easy steps to start learning a language again after a long break
One of the most difficult things about starting to learn a language again after a long break is that you know you weren’t as good as you were at the time when you stopped learning. It will come back to you with practice, and you might surprise yourself about how much you do actually remember, but it’s the same with anything. If you haven’t been thinking about the language for a while, it’s natural that the words won’t come to you as easily, or you might not understand as much of a text or spoken dialogue as you would have in the past.
So the first step, before you even think about doing anything with the language, is to acknowledge you’ve had some time out, and make a deal with yourself that you’re not going to beat yourself up about all the things that you’ve forgotten.
I used to have Turkish lessons every week. One week for homework I had to write a 1000 word essay in Turkish about my experience of the UK school system, what I liked about it, and what could be improved.
1000 words of Turkish in an essay!
I can write 1000 words of English without any trouble. I can write 1000 words of German without thinking too hard, although I would need to check it more carefully than the English text. At that time, 1000 words of Turkish took several hours, but I did it! It wasn’t perfect! There were things that my teacher corrected. But the point is, my brain was used to putting together words in Turkish.
Having not done any Turkish lessons for the best part of 3 years, I’d struggle to write 20 coherent words of Turkish now. That’s a bit sad, but it’s true. My priorities changed, and I devoted less and less time to this language.
I’m sure I could pick it up again if I set my mind to it, but thinking about this reminded me that there are people who feel the same about English.
Maybe the last time they used English was at school, and that was a number of years ago now.
When we were moving house, I found one of my old French books. I was quite surprised at some of the sentences in there. I had written them – it was my writing – but I didn’t understand everything that I had written when I was doing my exam preparation.
So, if you’ve had a long break from a language, sometimes it can feel a bit daunting to get back into it. Here are some ideas that might make it easier for you.
1. Find an activity that you used to enjoy and start by doing that!
This is tough if you didn’t enjoy anything at school, but try to think of something that you would enjoy. Maybe it’s listening to some English songs. Maybe it’s watching an English film – with the subtitles if you like – just something to get your brain back into listening to English. Maybe there was a book or podcast that you enjoyed.
Whatever it was, find the activity that will cause you the least amount of stress, and start by doing that! You’ll still need to spend time on your least favourite activities – mine was speaking – but it’s good to begin s=with something enjoyable.
2. What have you kept from the time when you were learning the language?
You might not have anything, but if you still have some notes or books, why not get them out and have a look through them?
When I was learning Turkish, I made my notes in a way that made sense to me. Sometimes a good way to remind yourself of things is to use notes from what you did in the past. They’re your notes, and personal to the way you learn and write things down.
3. Do you want anyone to help you?
This could be a language partner or a teacher. Maybe you don’t want to work with anyone else, but if you get other people involved, you might be more likely to stick to your goals because you’ve told someone else about them, and they’ll be waiting to hear from you!
4. Start slowly and work up
As with my example of writing in Turkish, if you haven’t done anything in a language for a while, things will take you longer than they used to. That’s ok. Give yourself permission to work at a slower pace. It’s much better to do more than you planned, than to fall at the first obstacle because you decided you were going to do 2 hours of English each day!
5. Pick learning resources that are right for your level
I used to listen to podcasts in Turkish that were meant for a Turkish audience. I don’t know how much I would understand if I did that now. So in my situation, it might be better for me to start with some materials that were meant for learners. Or, if you were at a lower intermediate level before, it’s ok to reach for those beginner books again to remind yourself of the basics.
Make sure it’s something that you really want to do. I probably will go back to Turkish at some point, but I know there are other languages that I’ve learned in the past, such as French and Hindi, that I won’t return to. That’s ok. Learning a language takes time, dedication, and motivation, and if you lack the motivation, it probably won’t happen!
Of course it may be that you need to motivate yourself, for example if you need English at work, but still that is a type of external motivation with a desired outcome that you can work towards.
It’s so easy to say that we’re too busy for things. If you want to do something, you need to make time for it. That may mean saying “no” to other things or reorganising priorities – so if you’re thinking about starting a language again, make sure it’s something you genuinely want to do.
If you do want to come back to English after a long break, I have resources on my site that will help, such as my monthly newsletter, which you can subscribe to at the bottom of this post, and my podcast.
If you’re interested in one-to-one training, you can check out my lessons page.
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