Sunday, April 11, 2010

Maintaining Bilingual Skills in the US

I have heard people tell me that  it's difficult to maintain their language skills because they say they don't live in an area with a lot of Spanish speakers. To a certain extent, I agree, but my contention is that it's not the numbers that count but rather how you make the most of them. Even if you live in an area with a large number of bilinguals, how and how often you interact with them might depend on your skills, and willingness to use them.  In addition, if you haven't developed basic fluency yet, bilinguals are often not the best choice for speaking partners since on average, they are more likely to switch to English rather than patiently wait for you to finish your thought in Spanish.  If you live in an area without an obvious Spanish speaking population, they still may be around but you'd have to seek out the community.  For listening and reading there is no limit to how much you can access especially with the Internet.  Satelite TV providers have Spanish language packages with numerous channels from around the world.  There are also language exchange sites that have real time voice chats like sharedtalk and livemocha.  But there's nothing like interacting face to face with people in person.  I feel that networking is the best way to grow your circle of contacts. You may have friends that speak Spanish (even if they use English with you), and they have family and friends.  Hopefully you get invited to their get-togethers and get to meet others and so on.  If you belong to a church, they may have Spanish language services, which could be good listening practice or a way to meet other people.
The important thing is to have daily contact with the language no matter what form that may take.  In the U.S., where English is the dominant language, you can never get enough listening and speaking practice in Spanish, so dive in and soak up as much as you can!


  1. There are so many ways to maintain language skills- good advice.

    Our cultures live together, but separate.. I'd like to see more interaction through language exchanges. Not only can you learn a language, but make a friend.

    Here is a site that helps connect people for language exchanges:

  2. For language exchange/tandem learning between native English and Spanish speakers, check MyIntercambio (

    It's a site I launched just a few weeks ago and there are quite a number of native Spanish speakers there already looking for English speakers to practice with.

    I find that these free podcasts are invaluable:

  3. Excellent post Anna! I agree 100% with everything you said. Another thing that I believe is worth mentioning is that speakers need to use what's beneficial and useful for them. For example, if you're a soccer player and have Hispanic soccer friends, soccer vocabulary is more useful than let's say 'hardware' vocabulary. It's much more useful for you to learn, say "Goal" than "Philip's Screwdriver."

    Depending upon the level of proficiency needed and/or desired for a particular person, I believe using what's USEFUL for him/her is the important thing.

    With sites like SharedTalk and EspanglishChat, there is no excuse why someone can't at least "get his feet wet" in another language. While these sites are generally limited in the conversation range, they can help maintain and even progress (should the right partner come along) your language skills.

    Keep the posts coming,

    --André L.

  4. Hi Anna,

    We have talked so much about this, and I have to say that unless someone lives in a really small town with no internet access, I don't have much patience for someone who says that it is difficult to maintain their Spanish language skills here in the United States. There are always opportunities if you look in the right places, and I think we have proved that! :)

    If you have a computer and internet, there are endless outlets of information in Spanish and ways to practice listening, speaking, etc. I think between you and I, we have probably found the majority of them! It's all about how much individual drive the person has to seek out those opportunites.

    Websites that I have found useful: (noticias) (blog, podcasts, links, and more)