7 Tips to Keep Your Second Language Alive

No extra money for language classes or international travel? (My hand is raised) Let’s talk. So we’ve spent a year, five years or ten+ learning a second language. How can we avoid our vocabulary falling away like so many shooting stars? See my top seven ideas for low budget refreshers. The ideas go from free-of-charge on up to the cost of a movie (palomitas de maíz optional).

Your community and those you live with are waiting to support you. Technology (read the internet!) is your friend. Take advantage of these seven options:

7. Read: Read a children’s book in Spanish from the library. Or graduate to perusing a Spanish or Mexican newspaper online, or turn a virtual page on the Madison bilingual press, La Comunidad News. Stay patient as you work up to your level of reading in your first language. The beginning stage will be “sight words” (repeated words you recognize) as it was when you started reading in your first language. Finding the themes and main message is more important than understanding every phrase.

6. Listen and Watch: Check out kids’ or grownup movies in Spanish with subtitles from the public library. Ice Age (2002) (Edad de hielo) is great for a kids’ movie because Spanish is a dubbed language selection. If you consider yourself a beginner, watch the movie in English first. When you watch it again, use Spanish subtitles for the best, least distracting effect. Let the humor and action guide your understanding. Ignore the words you don’t understand. A grownup Spanish movie I recommend is Almodóvar’s La flor de mi secreto (1995) (Flower of My Secret). Or, watch YouTube videos in Spanish (see music below)!*

5. Listen: Hear Spanish music on your car radio or stream it online. Nearly any genre of music will have its Spanish equivalent. If you are adventurous, look for a station with a genre you’re not familiar with for an added culture bonus star. Music stations that play Cumbia, Salsa, Bachata, “Latin” and Rock in Spanish are common throughout the US. Try  Alejandro Sanz (nuevo-flamenco), Maná (Rock), or Camila Cabello’s “Havana.”*

4. Talk: Speak to your pet or yourself in your second language (even fish are very encouraging).

3. Write: Make lists or write a daily journal page in your second language (stream of consciousness, not Real Academia Española perfection)

2. Read a bilingual website: For a random example, see Fake Flamenco in Spanish. You can write a comment in Spanish to practice if you like (okay, it’ll also make my day : ) Or see another bilingual website like this travel Madrid site.

1. Join a Meetup Group or local conversation group (meetup.com – enter your city, voilá) This is where Fake Flamenco has saved me. I pretend I’m a kid again (or maybe an adult with a 10-year-olds vocabulary?) and speak Spanish like no one is watching. If I’m not making mistakes it means I’m holding back (for instance, my Spanish translation pages). I’ve one life to learn as much Spanish as I humanly can. Olé!

What are your favorite ways to practice a second language? Talking to your love interest? Leafing through magazines? Buying Fake Flamenco subscribers tickets online to Real Madrid soccer games? (I’m not kidding if you’re not kidding ; )

Muchas gracias for reading my e-say. -Rebecca

Para leer este ensayo en español, haz un clic aquí.

*Please preview before showing these suggested media to kids.

Rebecca Cuningham

6 thoughts on “7 Tips to Keep Your Second Language Alive

  1. Great tips! I haven’t had great success keeping a second language functional, but when I’ve wanted to review before trip, I’ve found free online practice or classes (e.g. the Goethe Institut’s “Deutsch fur Dich”) by entering search terms [language]+conversation+practice.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You are a treasure trove of information! I hope you are getting good response to these. You may even get your Mother working on her Spanish again. Hugs Mom

    Liked by 1 person

  3. There are also great CDs free at your library. I especially like Pimsleur because it keeps circling back and reviewing what it has covered earlier.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great list! I’ve met with recently arrived Spanish speakers to help them practice their English; one could spend half of that time in Spanish. Via an aid agency, I also found a local house-bound Spanish speaker who was delighted for Any conversation that I could squeeze out.


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