How to Resurrect Your High School Spanish… or Any Language (Plus: Be on the CBS Early Show!)


Oktoberfest is good for reactivating German but bad for livers. ((c) Dave77459)

How can you possibly maintain fluency in two foreign languages — let alone five or six — if the opportunities to use them are months or years apart?

In 20 minutes, I leave from JFK for Iceland, then Scotland, and then a circle in Europe that will include Oktoberfest in Munich. Germany is strategic, as I want to “reactivate” my German before the media tour there.

Few topics provoke more anxiety and depression in language lovers than the prospect of forgetting a hard-earned language. After you return to your English-dominated homeland, how do you maintain your newfound skills, which seem to have yogurt-like expiration dates? Having juggled close to a dozen languages — keeping some and losing others — and having suffered the interference that goes it all, my answer now is simple: you don’t.

It is easier, and much more time-efficient, to catch up versus keep up.

Why struggle to maintain a foreign tongue in the US, for example, when you most often gain nothing more than bad habits? If you acquire the language in a native environment and attain an intermediate or advanced level of fluency, you can reactivate your language skills in four weeks or less when approached methodically. Would you rather spend four hours per week on your new language, only to see it get sick and bloated with a distinctly foreign-sounding twang, or spend two hours per day for 1-3 weeks and be right back at your fluency level from years prior?

I began reactivation of irretrievable German just over a week ago and can already hold a decent conversation. This is not a testament to my ability, but to the efficacy of a process that begins with massive passive exposure and avoids time-consuming review from square one:

1. Days 1-7: German films with English subtitles for at least two hours each evening for one week.

2. Days 3+: 10-20 pages of dialogue-rich manga (Japanese comics, here translated into German, that can be ordered in most languages from comic stores in your target country) for 30 minutes each morning and prior to bed. I’m a big fan of One Piece.

3. On the plane: Read a phrasebook in its entirety for active recall practice of common phrases (45 minutes of study alternated with 15 minutes of rest — this takes advantage of what is called the “primacy and recency” effect).

4. Upon arrival: Continue with manga and grammar reference checks as needed, using an electronic dictionary to reactivate vocabulary from conversation that is familiar but not understood.

5. Weeks 2-3: Thirty to sixty Vis-Ed flashcards daily. This seems like a lot, but most will have been covered in steps 1-3 using active recall (English to German). Vis-Ed compiles its sets of flashcards from word frequency lists and includes sample phrases for usage. I begin flashcards after three or four days in-country.

The sooner you decide to reactivate languages when needed, instead of maintaining them for an unspecified time in the future, the more leisure time you will have and the less diluted your language abilities will be when you need them.

Don’t fear losing languages if you’ve attained real fluency. They’re just in temporary storage with the covers pulled over them.


Odds and Ends: Please vote for me, and be on the CBS Early Show!

There are only 24 hours left… if you haven’t, please vote for my panel at the SXSW conference! It takes about 30 seconds and will allow me to pull together some of the best entrepreneurial minds in the world. Check out all of the panels and vote here.

ASAP: Would you like to be on the CBS Early Show? They are doing a segment on personal outsourcing and are looking for fun case studies in New York City (or people willing to travel there). If you are in/near NYC and have a good success story of using personal outsourcing, please share them in the comments here and I’ll pass your e-mail address to the producers!

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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81 Replies to “How to Resurrect Your High School Spanish… or Any Language (Plus: Be on the CBS Early Show!)”

  1. as usual, interesting method.

    You’re using German as example, but what about language that are totally different from your mother tongue, I’ll take Japanese for example as you spent some time in Japan (and as I’m currently in japan myself). Do you think you could catch up on your japanese in just 4 weeks? Would’nt it be easier to read the latest One Piece/Bleach in Japanese every time they release one?

    By the way, it takes 3/5 week to get your book from T_T so looooong

  2. Thanks for the tips, Tim! I was worried about losing my grasp of Italian after visiting next year. Now I won’t be so intimidated by catch-up!

    Also, I’m using Rosetta Stone 1-2 hours daily to learn Italian, and I’m loving the program so far. What other language learning methods would you recommend?

  3. I’m a work-at-home marketer and have outsourced web development / technology projects, copywriting, and other projects to various places: Eastern Europe, India, Asia, etc.. I’ve used Elance, Craigslist, and referrals to find people. I’d love a chance to be on the CBS Early Show and discuss my experiences. 🙂

  4. Ok, but if you’ve got friends in the country where the example language is spoken, wouldn’t speaking to them on the phone for an hour or so a week easily be enough to keep up your fluency, and I can’t see you picking up any bad habits that way, know what I mean?

  5. Living in Canada I speak two languages most days. If I go back to visit my family for a week (speaking only one language) then I very quickly forget how to speak the other. I maintain 2 blogs, one in each language to at least keep my writing up to par. My kids speak one language at home and go to school in the other so I get to help with homework in the other language.

    Mais, j’ai des jours quand je ne me souviens pas quelle langue je devrais parler!

  6. Excellent post! My second language is Chinese and after returning to the states a little over 13 years ago I have definitely seen a drop off in my language skills. I’ll take your tips and use them to resurrect my language abilities before my next trip to Asia.

  7. I use the TV newscasts on Spanish language stations to reactivate before heading to South America. Their pronunciation is flawless and there is the added benefit of having pictures to cue you as to the content.


  8. Hey Tim. Just give me a call when you are in Germany. We are large fans and “appliers” of the 4hww. We can have a talk, so you can reactivate your German. 🙂



  9. Tim,

    If you find yourself in Edinburgh and you’re looking for a brief, brutal, effective workout drop me a line and i’ll introduce you to Kettlebells if you’ve not tried them already. As a grappler take to this type of training very quickly.

    Have a great trip

    Rannoch Donald RKC

  10. Here is a unique twist that I use on personal outsourcing. I am an economics teacher in the suburbs of New York City. My colleagues and I have developed a simulation for teaching what was once a very boring course for high school seniors.

    Since I cannot outsource things like lesson plans and the actual mechanics of teaching a high school class, I outsource the administrative duties for classroom management to my economics students. This includes things like taking attendance, greeting students at the door, passing out graded work to students, etc. There is room for about 30 jobs.

    I don’t outsource these activities out of laziness. I outsource to provide students the opportunity to earn a “paycheck” in class. Students are paid once per week for their labor and can then use the money to pay bills for seat rentals, taxes and other fees that we create in the simulation. Any disposable income is then used to purchase extra points on tests, on the average, term paper extensions, etc.

    Using a common currency for each class allows me to create teachable moments within the field of economics. Students parlay the money earned through jobs into private business like banks and insurance companies in class. Interest rates become something they have to deal with rather than listen to in a passive state.

    Outsourcing proves to be mutually beneficial. I can focus on the curriculum rather than paperwork and the students get paid and benefit from their labor. Economics has become one of the most popular classes in our school because of this simulation.

  11. I’ve been reading your book and I find it very inspiring. I didn’t know there were other people out there with job and hobby ADD. Thanks so much for your writing and your blog! I’m 23, a 1 year college grad with a job I should love but don’t, and like you I just can’t understand why everyone in the real world does things the retarded way.

    Thanks… that’s all.

  12. Tim,

    Thanks for re-posting this useful bit of advice (for those that don’t know, it’s also in the reader resources and was published on vagablogging a while ago). I was wondering if you had plans on completing your 3 part series on “How to Learn Any Language in 3 Months” ?



  13. I would say this, given that I work for the company, but Champs-Elysées audio magazines are a great way of bringing your language skills out of cold storage – Schau ins Land might be useful to you before your next trip Tim…

  14. Once you get to your destination, nothing beats living with the natives. If you have to ask in German where the bathroom is in the middle of the night when you’re sleepwalking, pretty soon it will get in there!

    Plus you get to understand the WHY and HOW behind all the cultural practices that seem so strange. Well, OK, maybe not understand, but at least hear their version of the story (will ice-cold liquids really burst one’s stomach? hmmm… So that’s why the beer is warm!)

  15. This is the only I have learned 3 languages – Italian as well as Sicilan, Spanish, and Dutch- being the hardest. That and just getting out there and opening my mouth.

    To Rannoch- Kettle Bells Rock!!! I’m taking it where I train, Fighthouse, in NYC.

    Keep on keeping on Tim. You’re changing the world one person at a time.

  16. Next time, use at least some REAL GERMAN BEER as picture, will you?! – and… German is not that easy, especially not for Americans.

    My favorite TV show ALIAS did show me all the stereotypical language problems actors did ran into, including German and Dutch (Jenifer Garner did actually do very well in comparision with all other cast, but they surely struggled big time with German!).

    A German, who actually has only 2 german websites out of his other 200 which are mostly … in English!

    Nobody is perfect 🙂

  17. Personal outsourcing: one of the simplest examples I can think of that has been totally worthwhile is the Wash and Fold. I discovered the joy of wash and fold about a year and a half ago when I moved to an apartment that had no washer and dryer. I was looking for a laundromat and discovered a place where I could drop off my clothes in the morning and pick them up in the evening washed and folded. I have never washed my clothes since.

    I spend about $10-$12 a week on wash and fold, as opposed to about $6-$7 I would spend on using quarters and doing it myself; the time I save by not having to fold my clothes makes this fully worth while.

    I have friends who still say to me “I can’t believe you spend that much on laundry.” They just can’t grasp the concept of opportunity cost or understand that I value my time enough that I’ll gladly pay for someone to do something as boring as folding clothes.

  18. Hi Tim,

    I used to have a cassette tape (yes, cassette!) that we played in my remote office to mimic the sound of a “real” office and “realâ€? team members when I was on conference calls. Instead, I had a toddler playing Legos at my feet and an infant usually enjoying her breakfast in my lap (quietly) and not a team member in sight.

    That was 1999. Since then, I’ve built three companies, wrote a book, traveled with a world famous scientist on expeditions while homeschooing three kids. All possible because I created a team of talented (outsourced) assistants, project managers, programmers, web designers, publicists and editors.

    I remember being on the phone with decision makers of large public companies and I’d either in my PJs or sitting on the beach watching the girls play. The Big Dogs on the line had no idea I wasn’t in an traditional office and I didn’t bother to tell them.

    When I created my outsourced lifestyle (even though I don’t believe that word was used much then, if at all), I knew the only thing I would NOT outsource was my family and the role of parent. Everything else, with the exception of a house cleaner, was fair game. (We even outsource part of our children’s education to online curriculum programs and tutors from around the world.)

    I’d be happy to share our story to inspire others (especially parents) to create an outsourced lifestyle that is filled with life…

  19. Hey Tim ,this will be off topic if it goes on the site automatically (Sorry folks !) but you are about to change my life ….or rather I am with your book.I have had most of these elements buzzing around in my head for 7 years now after leaving the UK for East Asia in 2000 but you have already implemented them concisely and you have presented so many of the key internal questions needed to set this dream into reality.

    As someone of a similar age and outlook ,thank you so much.

    It is a holiday where I am right now and I’m not leaving the house till I walk out the door with a solid plan of action !!

    Mike in Korea

  20. Hi Tim,

    what about refreshing your reading comprehension of the German language:

    Ich lebe in Deutschland und würde mich sehr gerne mit Dir auf dem Oktoberfest treffen und ein wenig auf deutsch plaudern. Kannst Du uns sagen, wann Du dort sein wirst und wo man dich möglicherweise auffinden könnte? Kannst mir auch einfach ne E-Mail schicken wenn Du Dich mit mir treffen möchtest.

    Schöne Grüße aus Deutschland,

    Hermann The German

  21. Tim,

    In addition to your steps already mentioned in your blog, I put forth the following for consideration. I use this method whenever I enter a foreign culutre that uses a language aother than English. You need to have a pocket size notebook, a willingness to speak like a child and not worry about it, and the help of a native speaker (who speaks English) for about 1/2 an hour. Bring a tape recorder or dictaphone with you. I refer to my system of language learning: Survival Language Skills.

    There are essentially 5 packets of information that can help you survive.

    1) Learn to say “What’s that?” It allows you to recode your world with nouns.

    2) “What are you doing? ” or “What am I doing?” It generates verbs for you.

    3) Count from 0 to 10.

    4) Lear the question words – they are hard to act out sometmies:

    who, what, where, when, why, how, how much, how many, which

    5) a package of useful phrases including slowly, I would like…, stop, help, please, thank you, yes, no… and a few others. I am including a chart that I fill out before I hit the new culture. Enjoy!


    1. What is this? Was ist das?

    2. What are you doing?

    3. What am I doing? Was machst du? Was tust du?

    Was mache ich? Was tue ich?

    1 who Wer

    2 what Was

    3 where (stationary); where to (motion) Wo; wohin

    4 when Wann

    5 why Warum

    6 how Wie

    7 how much, how many Wieviel

    0 null

    1 eins

    2 zwei

    3 drei

    4 vier

    5 fünf

    6 sechs

    7 sieben

    8 acht

    9 neun

    10 zehn 11 elf

    12 zwölf

    13 dreizehn

    14 vierzehn

    15 fünfzehn

    16 sechzehn

    17 siebzehn

    18 achtzehn

    19 neunzehn

    20 zwanzig

    Hello (good day) Guten Tag, Grüß Gott

    How are you (to strangers) Wie geht es Ihnen (formal)

    Slowly, quickly Langsam, schnell

    I don’t understand Ich verstehe nicht

    I do not know Ich weiß es nicht

    I do not speak German Ich spreche deutsch nicht

    Excuse me (pardon me) Verzeihung, entschuldigung

    Yes, no Ja, nein

    I would like …a coke Ich hätte gern …ein Cola

    Please, Thank you, You are welcome Bitte, Danke, Bitte schön

    Left, right, straight Links, rechts, geradeaus

    Again (another); repeat Noch einmal; wiederholen Sie

    Stop Halt!

    Nothing nichts

    Eat, drink Iß, Trinke

    I am lost Ich bin verloren

    toilet WC, Toilette

    Is this seat free? Ist dieser Platz frei?

    Help Hilfe

    Left, right straight ahead Nach links, nach rechts, geradeaus


  22. Hey Tim –

    I live in the NYC area, run a successful naming and marketing communications company and have been outsourcing both domestically and internationally for the past 4 months. International outsources have helped me with increasing the size of my mailing lists, web design, online marketing and accounting; domestic outsourcer helps me with research, day-to-day administrative tasks.

    I regret that I didn’t start outsourcing sooner – but your book was the catalyst to start doing things I had been thinking about doing after running my business for a year in Panama.

    My outsourcers are allowing me to grow my business faster and work less so that I can make breakfasts for my three sons, take one to school and be home relatively early for dinner and homework each and every day.

    Feel free to forward my information to the Early Show Producers and keep up the great work.


  23. Hey Tim,

    I guess I really outsource 95% of my business. We sell Streamer and Confetti Supplies to The Special Event and Entertainment/Concert industries.

    From the time a call is answered, to the product being manufactured, to the product being shipped, I outsource just about all of it. I leave my time free for… well ME, and I speak with my Client’s if they need me.’

    Outsourcing has made it possible for me to travel and see more of my Clients, to travel and produce the Special Effect for more Events and to do what I do best – market my Company.

    There is no way I would be where I am now if I hadn’t been outsourcing, I know I was trying to do it all and it drove me nuts!

    Thanks for a great book!


  24. I am marvelling at how Tim has hit on some of the most important concepts in language acquisition theory. He’s using Krashen and Terrell’s Natural Approach. It’s abhorred by most U.S. high school programs, but has been used in successful progressive schools since the 1970s.

    He is referring to ways to re-activate a language. First, the language has to be learned — you might try a 4 day Fluency Fast class first. The 100 highest frequency words in any language (See A Frequency Dictionary of Spanish, Mark Davies) are the starting point. Davies distinguishes between written and spoken Spanish. Then those words must be heard in context and be COMPREHENSIBLE to the learner. The reactivation sequence works for all dormant languages — even those that were learned in childhood but not maintained.

    Learning a language isn’t supposed to be painful and time-consuming. Hopefully Tim will help us highlight the need for multi-lingualism and the ease with which it can be done when it’s done right.

    Karen Rowan

  25. Regarding the reading comprehension question from Hermann the German — Yes, refreshing reading comprehension — when it is also COMPREHENSIBLE (the reader understands the message)is the foundation of the Natural Approach (See The Power of Reading, Krashen), but Tim does this. He reads comics (comprehensible, easy, fun, interesting, compelling). He also said he read manuals in Japanese regarding his physical training that were accompanied by pictures. He’s a genius — who has synthesized mountains of research into his technique. I can’t find anything in his technique that isn’t supported by this enormous body of knowledge. Google any of these to find the research that supports his technique. The Natural Approach, TPR Storytelling, the input hypothesis, Fluency Fast, Dr. Stephen Krashen. The reason this is FASCINATING is that these are the underdogs, fighting against mainstream ideas about what works in foreign language education. Tim has inadvertantly taken the side of language acquisition theory and grass roots methodology against some very big dogs.

    Karen Rowan

  26. I had to learn and relearn russian twice. I hardly recall any of it, but I am sure if I was immersed in it I would remember again.

    It really is not hard, I was certainly not fluent, I found that the phrases and words that helped me get around were just as Tim says “in storage”. The trick to learn is to get it out of storage as soon as possible. Unfortunately I don’t have the answer. Maybe someone can help me out.

  27. What Tim is saying is consistent with foreign language acquisition research. He is using comprehensible input, the principle of the Natural Approach, to provide himself with interesting, relevant, compelling reading and auditory material. Hermann asked if he was reading — he was — comics and manuals related to training that had pictures. He doesn’t talk about learning a language (as opposed to re-activating language that is dormant), but the chapter on the site contains information on how he learns languages using the 100 highest frequency words. To get more information Google: TPR Storytelling, Natural Approach, input hypothesis, Dr. Stephen Krashen, The International Journal of Foreign Language Teaching or, for practical application of theory, Fluency Fast. Tim’s independent research is the “underdog” of language education. We have a 94% failure rate in U.S. high schools in becoming bilingual through traditional classes — so preaching a more effective way is bound to help swing the pendulum.

  28. Dear Tim,

    Are you planning to visit Istanbul, Turkey during your European tour? There are pretty cheap flights (think 30 euros) from various airports in Germany to Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen Airport.

    Come have a mini-retirement here, meet your pretty fans, and live the high life for a few days…




    Hi Mub!

    I’d love to. I’m on the way to Sardinia now, but we’ll see how my travel shapes up. I’ll let you know if I can make it…

    Tessekur ederim (sorry for the spelling) 🙂


  29. Tim probably is by now saying the bayerish chant (Horray, Horray)on some tabletop in any tent at the Teresa Wiesl’… and usually those surrounding neighbors the park (like me 4 years ago)they usually close the houses and go somewhere further south to “Schiiii-foen-foen-foen” (another Bayerish slang-chant for ski-vacation = Schifahren = verb)

    Anyways, if you still mind at this point to know a good hint for small or zero budget party for V.I.Ps (I highly doubt you’re seeing just one cat at this time – hicks). IMO it’s all about individual attention, find out about each individuals best likes and connect the dots at the party, so that people gather together with a memorable moment for all, sometimes the simplest things are the most brilliant for the record. You’re the scavenger and have the VAs to assist you, sura you’ll get in there (after the hang-over for days – hehehe).

    Don’t underestimate German beer, and the bayerish originals are hi-octane 😉 tasty tasty Timdelicious! You’ll be laughing strange by the first glas on the “meter-bier” (a nice thin 2×4 with lined-up filled beer in a German metric “Einheit”… Prost! Zum Wohl!

    As far the German word mentioned by Wayne MacIntyre, I would like to add: Ich spreche NICHT Deutsch. (I don’t speak German)In negative sentences the word “nicht” comes right after the verb, excepting pronomes like “mich” “dich” “euch” / mir, dir – they go between verb and the negative word, i.e. Sie (3rd p sg) mag mich nicht. (She don’t like me) – nothing personal 😉

    And “Grüss Gott” is mostly used in Bayerish region as greeting, and the others usually is the formal “Wie get’s Ihnen Herr/Frau…fill with last name” – Always use the formal “Sie” (always first letter Capital), and especially aply this way to the elderly and people you do not know (It is a respect code among Germans). With young people and more informal settings you(‘re free) may ask “darf ich Sie mal dutzen?” Better translation: May I talk to you by name?

    Wie auch immer… Du wirst Dir mal einiges gönnen! = Anyhow, you’ll enjoy it!


  30. There are certainly more “interesting” pictures related to the Oktoberfest, both concerning beer (who drinks from bottles at the Wiesn) and guests (there are women, too) … However, I just wrote in to wish you some fun in Germany: Viel Spaß!

  31. I’m a private practice forensic psychologist and part-time professor at Yale Medical School and I’ve been outsourcing for three years; I have two full-time editors of my reports; one lives in England and one I don’t even know where he lives anymore (used to be in the States, then Paris), but somewhere in the US now. All business is conducted online via e-mail and wiring. I also have a secretary “virtual assistant” in suburban Atlanta gained through E-Lance. I would be pleased to share a fuller story in NYC!

  32. Tim, I’ve read your formula for learning a language in 3 months, including the breakdown of schedule and division of language school for grammar, and conversational exchange for speaking.

    I’ve just arrived in China for my own mini-retirement, and am researching language schools. How would you change your formula for Chinese given the added element of character recognition & writing?



    1. I had a professor teach me Chinese characters to the tune of over 100 characters a week (for five weeks, as an “experiment.”) He deconstructed a complex character into its many individually pictured parts, (some were historical parts.) For each “character family,” he created a story to link them together. I learned to write the group of characters individually, or the parts of each type of character could together be assembled into the more complex character in the ways he had indicated. He made it very easy to remember and learn.

      Unfortunately, I’ve forgotten it all, because I never reached fluency. I’ve also forgotten fluency in Spanish that I used to have – So I was intrigued to find out how I could “reactivate” at least one language again! – Thanks!

  33. YES! These techniques work — immersion is the best way. Last year I had to learn enough French to get around on my own for a week and had never taken a course. I crammed by surrounding myself with the language in a similar way and did just fine. I compiled a full list of the techniques I used on the folllowing page (for anyone interested):

  34. About four years ago I traveled to Guatemala and lived there for 8 months. I went down with the intention of learning the language and ended up creating a learning tools for english natives to learn Spanish. I have the book completed and 4 sound disks finished. All is professionally done and recorded in a sound studio in Guatemala city. I am similar to Tim in the fact that I can dream up an idea and complete it, but need help forwarding this into motion.

    I appreciate in advance any help that you can offer @

    Thanks for your time!


  35. Anyone… (preferably Tim),

    How does this logic apply to school and studying? I’m in my second year of college and I’m wondering if it is fair to work hard to understand the material then let it be until I’m studying for the exam as opposed to trying to review everything as I go through the semester. I mean, I’m going to have to study hard and cram at the end regardless, is that time put in “keeping up” with old material worth anything at all?

    (please note I’m not implying not to study or do anything, but rather to understand a topic then move on)

  36. Hi there,

    Love the book especially the chapter on mini-retirements! I would like to know if you have a list of the foriegn language schools you have used and recommend from the places you’ve gone and studied around the world. Can you post this list on your resources page? I would like to brush up on my spanish and would like to go back to Costa Rica for a mini-retirement: spanish language study, scuba and lot’s of eco-hiking and touring!

    Thanks very much!

    Laura Halik

  37. Tim your book has been transformational and just the kick in the butt needed. I am planning on taking my family (w/2 children 12 & 13) to Argentina for a month or two this summer as our fist mini-retirement (and test run w/kids abroadl before going for longer periods). We want to take Spanish lessons and wondering if you would share any recommendations for schools/teachers and resources for housing. We were looking at Madrid, but w/dollar down and always wanting to visit Argentia, seems like the perfect opportunity.

    Thank you for the innovative and insightful information in your book and your blog, keep up the excellent work!

  38. I was a Spanish teacher once (until I realized I would end up living with my parents for the rest of my life, since I wasn’t paid enough for the rents in my area). I studied for a few weeks at a wonderful language school in Cuernavaca, Mexico. Amerispan is a travel company that specializes in language travel, and places students in homestays that let you get to know the people, and their lifestyles, instead of staying in a boring hotel. They offer volunteer work vacations, internships and daily language instruction, and will customize your stay (i.e., they will pair you with a conversation partner, customize the spanish you learn for medical or law enforcement if that’s what you need, arrange arts and crafts lessons – whatever you ask if you know what you want ahead of time.) Although they started out partnering just with language schools in Latin America, they now have programs in many different languages in countries all over the world, Arabic to Chinese and Japanese. You can stay for as little as one week, or extend your stay for several weeks or months, it’s up to you, since unlike a tour package, there are no set start dates. The volunteer opportunities would be a great way to spend a “mini-retirement” too, if you already grasp enough of the language to get by.

    I just read the 4HWW book today, after waiting for weeks for the library to hand it over to me (it was already on hold for about 15 other people, so I had to wait a long time!). I wish I had found this book in 2001, after the dotcom I worked for went bust, my hours were cut, and my wages were frozen. I am nearly 40 now, and make only a little over $11 an hour, and am going back to graduate school (again!) to get an MBA degree to make myself more marketable (I hope). I wish I knew where to start to make this 4HWW work for me. I only wish I understood to begin with how someone who has worked as hard as I have, never takes a vacation, has several college degrees, and is a law-abiding, tax-paying homeowner, could get so hopelessly stuck!! My initial reaction after reading the book was depression, since I don’t know how I could possibly make this plan work for me.

  39. Hi Tim,

    What’s your opinion of the Rosetta Stone method? I want to resurrect my Spanish skills for a trip to Mexico. I also want to start teaching my kids; neither have much exposure to the language? My wife speaks Spanish related to her professional life in healthcare.

    Thanks, another Tim

  40. So I have been living in Switzerland for a 5 weeks now… 6 days ago I decided I would take the leap and learn the local language which is a German Dialect. I have never been able to speak German in my whole life….

    The first day I looked at what situations I would be in, Shops, restaurants, hotels etc..

    I also downloaded and translated the top 100 spoken words and cut them into groups….. I am also using the flash card method…. and using the phrase I have learned that day as much as I can ….

    So over the last 5 days… I learn before sleep & recap after as suggested…

    And it sticks…. I cant believe the amount of German I can speak already…..

    I have also taught myself to really listen when people speak too…. Someone mention the other day that listening is key… a baby listens for a long time before attempting to speak…

    So by trying to get the gist of what the person is saying you learn to pick out words which teahces you to recognise the words you have learned…..

    I’ll keep you posted, but by New Years Eve…. I shall be speaking German.

    Nice one Tim!

  41. Tim…what do you think about the Pimsleur Method? I have found great success in the spoken area of it. A bit repetitive but you remember it!..

    cheers, arigato, danke, grazie, spaseeba, cam ong, gracias…….

  42. @John:

    I can’t speak for Tim but I can quote him on a comparison between Pimsleur and MT: “MT is Pimsleur on steroids.” Which basically means both are good but Pimsleur is rather slow.

  43. Interesting idea.

    I agree though. Focussed effort is what gets results. Not 1 hour every other week.

    Thanks for the great tip. I learned a couple of languages and been trying to find time to “maintain” my level, however i agree with you that this would probably be a waste of time. When i need them, i can recover them quite quickly…

  44. I don’t worry much in general and even less about forgetting things I know. When you learned something once you can learn/remember it again when you need it.

    My way of keeping my language knowledge intact is, to either read a few fiction books in that language or to watch a movie per month.

    That way I don’t forget what I know and even learn a few new words and usages, while enjoying the process.

    It would be even better to regularly write a little .. a few sentences here and there, grocery lists, to-do lists, etc.

    It is also useful to include a few foreign songs into your music playlist. Song lyrics usually replay in your head again and again ( .. and again) helping with memorization and pronunciation.

    Nothing is better than learning something without noticing 🙂

  45. I still can’t get away from the desirability of maintaining a language. I mean, instead of it having to be some time intensive laborious task, couldn’t we find some easier ways to “maintain”? For instance, your idea about watching the movies with English subtitles. Wouldn’t that be a good thing to do on a regular basis, and perhaps even an enjoyable thing to do on a regular basis? On top of that, hearing the foreign language spoken in the movie should keep your pronunciation tuned up instead of allowing it to go bad as you say.

    I’ve just gotta think that there are more passive ways to keep up your language skills, but, my foreign language is Spanish, and I guess that there are much more resources for Spanish speakers in the United States than there are for other languages.

    Also, I just wanted to point out, I tried to click through on that link you posted for the Vis-Ed flashcards, but apparently, it’s now a bad link for some reason.

  46. To learn Mandarin grammar and vocab rapidly, I used the free podcast by Serge Melnyk available via iTunes.

    Try it out. I think you’ll like it.

  47. Hello all,

    I strongly believe that in order to be successful (no matter what the field is), you have to keep doing the continuous effort, and without it there is no success in practical field, and yeah few hours a week isn’t much to fulfill your dreams, it requires much more than that.

  48. Hey Tim,

    Great article. We’ve just re-tweeted it and Facebooked it to all our Expanish Spanish School students in Buenos Aires. We get hundreds of Spanish students coming from all over the world to study in Argentina and many of them come thinking they’ll remember what they learnt back home. And the reality is they’ve forgotten it. It’s painful thinking of all those wasted years of learning it, just to have to re-learn!


  49. Hi Tim,

    Do your language reactivation tips apply for first languages mostly forgotten, also? I spoke French as my only language until I was about 5, then moved to the States from Montreal, Quebec. I currently speak just enough French to get myself into trouble, but can’t really hold a conversation. Would your standard of reactivating “fluency” apply here, even though I’m now 26? Thanks so much.


  50. @Courtney,

    The same tips apply, but the longer it has been since you spoke a language, the more re-exposure it will take to bring it back. But since French was indeed your first language, it is still in you (just buried under many years of English).

    With regard to comments above about spending time maintaining languages, I don’t find that to be very practical. When I began learning Mandarin, I simply did not have the time or desire to keep reviewing Japanese as well. But I have found that despite being away from Japan for 7 years, it still comes back to me quite quickly when needed. I have noticed that it takes my mouth a few days of actively speaking Japanese to get back up to speed, but my comprehension and fluency (both oral and written) remain intact despite barely using the language the past 5 years.

  51. Just a quick one – the link to the Vis-Ed cards is now broken. I’ve visited the site but there are a number of different options:

    -Vocabulary cards

    -Conversation cards

    -Grammar cards

    -Verb cards

    I was wondering which one if was you were recommending?

    Many thanks Tim,


  52. Well let me tell you something. I finished H.S. Spanish I never really forgot what I learned. I would not say that I was fluent, but I remember most of the concepts that I learned, so that when I picked it up 7 years I did not have to relearn those basic concepts. To me speaking suffers as you don’t have the opportunity to speak much especially if it not a language that is present where you live. And those who know that might perfer speaking in English out of cortuesy.

  53. Thanks. You’ve relieved my mind greatly. I am living in Ukraine and learning the language, but wish I could still speak the Spanish I learned in high school. Now I know it’s okay to just leave it alone until I am actually planning a trip to Spain.

  54. Hi Tim, Thank you for the great article. In my personal case, I use to make a language exchange once a week using Skype and that helps me a lot.

  55. You are incredible. I love reading the efficient processes you devise to do anything you set your heart on. They make so much sense. Thank you 🙂