My blog documented the first year of trying to acquire Korean language. Now, I am wondering about maintaining and forgetting of language. What do experienced language learners do to maintain the knowledge they have acquired? How quickly is knowledge lost?
Use it or lose it
The obvious way to maintain language is to continue to use the language. If you have reached conversational level, or have a pen pal you are writing, then perhaps just using the language is enough. If not, can watching dramas, reading articles, and listening to audio be enough to keep the language active in your brain? How often do you need to work your flashcards for words you have already learned? How do you assure you are reviewing all the grammar you learned? Do active vs. passive affect
The brain retains
Clearly, there are people who learn a language to conversational level, then don’t use it, and forget a lot. Does it mean they will relearn it quickly when the need for that language arrives again? Perhaps the act of learning a language has changed neural pathways in your brain, so they will be more easily reactivated later, like an adopted child who loses their first language, but whose unconscious brain retains the language years later.
Lazy Student? Or just unmotivated
I was voracious at first with Korean. I listened only to Korean shows. I searched the internet for new websites. I lusted after Korean textbooks. I quite simply doused myself in Korean all day. It took me a long time to start to get a rhythm for learning that was effective, so much of that effort was wasted. However, the enthusiasm carried me along when my focus and skill were sorely lacking.
After nine months, and 2 Korean classes online, I was exhausted. I thought I would take a break from being driven at someone else’s fast pace to explore on my own. I expected I would review all the material I had covered and consolidate the knowledge. I expected to work on my blog, proceed through the many Korean textbooks and audio I owned, and do the Korean Digital Academy Level 3 videos on my own. I was sure I would keep up with my morning flashcards. I thought I would practice more sentence writing with my Korean friends.
In fact, what I did was slack on learning Korean. Flashcards became sporadic. Reviewing Active Korean textbooks became boring. I listened to a lot of audio, but I wasn’t writing sentences, and soon found my hard won grammar and conjugation skills slipping. Then the day came when I was in front of a Korean speaker, I opened my mouth, and nothing came out. I had become too rusty. My Korean had run away.
Without intending it, I got to experiment on how quickly I would forget Korean, and it was FAST.
Where did I go wrong? I never intended to stop. These were my key errors.
- I changed my routine. Instead of daily morning flashcards, I switched to morning chanting.
- I added new interests. Curiosity about Korean religion led to many trips to explore Zen Buddhism. I decided to learn the Heart Sutra. Interest in hanja characters writing led to hours spent doing calligraphy. Practice to learn how to handle a brush led to Chinese brush painting, watercolors, and drawing. New interests took time from my Korean language studies.
- I stuck with textbooks I found boring. I should have realized that just going back to the beginning and reviewing old material in a new book was not going to keep my interest. I was determined to slog through. When there was nothing new to learn, drilling flashcards became a chore.
- I allowed English entertainment back into my life. Watching TV shows was a relief from all the studying, but quickly took over time I had been using more productively. Cancel Netflix!
I know that I can’t do it all. I have to carefully weigh my options. It would probably be easy to stop watching English TV, but giving up the time I am spending walking in the woods, gardening, Chinese calligraphy, and drawing will be more difficult. To reignite my Korean language passion, I will have to give up some things. My inner voice already is bargaining that it should be put off until the Fall, leaving me August to continue my road trips and outdoor adventures. Until I have motivation to go further with Korean language, it is easier to just float along following my whims, which obviously are not letting me study enough to retain and enhance my language.
My blog is Hanguk Babble. How could I choose a direction that is not studying Korean?
How do long term language learners stay motivated? How do they balance new interest with maintaining what has already been learned? What has derailed your study efforts?