How to maintain a rather advanced level of proficiency

@djc463 Thanks for the suggestion. I actually started reading La Sombra del Viento quite a while ago, and the amount of words I didn’t know was very frustrating to me, so I kind of agree with Steve in his assessment of that book.

@2tmp011007 Thanks for your suggestions. I have used that frequency list before, and the first 5000 words, I know the vast majority. My problem is output, when I talk, the words don’t come out, but I could read them and know what they mean. Also, THANK YOU for that link to the Goldlist Method post, it’s very intriguing, and I think I want to try it.

@lovelanguages Thanks again so much. You seem to have a very varied and disciplined approach to maintaining your level, it’s very interesting to read about it.

This is on my mind as I’m now preparing to leave Japan. I have to admit that I do relatively little Japanese “studying”. Since I live here, it just comes up in my daily life. I try to do LingQ lessons and Anki, and sometimes listen to podcasts, but I don’t do a lot of deliberate study. I think that once I leave, I’m going to have to adopt a more deliberate pattern of study so as to not lose my ability. One huge advantage of living in the country is not really needing to deliberately dedicate large amounts of time to the language once you’ve gotten to a certain point as you can kind of learn from life.


Maybe you need to find out what Steve does, and do exactly the same thing!?

It’s been literally decades since he lived in Japan, but he still regularly makes videos where he speaks highly fluent Japanese. (And he seems to keep his Chinese in extremely good shape too!)

First of all, when I lived in Japan, I did a lot of listening and reading. I did not just rely on the vocabulary that came up in discussions. This ensured, I think, that the language was sufficiently entrenched in my mind that it would be difficult to lose.

ad aybee77 et al:

When I talked about books that contain high frequency vocabulary I was indeed referring to language learning books. I use them for all my working languages and I have found them to be very efficient. Luckily, Langenscheidt has some great products for English, Italian, French, and Spanish. Jolanda already gave you the link for the English - German product (you can find the same product for the other languages I mentioned on the Internet). That CD Rom contains about 9,000 sample sentences covering a wide range of different topics. I absolutely love it. You have native speakers speaking each sentence in German and English. You can choose which language you would like to listen to first (I always choose to listen to the German sentence/word first and then to the equivalent in the foreign language I am practising. I don’t like it the other way round). You can also read the sentences on your computer screen if you use the CD ROM. I only listen to the sentences on my Ipod though.

If you wish, you can listen to one language version only, i. e. you can just download the German sentences without the English translations. I have done both. If I need to quickly review some vocabulary, I just listen to the version in my target language (since I basically know all the words but I sometimes need to refresh my mind ;-), and if I have more time I actually enjoy listening to both versions (English - German or French - German etc.). Sometimes people wonder why I review basic vocabulary and sentence structures. The answer is quite simple: No matter how basic or easy they may appear, if you don’t use them you won’t know them (anymore). And in my work I mostly use rather technical and/or formal language so that I need to brush up on my colloquialisms from time to time.

Unfortunately, I have not yet found anything similar for my other languages. There are some really good products out there for English - Mandarin. But I bought all of them in mainland China or Taiwan (some of them you can also get on the Internet).

As for Russian, I don’t have any audio CDs to practise that core vocabulary with but I have bought some books which I consider to be quite useful:

  1. Pfaffen: Deutsch-Russisches Satzlexikon (two volumes), German - Russian
  2. A phrase and sentence dictionary of spoken Russian (Russian - English/English - Russian) by Dover book
  3. Langenscheidt: Grund- und Aufbauwortschatz (Russisch - Deutsch) - although I don’t like the Russian version as much as the other ones. Somehow the sentences don’t sound that natural. But it is still a good product to get the basics under your belt. Always provided you like using that kind of books.

When it comes to reading, I must say that I have never really used “graded readers” (except in high school). I have always (and quite early, as a matter of fact) started out with newspapers and magazines reading articles I was interested in.

Unless you choose a scientific text, you should not have too many problems reading a book with the help of a good dictionary. Many people seem to think that using a dictionary is a sign of some sort of failure on the part of the learner. As if looking up a word you don’t know was something terribly bad ;-). I love dictionaries. I don’t use them as often anymore because I normally don’t need them for high-frequency words and because you understand a lot of other words based on the context, but I do read dictionaries from time to time (if I’m too lazy to get started on a new book ;-).

There might be more resources on the Internet to get a list of high-frequency words in other languages. As I said, I find working with these lists (provided you get words in context, i. e. with example sentences) very useful and quite pleasant. But I also know that there are quite a few learners who find these lists boring. You just need to find out what works best for you.

ad peter: First of all, thanks for your kind words.

(…) I wonder, however, if you’d keep maintaining these languages at this level if you weren’t working as an interpreter (or, for example, when you retire). (…)

Definitely not. You can still have interesting conversations and read books, watch movies etc. if you don’t maintain that kind of “professional proficiency”. And somehow I look forward to the day when people won’t expect me to know every single word in a language simply because I’m a translator/interpreter. When I meet people for the first time, I normally avoid talking about my job because most of them will inevitably try to test me on some obscure word or technical term.

When I retire, I will hopefully be able to take things easy which will also give me more time to do other things (including learning new languages I won’t have to be highly proficient in ;-).

antes que nada: you’re welcome… si el problema es output tal vez te sea util una serie de productos desarrollados para hispanoparlantes aprendiendo ingles llamados “translation booklet” (, Do you Vaughan? ), “focus pack” (, Do you Vaughan? ) y/o incluso la serie “repaso general” (, Do you Vaughan? )…

si mal no estoy, los “translation booklet” son 8, los “focus pack” son 3 y los “repaso general” son 3… no estoy seguro de que hayan demos de los mismos online, mas tengo algunas muestras de los mismos si estas interesado

y a proposito, quien posteo el link para el Goldlist Method fue Ernie, not me xD

Kind of a side topic, but regarding speaking. The biggest improvement I saw in my speaking by far came from watching lots of TV and listening to lots of radio, after which things slowed down and it has just been a steady march. Vocabulary from heaps of reading is king of course, and listening helps immensely in getting you adapted to the flow, but speaking well is of course going to require a lot of time spent speaking. Myself I have spent over a thousand hours speaking Japanese and I am starting to get pretty good (but by no means perfect). Making good friends to chat with has especially helped a great deal.

I’ve done tons of listening, particularly with television dramas, watching some of the same dramas 5 or 6 times. But that was a few years ago. Now, I just watch things once. But my point was that it’s easy to do that when you live in the country. All you have to do is turn on the TV. I don’t read as much (mostly just on LingQ), but I do vocabulary study.

Anyway, I don’t rely just on vocabulary that comes up in conversation, but it’s easy to keep my conversation skills sharp while living here.

@Bortrun: “…I’ve done tons of listening, particularly with television dramas, watching some of the same dramas 5 or 6 times. But that was a few years ago. Now, I just watch things once. But my point was that it’s easy to do that when you live in the country. All you have to do is turn on the TV. I don’t read as much (mostly just on LingQ), but I do vocabulary study.”

You know, this was exactly my experience back in those happy days of youth when I was living in Germany. At that time “language study” was just a matter of going outside my front door! (Or, failing that, grabbing a beer and switching on the TV…)

What I didn’t do very much of back then was reading; it has really been in the years since I left that I’ve done most of my reading in German. I have the feeling that I can actually read much better now than I could then. Yet, even though I can understand virtually everything on paper, I also know that it would take me a few days of complete immersion to get back into speaking fluently! (I’m also quite certain that my accent - never an ultra strong point - would be completely shot to pieces now!)

I have sometimes wondered what would happen if I stopped reading? Would that skill go rusty too? Or would it go into “deep-freeze”? (I raised this on another thread recently.)

It is kind of depressing to think of losing something which you have…

Yeah exactly. I’ve never had to be super diligent about studying Japanese, so that’s a skill/habit that I’ll have to develop. I’m considering a couple locations, but in one of them, there will be very few Japanese people so I won’t have many chances to speak live.


Gracias por los enlaces. No sé si los voy a comprar, estoy pensando sobre ello.

Oops, thanks Ernie for the Goldlist link

aybee77, you’re welcome, for the Goldlist link.

Imyirtseshem, I didn’t list the Goldlist link to be discouraging (and I hope I wasn’t). The point I was trying to make was that Mr. “Huliganov” believes that a person w/ extensive “passive” knowledge of a language will “activate” his knowledge after 3 days of true immersion in a milieu where the language must be spoken. Correlative to this, he says that such a person should not fret over not being “fluent” yet, as he has not so far found himself in a position where fluency is needed.

Now, I don’t know if I really believe that correlative bit, as I think that plenty of people have become fluent in a foreign language through other means than immersion, but that’s what Mr. H. says. Myself, since I’m not planning any such immersion anytime soon, I’ll simply try to write and speak more in Russian, the language I’m studying, rather than spend all my study time in passive activities–reading and listening.

I will be testing Huliganov’s theory this October in Prague. I will also be having discussions with our tutors here at LingQ before hand.

Steve, from what I’ve read of Mr. H.'s idea, you would be a perfect test case, w/ a very extensive knowledge of the language before “immersing.” We’ll be fascinated to hear about your experience. He posits just about total immersion, w/ no recourse to English when the going gets tough/hopeless, as you’re probably aware.

Interesting. But the question I have is this: is Steve truly going to be “immersed” in Czech for these 3 days?

Is he going to be in Prague alone, or is Mrs K going along too? (If so, Steve will surely be spending most of his free time speaking English, right?)

Even if he is going to be over there alone, how much time is he actually going to spend every day interacting with native speakers? And how many of them are going to “help” him, by responding in English?

(In order for this experiment to have a completely fair run, Steve would most likely need to spend the whole of his three days living with a Czech family who knew what his aim was, and who had thus agreed to speak to him only in Czech for the duration of the time, IMO.)

Jay, Mrs K is not going along, we are meeting later in another European country. I intend to organize my time so that I am truly immersed. I am also going to prepare properly. I intend to succeed, but who knows.

Well, best of luck, Steve. I hope you get the maximum benefit from your time :wink: