which caused 30 minutes of incomprehension in a meeting, etc.) differ. I make sure to watch US news programs as well as listen to the BBC, and also keep up with the different news each covers as well.

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answered 15 Mar '16, 09:11

JuliaP's gravatar image


Just a quick not-so-related question: do you think English Bs should take different accents into account when they weigh their school options in English countries? I feel it is very easy to pick up mixed accents/usages for non-natives. Like right now I find myself occasionally speak in British intonation with American pronunciation and sometimes I get my tongue tied with confusing impression on a word's pronunciations.

(15 Mar '16, 21:36) EliChang

Hi Eli, why not ask this as a separate question. As you so, it's not really related to the one above, but I bet it's something people will be interested in.

(19 Mar '16, 12:06) Andy

OK I will. Thank you.

(19 Mar '16, 12:32) EliChang
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question asked: 12 Mar '16, 08:48

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