by Robbie Kunz
In my early days of language learning, I thought that there was a line that could be crossed into the realm of “fluency”. That is that one day I could be studying along and then suddenly I would reach a certain number of words and know a certain amount of sentence structure and would be able to proclaim myself “fluent”. When I reached that line, I would no longer have any troubles in the language and would no longer need to study it anymore.
Unfortunately, I’ve come to realize that such a line doesn’t exist. The truth is, even in my native language, English, there are plenty of words that I do not know. I could spend many hours studying just to improve a language I’m already supposedly “fluent” in!
The same applies to foreign languages. There is no line separating “non-fluency” and “fluency”. Instead, you’ll most likely always be “studying” the language since there will always be new words that you won’t know.
If you simply reach the level that you’re happy at and then stop studying or reviewing all together, you’re going to quickly lose a lot of what you worked hard to achieve.
Even native speakers when they are placed in an environment where they no longer use their native language often begin to forget words, so chances are that you’ll lose them at an even faster rate.
How can you stop this decline? Simply by making sure that you take the time to review what you learned. I usually spend some time at least once per month looking at a language that I’ve stopped studying actively. Sometimes I’ll read a short article in the language or I’ll have a conversation with someone in the language. Sometimes I’ll watch a television program or listen to a radio program in the language. About once a year or so I’ll make sure to do something even more intense like reading a novel.
Also, a good idea is to continue using your note card program. Since you’ll no longer be adding new words at such a high rate as before (of course you can always add new words even in your non-active stage of studying), you’ll find that the number of words up for review will begin to decline since the time between showings will begin to lengthen. For this reason, it won’t take as long to go through the cards and since there will be no new words, it shouldn’t be difficult at all.
In any case, the most important thing is that you spend a little time each month or even in each week looking at or hearing the language. If you don’t, you’ll begin to lose what you learned at a rapid rate and you’ll have to expend more effort later to get back to the level you were at originally.
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