Recently, there is a lot of discussion about the primaries, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders or our new Prime Minister in Canada. One thing that comes out in all of this is that there is a great deal of dissatisfaction with conventional politicians, but also there’s a lot of uneasiness because so many people who used to be in the middle class no longer feel that they’re in the middle class. It used to be that if you had a good job in the local factory, perhaps your wife had a job in the factory, maybe your kids had a job in the factory. You were wealthy and you didn’t necessarily have a very high level of education. Many of those jobs no longer exist and they’re not likely to come back, so what can a person do?
Well, that’s where I believe that reading and listening, the same things that are so powerful for language learning, are extremely important in order for people to be competitive in the new economy. Of course there’s no guarantee that every educated person will get a good job, or even a job. However, there are all kinds of statistics that show that the degree of literacy of a person, in other words how well they read, how many words they know, all the things that are important in learning languages, are also the things that will determine how well you do in society, how well you do at school, how well you do in your job. Even technical jobs, the level of literacy required to read instructional manuals is very, very high.
Yes, there are problems with people who have reading disabilities and I think these people have to help themselves as much as possible. Other people may help them. We know, for example, that listening and reading are very closely connected. People who don’t read well also have trouble discerning sounds, to some extent, so these are things we have to work on, in other words, if we spend the time.
Again, just as in language learning, if you have an attitude that says I am going to improve my reading and listening skills, I’m going to improve my vocabulary. If you have that kind of attitude, you’re convinced that you’re going to succeed and you put the time into it. So you won’t be watching the football game on TV. You won’t be going to the bar to drink beer or whatever else it is that you do that might be wonderful. It might even mean taking time away from your family, but you’re going to devote that time to improving your reading and listening skills. This, in itself, will have a major impact on flattening out that widening disparity between the wealthy, who are mostly have a high rate of literacy, and the poor, who by and large don’t.
Now, there are always exceptions. There are very well educated people who have poor jobs. There are uneducated people who have good jobs. I’ve worked with people who have serious reading disabilities and who are excellent at what they do in very demanding managerial positions. There are athletes and singers. There are all kinds of exceptions. However, by and large, statistically, the better you read and listen, the better your vocabulary, the broader your knowledge, the better you do. In order to become better as a reader and a listener, you have to work at it, much the same way as we work at our language-learning skills.
Elon Musk thinks a human’s hardware is her physical body and brain and her software the way she learns to think, her value system, her habits, her personality. Learning, for Musk, is simply the process of “downloading data and algorithms into your brain.”
We are, in fact, downloading data and algorithms with every day and every new experience. Human beings are learning machines. We spend our lives learning. We can’t help but learn. The only question is what we will learn and how it will affect our lives.
Unfortunately we have been conditioned by the school system to think that learning can only take place in a classroom. We need to take charge of our own learning. Here are four steps.
Roman school children learned from their masters and wrote things down painstakingly on clay tablets. Today we have electronic tablets that connect us instantly with knowledge and information that no Roman could have imagined.
But classroom education hasn’t changed. Teachers are perceived as the source of knowledge. “If they don’t teach we don’t learn.” The problem with this model is that it disempowers the most dynamic performer in the learning process, the learner. When we are dependent on others for our learning, we lose out.
For Musk, the greatest frustration with formal classroom learning is the “ridiculously slow download speed” of sitting in a classroom while a teacher explains something. Musk learned mostly on his own, through reading.
Good teachers know that their role is to encourage and stimulate, not just to teach. However, many teachers prefer their students to be dependent on them. Often in school, we are told not to get ahead of what the teacher is covering . This diminishes the learner’s curiosity, enthusiasm and independence.
Albert Einstein wisely said “ I never teach my pupils. I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn”. Create your own conditions for learning!
2. Work on becoming an effective reader and listener.
Reading and listening on our own are not only efficient ways of learning, they help us improve our communication skills. The top four skills employers are looking for in the modern workplace are: oral communication skills, listening skills, writing skills and presentation skills.These skills require high literacy and are most easily acquired through broad based reading and listening.
The better our reading and listening skills, the more knowledge we can acquire on. The broader our general knowledge, the more we can understand when we read and listen. When it comes to literacy and words, and general knowledge, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. It is either a virtuous circle or a vicious circle. This is true for conventional reading, and for listening to podcasts and the other sources of information and knowledge that we can find on the Internet.
In today’s job market, we have to constantly learn new technical skills. Technical material, manuals and the like, have some of the highest literacy requirements of any reading material, higher than for newspapers or popular literature, for example.
Be like Musk, equip yourself to learn on your own, rather than waiting for a teacher to download information to you in a classroom. Start reading and listening. The more you read and listen, the better you get at it.
3. Stop wasting money on ineffective learning methods.
Educational institutions are both ineffective and expensive. Public expenditure on education represents 5-7 percent of GDP in most developed countries, close to the amount expended on health care. In addition, many students graduate from university deeply in debt.
We often hear appeals for more money to be spent on education, more money for teachers, textbooks, and stakeholders in the present education system. Research on education assumes that learning is centred around a teacher in a classroom.
Yet today the teacher is only one of many resources available. The Internet has created a new paradigm. We are able to find not only books that can help us in our learning, but all kinds of resources, including online university courses, podcasts and more. Much of this is free. It is for the learner to decide how much of the learning should come happen in a classroom.
Learn on your own, and limit your exposure to a system that may saddle you with a large debt.
4. Even if you have trouble reading or listening, take charge of your future.
Some people have reading disabilities which prevent them from becoming powerful readers and independent learners. This is true whether the learner is in a traditional classroom or not.
If you are dyslexic, find out about the causes and what you can do for yourself. It appears that dyslexia is related to our ability to hear and process sounds and words.This is not surprising since when learning a new language, it is important to combine listening and reading, in order to understand what is at first incomprehensible. Combining reading with listening, and repetitive listening if necessary, is an important strategy, not only in language learning, but in improving literacy and overcoming dyslexia.
All learners, and especially people with reading problems, should actively search for the tools that can help them become effective listeners and readers. Poor readers are usually poor listeners as well. There is no shame in having these learning problems. They are widespread. However, there is no reason to be dependent on other people to overcome these problems. There are vast resources and systems available on the Internet to help people develop their learning skills.
Everyone should take charge of their own learning. Go for it now!
Making mistakes when speaking or writing a new language is not the same as making certain other kinds of mistakes, at least to me. Making mistakes in language learning is not only necessary, it is a good sign. If you are not making mistakes you are not trying hard enough to use the language.
If you are trying to master English, or any other new language, there are certain things that you are not going to remember, or get right, until your brain is ready. All you can do is to continue to use the language as much as possible, to read, to listen and to speak and write. Eventually that elusive word, or that difficult phrase, will start to become natural.
Each time you make a mistake, in writing or speaking, or are aware that you didn’t use the language as well as you would have liked, is an opportunity to improve. It means you are noticing aspects of the language. You don’t have to get everything right, but you need to focus on noticing how the language works. You might get something right one time and get it wrong the next time. That is all good. You now may start noticing these things when you listen and read. As long as you are trying to notice the language and not allowing yourself to get upset over mistakes, you will improve. The mistakes will correct themselves eventually with enough exposure, but only when your brain is ready.
So just keep enjoying the language and remember these points:
1) You should not be afraid to speak for fear of making mistakes. Your main goal has to be to communicate. You should communicate whenever you have the opportunity, without fear. But you have to build up your ability to communicate, and just communicating, by itself, will not do that. You need to make an effort to notice your mistakes, and to be happy when you notice them.
2) If you only communicate in the language without putting an effort into improving, you will not improve. Focus on noticing, noticing when you use the language, and then noticing again when you listen and read. This will you train your brain develop better language habits.
3) You need to continue to focus on input even while speaking and writing. You need to deliberately save new words and phrases. You need to be conscious of which words and concepts you were unable to express when you spoke, and go back to your input to look for them. Input should be 75% of your time spent studying the language, as we say at LingQ. Some immigrants to Canada seem to think that if they only get a job in an English speaking environment they will achieve English fluency. This is not true. Those people never achieve their English language potential.
4) You should work on pronunciation, deliberately and consistently but without worrying unduly. When listening, you should every so often focus on pronunciation and try to notice how your pronunciation differs from the pronunciation of the native. But don’t force it. Don’t become self-conscious about your pronunciation. The more you listen and notice native pronunciation, the clearer yours will become. The key thing is to communicate. Most speakers of foreign languages retain an accent, and that is not an obstacle to communication and may even be charming.
Try to do as much as possible on your own, and that means noticing your own mistakes. This is the approach we use at LingQ and it is efficient and cost effective.
What constitutes the essence of achieving a breakthrough in language learning? I think that the key lies in the word “linking”.
First of all learners must form emotional links with the language they are learning. They must be interested in the language, in the people and in some aspects of the culture. They don’t need to like all the people, nor all aspects of the culture, just some. Learners need emotional links to the language and, as much as possible, to the content being studied.
Second, the study must be constant and ongoing, linked from day to day. There should be no lengthy breaks in the chain, at leasts for periods of committed and intensive study of several months at a time. This is most easily achieved by daily listening to selected content of interest, content that is at the appropriate level of difficulty.
When I study a language on LingQ I try to get in at least one hour a day, every day. Most of this is listening to things that I find interesting. When I start in a language I do intensive listening, in other words repetitive listening to the same short bits of beginner content. As I progress I listen less often to the same material, but am driven by my interest, emotional and intellectual connection to what I am listening to and reading. I am hooked by the content, and that pulls me along.
I always read the transcripts for what I am listening to in order to “link” the written words to the sounds I am hearing. I do that by saving unknown words and key phrases to my personal database at LingQ, in other words I “LingQ” these words and phrases.
The words and phrases that I learn in this way are linked in my mind, and even subconsciously to the content where I came across them. In saving phrases I am linking words to other words in the same phrases, words that are meant to be used together. This creates a natural sense of how words are normally used.
I believe that this activity of reading, listening and LingQing, is helping to forge new neural links in my brain. These neural connections will become a new language network, my neural command centre for the new language, eventually enabling me to understand and speak the language naturally, without having to think about grammar rules.
Once I have enough vocabulary and listening practice to enable me to understand much of what native speakers are saying, I link up with an online tutor. My tutor at LingQ sends me a report with the words and phrases that gave me trouble. I study these as lessons. In this way I link the conversation to my listening, reading and vocabulary learning activities. The stimulus and feedback loop from a native speaking instructor is a powerful interactive link.
When I study at LingQ, the best measure of my activity level, and therefore of my progress in the language, is the number of LingQs I have created. The more LingQs I create from my active listening and reading, the more words and phrases I save, the more intensively I am building up the linkages that will bring me to fluency in the new language.
There are two stages in language learning: the initial intense study of a limited number of words, and the later more extensive approach to learning in order to acquire the up to 10,000 words needed to function at a professional level. These two stages make up the upside down hockey stick.
During the initial growth period – the blade of the hockey stick – progress is quick. Here you are learning the high frequency words and basic structures of the language. The most common 2,000 words account for between 75% to over 90% of all content. These words appear frequently and so they are easier to learn.
You should be listening and reading a lot, and repetitively to the same content, without worrying too much whether you understand all that well. Keep listening over and over, slowly moving on to new content. The more you hear and see words, in the same content and then in different contexts, the more likely you are to remember them. You need to do a lot of intensive reading and listening. You need to listen to the same content over and over again. You may start to use some of these words in limited situations.
If you do this you will experience a sense of elation, and early sense of achievement. From not being able to understand or say anything, you all of a sudden can actually understand something and be able to say a few phrases in the new language. Wow! But you still can’t carry on a conversation. You still can’t function at the train station, bank or post office even though you have studied dialogues based on these scenarios. In a way, you have an ornament and not a useful tool.
It is at this point that you move to the more extensive approach to learning. This is the long shaft of the hockey stick. It is the most difficult stage of the language learning process because it takes so long, and the sense of achievement is more elusive. It can at times seem like a journey without any progress. Nevertheless, you must continue. You need to expose yourself to a lot of content. You need to listen and read a lot, moving on to new content more frequently. You need extensive exposure, rather than the intensive exposure of the early period. At times it feels as if nothing sticks. But you are learning all the time.
If what you are reading and listening to is interesting, you keep going. It is your interest in the subjects of your reading and listening that keeps you going. Read widely. Read first in your area of personal or professional interest. Try also try to broaden your base by reading novels and other literature. Gradually you will start to notice words and phrases more and more clearly, and even remember them. Naturally and ever so slowly you will start to use these new words and phrases and they become a part of you.
The more you read, the better you get at reading. The faster you read the words you already know, the better you understand the meaning of content that you are reading, even if it contains unknown words. Your range of comprehension expands and your vocabulary starts to snowball. Yes, there are still words that you do not know, or have learned and forgotten. But your overall comprehension skills improve. You understand the surrounding context better. And soon you start to master those elusive lower frequency words that are so important to your understanding of more difficult content. Soon you even start to use more and more of your gradually accumulating vocabulary in speaking and writing.
Stay positive, keep listening and reading. Gradually start using the language more and more. All of a sudden, when you least expect it, you will feel that you have made a great deal of progress. The shaft of the hockey stick is longer and less steep than the blade. At times it almost seems flat. If you persevere you will find that the end result makes all of your effort it worthwhile.
Speaking like a native is the ultimate goal of language learning. It is a goal that is almost never achieved. However, that is no reason not to aspire to this lofty goal, even in the knowledge that we will not get there. It is like wanting to play golf like Tiger Woods or play the piano like Charles Richard-Hamelin.
To pursue this dream we need to immerse ourselves in the new language, listening, reading, speaking, writing, and savouring the language. We need to commit ourselves emotionally to the language. We need to like the language, and at least some parts of the culture, in order to want to imitate the behaviour of the native speaker. The native speaker is the model, the unattainable goal that we want to emulate. We want to imitate how they pronounce, their intonation, their use of words. This means we really want to be like them, even to be them.
If you have not already experienced this phenomenon of transforming yourself into a fluent speaker of another language, you probably doubt you can do it. But I know you can. Once you have done it for one language, the doors open up to doing it for other languages as well. I have done it more than a few times. It is a wonderful experience, and yet I don’t speak like a native in any of the foreign languages I speak.
Need more motivation to make learning a language your New Year’s resolution? Here are 5 benefits of being bilingual or multilingual.
Imagine the scene: you walk into a bar in rural Japan. The bar owner looks nervous. He’s no doubt wondering how he will go about expressing the menu in body language. Then, to his surprise and delight, you start chatting in fluent Japanese. Yay! Or as the Japanese say, yatta!
So, instead of making the usual “I will join a gym, eat salad every day and hate myself after approximately 48 hours” resolution, make it your goal to start a language learning journey in 2016. Your brain will thank you for it.
After writing about my experience with learning Russian and understanding the Russian culture, I wanted give some important tips for learning Russian.
First I’ll explain about the writing system, then some interesting things to remember about Russian verbs of motion, aspects of verbs and cases.
The Russian writing system is almost parallel to the Latin alphabet. This is no surprise because both the Russian and Latin alphabets come from the Greek alphabet. There are some letters that are unique to Russian, [IЖж] and then there are two characters that are both pronounced [Шш and Щщ]. I can’t tell the difference, and I’ve never worried about it.
There are some things that differentiate the Russian writing system from its Latin counterpart. Russian uses a little B flat sign [Ьь ], which softens sounds. There are some letters that look the same as Latin letters, but they are in fact pronounced differently. What looks like a P is actually an R, and since it’s very much hardwired in our minds that that’s a P, it takes a while to get over that. It takes a while, but it eventually happens.
So the only advice on the alphabet is to get started on it. You’re going to be able to start reading with difficulty within a few hours, and then the more you read, the better you get at it. However, as I found when I started learning Czech, it’s always easier to read in your own alphabet — always.
Word order is another aspect of to learning Russian, is that it takes some getting used to. Russian is very flexible and different in some ways. You can say “This is a book”, in English. The Russians don’t worry about articles, “This book.” [Это книга. You say “I read a book, the book, a book”, [я читаю книгу], but you could also say [я книгу читаю], so the word order can be kind of shifted around.
It isn’t word order you need to worry about when you want to ask a question in Russian, though. Then you have consider intonation. The words used are the same, but intonation often determines if it is a statement or a question.
These aspects of the language are minor in comparison to the three big bugbears in Russian: the cases, verbs of motion and the aspect of verbs. Everything else you can kind of get used to, but those three I’m still struggling with.
Some people don’t know what cases are. I had Latin at school and we had to decline latin noun bellum (war) as fast as possible. In Russian there are six cases. Latin has the vocative, which the Russians don’t have, although the Czechs do. With cases the concept is quite straightforward. If a noun is the subject of a sentence, “I go”, “The book is on the table”, then it’s in the nominative.
If you do something to the book, “I give the book to you”, “I give the book”, now the book is in the accusative because you’ve done something to it. If I give the book to you, I’m giving it to you, dative, donation, give, that’s the dative. Then they have a thing called the prepositional case, which is basically where something is “On the”, “At the”, “In the”, sort of like a location-type case. In that case, the noun will have a different ending. Then they have the genitive, which means to belong to something. So “Of the book” would be in the genitive. And they have a thing called the instrumental, “By the book”, “By my pen”, anything that implies what instrument or agent you used to do something. In that case, in the sentence “I went by car” the car would be in the instrumental. So those are the six cases.
With the cases, as a general overview, the concept is not difficult, but the specific explanations of why we use one case or another are extremely confusing. I’ll read from a Russian grammar book I have you will see what I mean. “The genitive case is used after words expressing measurement and quantity…”. That’s fine, “…but if it’s one of something it’s the nominative singular. If it’s two, three or four of something it’s the genitive singular. If it’s five or more it’s the genitive plural.”
Now, if that was the only rule you had to learn you could probably deal with it, but there’s a lot more. “The genitive case is used in a positive sense to express an indefinite incomplete quantity.” Okay, good for you. If you go on to the accusative, “The genitive case is normally used after negated verbs in the following instances: When the negation is intensified by another word; when a positive sentence is negated.” Of course, I don’t know what all that means. I have to look at the examples. “The dative is used to express the logical, blah, blah, blah.” I mean it just goes on and on.
The vast majority of prepositions don’t take the prepositional case, they take the genitive. Also, the same preposition will sometimes take the genitive and sometimes take the accusative. It’s extremely different. The endings, the tables, I’ve looked at those tables so many times. You can kind of half remember it for a day or two and then it’s gone, even if you understand the explanations after lots of examples.
I should say that I always use this grammar book as an example of how horrible grammar explanations can be. I have another book that I bought in Moscow which just has examples and with enough examples you can start to see it. However, what I’ve found is you just have to read and listen so often that certain phrases start to sound natural with their endings. It was much the same learning tones in Chinese. Trying to remember the individual tone for each character was very difficult, but with enough practice you eventually get better and better.
So, cases, that’s number one. You’re always, in my view, going to have trouble with the cases. Perhaps someone who attends a class and is studying it formally does better than I did. I was spending an hour a day listening, most of it in my car, or while exercising. It’s an interest thing, I’m not passing a test. However, I must say, given that I spent five years at an hour a day, a lot of people study it very seriously in class and don’t get as far along as I did and, besides which, I can understand so much.
This is another thing. When you don’t understand or you don’t know the cases it doesn’t prevent you from understanding, if you have the words. I learned all of the Russian vocabulary I know on LingQ. Some things remain a little bit fuzzy, but the important thing is that I can understand and enjoy the language. Learn about the country, the culture, even though you haven’t really nailed down the grammar.
What I tended to do was I listened to simple content to begin with and then I moved on to more difficult texts. Someone asked me on one of my YouTube videos, is it worthwhile listening to stuff you don’t understand? No, get stuff where you can access the text. If you can access the text, the transcript,import it onto LingQ as I did, save the words and phrases and you will eventually understand more and more of it.
Verbs of motion
The words “to go” in English appear like this “I go”, “I go tomorrow,” “I always go” etc. not in Russian. The verbs have tenses, change for tense and change for person, but that’s a minor problem.
The bigger problem is “you go”, which is multidirectional, “you go all the time”. If “you go and come back”, that’s one verb, but if you are “going there”, that’s another verb. If “you go on a means of transportation”, that’s another verb and that also has its multidirectional and unidirectional form and that’s just for “go”. Then there are “carry”, “come”, “fly” and “swim”, very difficult to get a handle on and to actually be able to reproduce. It doesn’t prevent you from understanding the language, but it is very difficult to nail it down when you’re speaking.
Aspect of verbs
I have read these definitions so many times. “If the action was completed, was supposed to be completed, might have been completed or was never going to be completed, then you use one form. But if, in fact, it was completed or might have been completed, except for the other exceptions, then you use this other form”. I don’t understand it. I’ve read them so many times. Here, again, it’s just exposure because you can’t be trying to go through all these logical explanations while you’re speaking. To my mind, you have to expose yourself to a lot of the language and then eventually start speaking a lot.
I could get into other issues that are different, but they’re minor. Like in Russian there isn’t only “where” but also “from where” and “to where”, and they are actually different words. Those are minor issues. The big problems in learning Russian are those three bugbears, cases, verbs of motion and aspects of verbs.
Now, the good news, Russian is fascinating. It’s a beautiful language. The country is fascinating. The culture and history are fascinating. The people who appear somewhat stoic are, in fact, very warm. They tend to speak their minds, say what they think and not worry too much about the details, but that’s what makes them so fun to be around. I would say, too, that in Russia there’s no compromise. I think that’s how they approach even artistic creation or sports. That’s why we see a lot of artistic creation in Russia, outstanding ballerinas, musicians and scientists. Certainly in hockey I find the Russians are just magicians. They’re artists and so they have a tendency to really commit themselves in one direction.
Want to improve your English fluency and be understood?
New research shows you should focus on English fluency over English pronunciation.
Speaking fluently means your listener is more able to keep track of what you’re saying, then they have more time to figure out the sounds you are trying to produce. In other words, your ability to put words together accurately, smoothly and fluently is much more important than trying to pronounce like a native.
I wrote in an earlier blog post how we can achieve fluency in a foreign language which you can read here. But here are a few easy tips to help improve your English fluency:
So next time you’re talking in English remember to slow down, correct yourself, use what you know and be comfortable with making mistakes sometimes.
How do you not forget languages? The simple answer here is I don’t forget languages. I have not forgotten a language and I think there are several reasons for this. First of all,my method of learning is massive input. If you look at my statistics on Czech, I’ve probably read the equivalent of five, six, 10 books worth of Czech in the last nine months or so that I’ve read, listened to and saved words. So I’m exposing my brain to this massive deluge of content and this is building a solid base in the language.
If I were simply trying to study word lists or trying to memorize declension tables orlearn grammar rules, I think those things you can forget. Those are the kinds of things you remember for a test, but very quickly forget. I’ve had the experience myself.I’ve studied say Russian or Czech and declension tables for nouns and I think I have them for a day or two and then they’re gone again. However, phrases that I’ve heard many times and words that I’ve seen many times, these combination of words with the noun in the right ending combined with a certain preposition, all of these things start tobecome part of strong patterns that are built in the brain and we don’t forget them.
So the first answer is if you don’t want to forget languages, learn them the hard way if you want. In other words, invest the time. Put the time into enough exposure to the language that you are building these sediments, this accumulated experience with the language in your brain.
The second thing is I am not bothered by the fact that when I start up in a language that I haven’t spoken for a while that I’m rusty. That doesn’t bother me at all. I think people who expect too much of themselves end up being frustrated, lose confidence, lose interest, whatever. If I haven’t spoken Swedish or Spanish or something for a while, I’m going to stumble when I start up again.
Sometimes people come at me on YouTube and oh, you don’t speak this language very well. You made this other mistake and stuff. Yeah, sure, whatever, it doesn’t bother me. I know that if I were then to be put in a situation for a day or two or three where I had to use that language regularly and I was once again listening to it all the time and everything that was in my brain was starting to revive that I would do fine. In fact, I’ve had the experience and I’ve mentioned this before.
If I leave a language and study some other language, when I come back to that first language that I left I’m actually better in the language because my overall language learning and language using capability has improved by learning other languages. The fact that I stumble out of the gate, so to speak, for the first day or two, so what, I have no particular expectations. I know that in any language, a second, third, fourth, fifth language that you speak, you’ll do better on some days than on other days. That’s what it is. Some days it’s tiring and some days it’s frustrating to try and look for words that you can’t find. You get annoyed and you would like to retreat back into your native language and other days you’re just walking on water and doing very well. So whichever happens to be the case that day is good enough for me. I don’t go in there with any particular expectations.
When I hear people say oh, yes, my father came over from the old country and he hasn’t spoken Polish or Italian in 50 years and now he can’t speak it, I kind of tend to take that with a grain of salt. I think if that particular father were set back into a Polish, Italian, Portuguese, Chinese, whatever environment, that that language would come back to him. If he had been exposed to it for 10, 20 or 30 years as a young person and then had been away from it for 30–40 years, when he or she goes back to that environment it will come right back very, very quickly.
So, to me, I don’t forget languages. How do I maintain them quickly if I need to get up to speed? Sometimes I’ll be asked to appear on a Mandarin Chinese television program here in Vancouver, I’ll get out some audio books or some CDs. I’ll listen to them and do a bit of reading. Give myself some exposure. One thing I certainly don’t look at is grammar books. If you want to get yourself back to speed you need more exposure. That’s not to say I don’t look at grammar books, I will occasionally look at grammar books, thumb through them, so to speak, but to get yourself back up to speed you need a lot of exposure. If you’ve been away from it for a while the first night out with native speakers you might stumble a bit, but you’re very quickly right back in the groove, at least that has been my experience.