How to keep your language skills sharp


Nowadays there is no excuse for letting your hard-earned language skills get rusty, even if your overseas assignment seems like a long time ago, or there is little opportunity to use them in your current role.

If your business is international, language skills might well broaden the range of projects or opportunities available to you, such as scoping a new market. Regardless of the size of the company, suppliers and customers are more likely than ever to be found abroad. And even if you don’t aspire to be fluent, being able to exchange pleasantries with overseas partners is appreciated and can help build rapport.

You don’t need to invest a huge amount of time or cash. There are plenty of low-cost ways to practise at home, on your commute, or even while binging on a television series.

Newspapers, magazines, and blogs: Get some practice in while catching up on the headlines or reading about your passions. Whether it’s sport, fashion, history, travel, or cooking, you are bound to find magazine sites and blogs on the topic in your chosen language.

Audio: Radio shows and podcasts provide an opportunity to practise your listening skills or familiarise yourself with an accent from a particular region. Or you can download your favourite author’s latest audiobook in your target language and listen anywhere.

The News in Slow series of apps, available in French, German, Italian, and Spanish, offer big news stories of the week at a learner-friendly pace, using accessible vocabulary. You can choose your level and follow a transcript on the app if you need it. It’s perfect for improvers.

Music: Search Spotify for the songs that are filling the dance floors in your country of interest, or check out YouTube for versions of your favourite songs sung in different languages.

Films and TV: Streaming services such as Netflix offer the chance to watch movies and television programmes from around the world, with handy subtitles. As your confidence grows, you can switch to subtitles in the original language, or go without altogether. In the UK, explore Channel 4’s Walter Presents channel, which specialises in comedy and drama series from around the world.

Conversation exchange: To find a native speaker to practise with in your local area, try There are numerous groups that match native English speakers with speakers of other languages who are keen to chat and improve their fluency. FaceTime and Skype are good alternatives if you can’t get together in person.

Cultural events: For those with more advanced language skills, the embassy or cultural institute of the country (for example, the Goethe-Institut, Institut Français, Instituto Cervantes, or Japan Foundation) can connect you to a range of opportunities to immerse yourself in the language and culture, from film screenings and author Q&As to theatre festivals.

Samantha White ( is an FM magazine senior editor.