5 Painless Ways to Maintain Foreign Language Skills

Posted on Fri, Sep 21, 2012 @ 14:09 PM

Foreign Language IllustrationSince language is a translators’ livelihood, they can’t afford not to maintain their foreign language skills. Sure, translators regularly work with their target/source language, but time constraints and never-ending deadlines often keep them from keeping up with the latest colloquialisms and cultural trends. Here are 5 simple ways you can keep your second, third or fourth language skills sharp:  

5 Painless Ways to Maintain Foreign Language Skills

Watch foreign films
Translators are in front of text—whether digital or print—all day long, so taking a break with a foreign film and a big glass of red wine is a great way to wind down the day. Netflix has taken quite a beating in the media over the last year, but I still stand by them. For $8 USD, you can stream thousands of foreign films. Although you can’t directly search by language, you can go to the foreign section (under the genres drop down menu), select languages and then choose your language preference. In my experience, Netflix doesn’t always have the exact film I’m looking for, but more often than not, this has been a blessing in disguise that’s exposed me to countless foreign gems that I wouldn’t usually watch.  

Listen to international music
Thanks to the Internet, finding great foreign music has never been easier—or more economical. Try Spotify, a completely free music-streaming service that gives you unlimited access to more music than your ears will ever have time to take in. The catch? You’ll have to put up with an ad or two for the service—unless you download Blockify, an app that will sit snug in your system tray and mute Spotify whenever it detects an audio ad. Once it’s over, you can get back to the music.

Read online newspapers and magazines
The Internet also offers a variety of newspapers, trade magazines and journals that will help keep you informed on your specialty and help learn new expressions.  One example is, which offers “thousands of world newspapers at your fingertips.” Say your specialty is medical translation, you can visit and find tons of articles from pediatrics to gerontology. 

Network with other translators
Very often, translation is solitary work, which is precisely why many of us took up the profession in the first place! But interacting with people who speak your second language is crucial for maintaining your foreign language skills. An added bonus is that you’ll meet like-to network in a tasteful and genuine way:

  • Don’t expect anything
    Recently I received a mystery email that said, “Hi, I just wrote a blog post on such and such and I’d love it if you reposted it to your site.” This is a poor attempt at networking. I would have been glad to give this blogger a “shout out” had she not initiated our “relationship” by asking for a favor. A much better approach would have been to say, “Hey, I’ve been enjoying your blog. I am interested in similar issues and if you’re interested, I would love to guest blog for you sometime. If you’d like to see my work, check here.”
  • Get to know the right people
    Have you ever noticed how many Facebook or LinkedIn “friends” people collect? I’ve seen people with hundreds, even thousands of “friends” and “connections.” Networking isn’t about quantity so much as it is quality. Find 10 people who share your interests and nurture a relationship with them instead of the 100 people you may (or may not) know by name. For 24 other tips on networking, visit James Clear’s website, Passive Panda.

Plan a yearly visit to a foreign country
It’s easier said than done, but international travel is important for your professional development—and your sanity. If you hire an accountant like we recommended in our earlier post, you should be able to deduct some of the costs by simply attending a conference or visiting a client or two. Also, the American Translators Association (ATA) offers their annual conference in October in a different US city. The Language and Regional Divisions also offer affordable opportunities to learn and network.

You don’t have to go into debt to travel either. If you’d like some advice on how to cheaply, try TripAdvisor or Virtual Tourist—and if you’re traveling to the states, check out Yelp. Not only are these sites FREE, they cover any destination or travel style. Lonely Planet guides are good, but not always up to date.   

For more advice on cheap lodging, you might check out an article from Nomadic Matt’s Travel Site.


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Topics: Modern Language Translation, Spanish Translation Course, French Translation Certification, Online Translation Certification Arabic, freelance translation, Translation Agencies, Translation and interpretation studies, Translation Classes Online

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