Sunday, 18 September 2016

Want To Get Better At A Language? Just Ditch It For A While!

I've been back in Spain now for two weeks. And I've noticed a difference. A difference I'd read about. A difference other people had told me about. A difference I'd never really been conscious of myself before.

I suddenly feel a lot more at home in Spanish. The gap between what I want to express and what I can express has noticeably shrunk. The right turns of phrase come to me much more readily when I need them. I'm still not 100% there, but getting closer. It's only taken me... uhm... half a decade.

Most surprisingly of all, my French has also improved. Before my summer break in Germany, and after battling with the language for a year already, I was still virtually mute. I'm pathetic like that. I hate getting things wrong. I want to speak in well-constructed sentences. Or not at all.

So, on Wednesday, after having abandoned my French for the past two months, I dragged myself to my weekly French conversation group. I didn't want to go. I went only because I had promised Cristina, our formidable chieftain that I would be there, bright eyed and bushy tailed.

My performance was, as expected, as disastrous as ever. This prompted me, while the rest of the group were chatting away, to message Miranda, my French teacher, to fix an appointment for the next day.

It was in this 1-2-1 session, where we both noticed an improvement, Miranda and I. I seemed to catch much more of what she said, and I actually TALKED. Poorly, for sure, French people would have pelted me with mouldy madeleines for what I was doing to their language, but there was a conversation happening, and this was a bit of a break-through for me. For some reason, I felt less inhibited, more gung-ho about it all.

A friend of mine had once remarked to me how his Chinese took a leap forward every time he returned to China after a period of absence. I remember this comment because I thought it odd at the time. Surely, you'd be nothing but terribly rusty?! Never mind having missed out on weeks' or even several months' worth of exposure and learning experiences! How can a break from immersion possibly be beneficial...? It makes no sense. The brain works in mysterious ways...


  1. I say bravo! If the rest produced great lasting results then it seems to me like you have a new working formula :)

    1. Ha ha, if only that were all there was to it :-) I think I'll have to knuckle down again over the next few months, particularly where my French is concerned. The foundations are still far too shaky for me to rest my laurels on them indefinitely.

  2. I love that comment about taking breaks to improve. I will take more notice of my own habits and skills now from that perspective. Loved your expression (..".would have pelted me with mouldy madeleines"),. Best your fellow DL Sunshine.

    1. Hi there, fellow Duolingoer and thanks for your kind comment(s) :)