During my year abroad, I studied Chinese for 20 hours a week at the university as well as being fully immersed in the language every day. However, having recently returned back to the UK to continue studying for my Chemistry degree, I am no longer in such a perfect environment to nurture my language skills. Despite this, I am determined not to fall behind this year on my Chinese language studies – while I may not have time to significantly increase my language level, I can at least ensure I maintain my current knowledge. Here are a few tips for anyone else in a similar situation:

  1. Enrol on language classes

    In the third year of my Chemistry degree, we have the opportunity to take a language module consisting of two class hours a week. Although this is significantly less than I had during my year abroad, it is still valuable time to practice my speaking skills with a native speaker, ask for tips on complicated grammatical structures and get feedback on my written work. Many universities offer the option to take language modules as part of your degree, or have a foreign languages department offering evening classes. Just enrolling on a for-credit class (or alternatively, one you have to pay for) is some motivation to do a certain amount of work each week towards improving your language skills.

  2. Use online learning resources

    There are simply hundreds, if not thousands, of websites dedicated to supporting students learning any and every language you could imagine. Just a few I would particularly recommend for Chinese:
    Chinese Class 101 – audio lessons from native speakers with accompanying notes, vocab lists, etc. and a great app. I try to complete at least one lesson a week to practice my listening skills and pick up new grammatical structures and vocab.
    Hacking Chinese – loads of free resources, particularly great for language study tips
    FluentU – an online video-based program with particularly innovative interactive subtitles, built-in dictionary and vocab learning mode.

  3. Watch Chinese films/ TV shows

    Watching or listening to content in your chosen language is a great way to enjoy language learning – rather than watching X factor, how about trying the Chinese equivalent? While native content may be quite challenging for some learners, there are also a range of websites specialising in making them more accessible or providing subtitles. Some examples are:
    FluentU (see above)
    YouTube – loads of TV shows, web series, vlogs and even full films are uploaded to YouTube in every language. They can be a bit challenging to find, but try searching for keywords like “travel” or “study” (translated into the appropriate language) to find topics you are interested in. For Chinese learners, YouKu is also worth checking out since YouTube is blocked in China.

  4. Listen to podcasts

    I am really growing to love podcasts and similar audio content – you can listen to it while driving, cycling, running, or just in the evenings when your eyes are too tired to look at a screen. Due to the lack of visual cues, even podcasts made for native speakers tend to speak relatively slowly and clearly to ensure you can understand what they are saying. And there are a huge wealth of podcasts available online aimed at language learning students – again I’m going to mention Chinese Class 101 as providing not only fantastic audio content but also accompanying notes, flashcard revision, vocab lists, etc. all in an easy to navigate app. You can also find podcasts simply by searching in the iTunes podcasts app.

  5. Read native content

    Every country will have their own news websites, online magazines, blogs, etc. which are a great way to practice your reading skills. For Chinese learners (even beginners), I would highly recommend The Chairman’s Bao – an online (website/ app) chinese newspaper written for Chinese learners, with articles easily arranged by HSK level and a built in dictionary and flashcard system for when you spot unfamiliar vocab.

  6. Start a blog

    Many year abroad students will start up a blog during their year abroad to document their adventures (e.g. this one). However, you can still keep this up after your return, and use it as a way to improve your language skills. Try writing articles in your chosen language (and if you have followers in that country, they may even comment with feedback), blog about Chinese grammar rules or interesting Chinese news articles, or simply blog about what you have been up to relating to language study to motivate you to keep it up.

  7. Use revision apps

    I’m absolutely addicted to Memrise, an amazing vocab learning/ reviewing app with most key textbooks already available for a wide range of languages. The competitive element (add your friends/ classmates and compete on the leaderboards) makes what is essentially a glorified flashcards app so much more fun. Also, the range of study modes (learning, review, speed review, difficult words) is great – and for some languages (unfortunately not Chinese, yet…) there are also listening and meet the natives modes. Other friends use Anki, a spaced repetition flashcards app which is very popular for a wide range of subjects, or Skritter which focuses on writing Chinese or Japanese characters.

  8. Keep in touch with friends from abroad

    Hopefully during your year abroad you met some local students and made new friends – so take advantage of these connections to keep up your language skills (and free accommodation contacts…) after your year abroad! Simply messaging your friends to ask what they’ve been up to recently and chatting about your day helps to keep your language skills refreshed, and you can also Skype each other to get in speaking/ listening practice. Learning while socialising – perfect!

  9. Language exchanges

    Similar to simply chatting with friends, but perhaps a bit more organised (and great if you didn’t venture out of the English-speaking group much on your year abroad), language exchanges partner you up with a native speaker to help each other, usually with conversation practice. Most universities’ language/ year abroad departments will offer to link you up with a language exchange partner, or alternatively you can use websites such as italki to sign up for video chat based language exchanges.


Have you recently returned from studying abroad, or are you learning a language? Comment below with what you have been doing to maintain/ improve your language skills and any tips you have 🙂


4 thoughts on “Keeping up language skills after a year abroad

  1. These tips are great! I use some of them as means of keeping up my French. Alas, my Chinese is not very good anymore, sad it being my mother tongue, but I’ll have to pick it up again. I’ll need to try out your strategies to get started!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! It’s never too late to pick up a language again – I actually studied a few years of Chinese back at secondary school, forgot all of it, then had to start from scratch again last year – but having studied some before I learnt it much quicker. I’m determined not to lose it again though haha! (note to self: spend more time on French too…)

      Liked by 1 person

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