Young Asian male in front of blackboard with Chinese and English script written

6 Tips for Retaining a Foreign Language After High School

Struggling to retain the foreign language you learned in high school? Practice your writing and speaking skills for college and beyond with these fun tips.

Most high school students in the US are required to take two years of a foreign language in order to graduate. However, their knowledge of the language often slips and fades once the class is over. If you want to retain the foreign language vocabulary, sentence structure, and grammar you picked up in high school, these six easy tips will help you do just that!

1. Keep an active ear

Training your ear to quickly identify and translate spoken language is an important skill to have if you want to be able to converse fluently. Listening to podcasts is one of the easiest ear-training methods I’ve found. Depending on your proficiency level, you can either choose podcasts made for learning or regular podcasts created by and for natives of your target language. Spotify is a great free resource to find the perfect podcast suited for you.

2. Write daily journals

Even if you already keep a journal in your first language, I highly recommend starting a new one in the language you want to learn or retain. Writing short narratives about your mood or day challenges your brain to think in the new language and apply vocabulary to real-life circumstances. Try writing in complete sentences, and don’t be afraid to look up translations for words you don’t know yet. Noticing gaps in your vocabulary is a great opportunity to learn new words!

Related: Learning a Foreign Language: Top Tips for Students

3. Read short stories

Short stories are the perfect way to ease yourself into reading a new language. If you’re a beginner, don’t fret! The Fable Cottage offers free children’s stories with simple vocabulary in a wide array of languages. The tales are even accompanied by animated videos and audio narration to help you keep up with the story. For more intermediate to advanced language learners, I recommend Olly Richards’ short story collections, which are tailored to specific languages and feature fun, bite-sized narratives.

4. Learn by watching

Watching TV shows and movies in your target language can help you pick up common phrases and idioms while also giving you clues to the culture. For beginners, I recommend rewatching your favorite shows but with the audio and/or subtitles changed to the language you want to learn. Being familiar with the plotline will make it easier to keep up even when faced with words you don’t recognize. For intermediate and advanced learners, Netflix has a great catalog of series and films in foreign languages. Just type your target language into the search bar and choose whichever option interests you the most! Some of my personal favorites include Young Royals (Swedish), Baby (Italian), and Squid Game (Korean). Challenge yourself to watch without subtitles for the best results.

5. Practice with natives

What better way to put your language proficiency to the test than to have a conversation with a native speaker? Websites like HiNative and Speaky give you the opportunity to virtually meet and chat with language learners all around the world. You can trade audio messages for feedback, hop on a video call to practice in real time, or simply message back and forth for fun. Speaky even goes the extra mile to match you to a learner with similar interests—in other words, your language soul mate!

6. Actively expand your skills

Retaining what you already learned in high school is important, but so is learning new material. Duolingo makes learning feel like a game and is a great way to integrate a little bit of studying into your daily routine. Don’t worry about getting stuck in review; the app lets you take a placement test to skip over the beginner material you’re already familiar with. I also recommend studying with Quizlet, where you can find a whole catalog of free, pre-made flashcard sets in your target language. Try reviewing a set a day to brush up on old vocabulary and pick up some new words too!

Related: My Journey Studying a Foreign Language: Japanese

Learning and retaining a foreign language can be a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be all about boring textbooks. Let these fun tips inspire you to immerse yourself in your target language and work toward fluency one day at a time. Happy language learning!

Did you know you could win scholarships for studying a foreign language? Explore funding opportunities using our Scholarship Search tool!

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About Hailey Myers

Hailey Myers is a homeschooled high school student from California. She's been drawn to literature and creative activities from a young age and is ecstatic to share what she knows with fellow students. 


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