How to Maintain a Foreign Language

Maegan Tomela Burke
3 min readMar 27, 2022

It’s one thing to learn a new language, it’s another to maintain it.

Let’s start at the beginning real quick. Like many other kids, I was required to enroll in language classes starting in 6th grade. I wanted Spanish (and I’m from Providence, RI where the population is 43% Latino so I wanted to be able to speak Spanish with my friends).

Well turns out the classes were full so I was assigned French. Looking back, I’m shocked that I just let this rock because even as a kid, I would fight to get my way.

So I ended up taking French all the way through high school, even took 2 AP classes. This sounds cool academically, but my French was null until I studied abroad in Paris for a semester and actually got to be immersed in the language. Whatever I had learned before that was a straight up joke and that’s not to discredit any of my teachers, especially my college advisor/professor (Who was a boss and had a PhD in romance languages — she spoke all of them fluently!).

I’m just not meant to learn languages in a class room, at least in the beginning. I learn best when I can just show up somewhere and start trying the language in every day life. After a few months, I enroll in classes for the grammatical touches and verb conjugations.

This is how I started my Spanish journey. I moved to Maexico and waited 8 months before I enrolled in classes. At the moment I’m living in Colombia, still focused on my mission to learn Spanish and working with the same teacher. I’m gearing up to reenter the French-speaking world and I’m lowkey nervous about whether or not I’ll be able to retain the Spanish I’ve learned.

But then I say, “Tranquilaaa, Maegan. You’ve already done this once with French; you already know what to do.”

And now you do, too. Here are 3 ways that I retain foreign languages.

1. Music.

I’m an audiophile so this is the easy number one for me. And luckily for me, French emo&b is my favorite genre of music. It’s moody, melancholic and melodic. It’s what I listen to more than anything else so my brain is constantly hearing French and *bonus* I’m hearing colloquial French so when I do roll up to a French-speaking country or encounter French-speaking people, I fit right in.

Also, podcasts. I keep L’Heure du Monde on rotation.

2. Make the language a part of your daily life.

This is really hard with French. I encounter French speakers mayyyyybe twice a year, I’m lucky and thanks to the pandemic, I haven’t been to France since 2018.

What I’ve been doing since college to keep French at the top of my mind is change the languages on my devices and apps. I’ve had Spotify since I lived in Paris in 2012 and I’ve never used the app in English. My Facebook and Instagram are also in French.

Identify the apps you use the most and switch them over to languages that aren’t native to you.

3. Immerse yourself as much as you can.

This one is a privilege. I prioritize traveling to French-speaking countries and I’ve very intentionally been living in Spanish-speaking countries for almost 2 years while I learn Spanish. (This maed me realize that I don’t travel to English-speaking countries much.)

I do best when I’m in it so if I can put myself in a position to succeed, why not? This also allows me the opportunity to become friends with people in these places and maintaining those relationships means maintaining the language.

This doesn’t mean that you too have to be a digital nomad, but when you book your next vacation, make it count.

I’ve put a lot of time and energy into learning and I’d hate to waste that by letting these languages fade. I’m a firm believer that more languages mean more friends, more opportunities and more money.

And I just low a good brain exercise. 🧠

Do you have any tips on how I can maintain foreign languages? I’d appreciate the help.

Stay fluent,