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How to get back into learning a language after a break? 7 practical tips

Published by Aneta on

a man in the field walking

How to get back into learning a language after a break? Seven practical tips

a man in the field walking

Learning comebacks can be difficult. Let’s say you’ve been learning a foreign language for some time and suddenly you stopped. Maybe suddenly you got super busy. Maybe you run out of energy or motivation. Or you thought you didn’t need the language, or  something more important came up in your life.

Suddenly something changed – your workplace, your whereabouts, your friend circle, and the language started to play main role again. Or, maybe, you just had some time on your hands, and wanted to brush up on your language skills.

So you take an old textbook off the shelf, reinstall the learning apps, sit down to re-start your Language Journey when suddenly you realize that… you don’t know where to start. How to get back into learning a language after a break? I present below the Seven Practical Tips for Brushing up on a Language Long Unused!

1. Determine where to start

a mug on a table with letters begin written on it

To start learning at all, you need to know the point of departure. There are free placement tests available online that will tell you where you are at with your language skills. It’s by far the simplest and quickest way to estimate your language level. Some of the most popular ones include:

Placement test – Polish 

Placement test – Spanish 

You will get the results right away so that you know what to work on. The general rule is that the lower the level and the longer the break, the more your language level may have dropped. The good news is that you will get back your language skills much faster than if you learned from scratch.

2. Set a language goal

Goal-setting is one of the most effective ways of working with a language. Without a well-established goal you will not know where to go and will lose motivation quickly. Take a piece of paper and think what you’d like to get from your learning practice. Maybe you wish to speak more fluently and with confidence? Learn how to write emails? Brush up on you business vocabulary? Setting a goal will allow you to choose your learning methods wisely. For writing practice, you will find pen pal applications, such as Slowly, useful. For expanding vocab – self-study textbooks with exercises and an answer key will do their job, and so on.

If you’re planning to get back into learning Polish after a break, you can download self-study materials for free when signing up for my newsletter!

3. Make an inventory of the old learning materials

Which textbooks did you enjoy learning from? What applications did you like the most? Returning to verified, effective learning methods will save you a lot of time.

4. Don’t shy away from reviewing

It is no linguistic disgrace to go through the same language material again, be it your old student’s book, going through the same levels in your learning apps or watching the same YouTube videos. From a neurolinguistic point of view, it is a very useful strategy. It allows you to “dust off” the neural connections that store the words and grammar structures you once learned. If you are not averse to going through the same materials, I strongly recommend you do it. In my experience as a language trainer, it is one of the most effective methods of getting your language level back after a break from learning. If you have to get only one thing from this article, then let it be this: don’t be afraid to repeat the same language material.

5. Focus on the old, not on the new

Crucial point. Your goal for the next two to three months after you get back to learning should be to review the material (see point 4), not to frantically go through the new chapters of your student’s  book to catch up and, to put it metaphorically, to line your linguistic pockets with lots of new material;)

Remember that if you stopped learning some time ago, and you didn’t really use the language, you are probably at a lower level than when you started. How much lower are you? The general rule is that the lower the level, the faster you lose it. If you already knew the language quite decently, i.e. you have reached B1+/B2 level, your level will not suffer as much as someone who reached only A2 and stopped learning. The length of your break from learning is also of importance – if you haven’t used the language for several years, you probably have a lot of revising to do. The good news is that the “lost” level returns much faster than when learning from scratch. I often see it during my language sessions. Many of my students are people who once knew the language but didn’t use it and want to get back to learning. After a month or two they usually regain most of their language skills from before the break. You can compare it to learning how to ride a bicycle – you don’t forget it, it just takes you some time to recall how to do it;)

6. Invest in good feedback

a blackboard with three faces on it

Meaning: someone who will advise you what to work on. It can be a teacher, a language trainer, or a friend who rocks at speaking your target language. It is crucial that someone be honest with you and give you feedback as to what to work on. This point is especially important in the context of the so-called active skills, that is – writing and speaking. While you can test your reading and listening skills online, often free of charge (see point 1), it does take an expert eye to notice how your language workout should look like so that you’re back in linguistic shape with speaking or writing in no time.

7. Ask yourself why you decided to take the break

In order not to repeat the vicious circle of learning, abandoning, and getting back to learning, think why you decided to stop learning. Did you actually lack time, or was it just a flash in the pan? Maybe a new, more exciting project appeared, or another life priority took over? Be honest with yourself and make the commitment to make learning a habit that will stick for long time.

Returning to learning after a break does not have to be a nuisance – it’s important to focus on what needs to be reviewed, and to not shy away from going through the old material regularly. Add a pinch of an expert opinion, language goal-setting, and you’ll be back to your pre-break level faster than you think!

It would be great not to have to get back to learning at all, of course. How to avoid this situation from happening? Simply maintain you language level by watching TV in the target language, listening to podcasts, writing and talking to foreign language friends, or participating in language exchanges.

Good luck!

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Have you ever had to get back into learning after a long break? Write in the comment section below!