watching my language

by Eric Daryl Meyer

I’ve recently found a manageable practice for maintaining my language skills. Presently, I’m mostly concerned with German and Greek, because my knowledge of French has never been anything but superficial (meaning that it can likely be recovered with little effort) and my Spanish is well-sedimented in the crypts of 5th period adolescent angst (accompanying so much emotional baggage seems to aid the memory); unfortunately I’ve more or less abandoned the year of Hebrew I took at Regent, though I imagine that too might be recoverable.

At the beginning of the day I’ll sit down with a passage of Scripture in both German and Greek and read through them together without the aid of a dictionary or English translation. I spend about 15 or 20 minutes reading between the two texts. When the syntax or vocabulary is obscure in one language, I’m usually able to parse it out using the other (and my own familiarity with the text as well). The main benefit here is that I’m not clarifying every confusion by mediating it through English—when I’m stuck in Greek, I’m improving my German in the process of getting unmired.

This is only a strategy for bare-bones maintenance of the facility that I’ve gained with these languages; I don’t think that I’m actually gaining in vocabulary or translation skill. But, I haven’t previously found a strategy that would allow me to maintain several languages at once without devoting an inordinate amount of time or alternating between languages (which translates into an unrealistic “habit” dropped before it’s ever formed). This is also far more effective and enjoyable than the periodic cram sessions where I try to regain what I’ve lost over the last six months through a few intense weeks of remorseful rededication.

Anyone else have practices of language maintenance?