Tell us your language lessons

How do others manage to remain fluent in a second language? That's the question I had as I read Marilyn Gardner's story (see today's story) about bilingualism.

Experts say that those who have learned another language won't remain proficient unless they speak and hear it regularly.

That was true for my husband. When he was a boy, his family lived in Chile for about two years. He went to school there, played with local kids, and became adept in Spanish. But today? He can still count in Spanish and recalls the occasional word or phrase. But mostly his knowledge of the language disappeared.

My schoolgirl Spanish deserted me after graduation, but eventually I decided that speaking another language was important. When living in Germany, I was able to meet a greater variety of people by being able to converse (haltingly, at first) in their native tongue: a chimney sweep, a farmer. Gradually my skills improved because I was surrounded by the language and opportunities to use it - although sometimes I struggled to find the right word. (The afternoon the oil heater exploded, I resorted to sign language to explain to our landlord what had happened.)

Back in the US, I realized I was slowly forgetting what I'd worked hard to master, so I often tuned in to German broadcasts on shortwave radio. It wasn't as good as a two-way conversation, but did help.

Frequent trips abroad are obviously the ideal way to hone a language skill. But they are expensive. We would be interested in hearing other ways that worked for you.

Send your ideas and solutions via e-mail to Homefront or write Homefront, The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston MA 02115. We will print some of these in a future column.

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