LIL: Use it or Lose it: Maintaining a Language

Congratulations! You’re bilingual! Maybe you’ve spoken two languages all your life, or maybe you picked one up in school. Or maybe you’re one of those rare creatures we call a polyglot: a person who knows and can use multiple languages (usually more than two).

No matter how you acquired your language(s), you now face a decision. Do you want to keep this language, or forget it?

If you do end up forgetting a language that you wanted to keep, you’ve essentially lost everything you invested into learning that language: tuition, time, relationships, effort, etc.

Even your native language can suffer if you never speak it, so how do we preserve the knowledge base we’ve so carefully constructed for each language and its culture?

Prioritize Your Languages

Which languages are you most concerned about keeping intact? If you picked up some basic Klingon on a whim and don’t really have plans to use it again, you might consider leaving it out of your maintenance routine. On the other hand, you might not have to decide to keep some languages if you already use them every day. Luca Lampariello knows and maintains 13 languages, but not all at the same level. He devotes more time and energy to the languages that he wants to maintain at a higher, more proficient level.

Start Talking

Language exchanges can work wonders and lead to enduring friendships. Find someone online or in person with whom you can hold a conversation. Even if you aren’t rehashing grammar rules, you are keeping your vocabulary refreshed and staying comfortable with the language. For even better practice, you could host an exchange student or find a roommate who speaks the language you want to practice.

Read Something… anything!

Reading the news is a great option for keeping yourself familiar with a language at a higher level. You could also grab a novel to get lost in the story. No time for a novel? Remember that a little goes a long way. Read a chapter at a time or pick a couple articles online every day so that you are continually exposed to the language.

Listen Up

Find a podcast, audiobook, or show you like in your target language and let it play in the background while you do other things. Whether you actively listen to every word or not you’re still being exposed to the language on some level.

Keep a diary

Write out your deepest musings – or your grocery list – in a language you want to keep. You can practice all sorts of grammar, sentence structures, and vocabulary as you express yourself (or make sure you don’t forget to get bread). A pen pal could also keep you on your toes. Whether it’s a love letter, a novel, a journal entry, or a blog post, anything you write will help keep your skills up.


You don’t need to do all of these every day! Find the methods that work for you and fit best into your schedule and make practice a daily habit – even if it’s just a little bit. You’ve put a lot of effort into the languages you’ve learned — use them or lose them!


What methods do you use to maintain your language or languages? Let us know in the comments below, and don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter to make sure you never miss a post!

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