How to Maintain Your Second Language Plus 17 Ways to Improve Your Language Skills

How many languages do you know?
How many languages do you know?

I have a friend who is a computer programmer. He works at a tech company building various types of programs for all sorts of different companies.

He’s a smart dude.

He knows tons of computer languages and every time I see him, he tells me about the latest programming language he’s trying to pick up.

I’ve known this guy for the past 20 years, and we graduated from school around the same time.

The thing is, when he graduated, he didn’t know all the languages he knows now. But he knows that the better he is at his craft, the better compensation he’ll have because he’ll be able to do more for his clients.

How many translators are like that?

First of all, most translators only know two languages. Granted, there are exceptions to the rule (I’m looking at you, Scandinavian translators), but in general, most translators tend to have one other language in addition to their native language.

Most translators only translate into one language.
Most translators only translate into one language.

Most don’t think about picking up another language.

“It’s too hard.”
“It takes too much time.”
“It’s impossible to learn without traveling to country [x].”

But while most translators don’t have to pick up additional languages in order to increase their translation success, they should be doing everything possible to not only at least maintain their second language, but become better at it.

Why You Should Continually Work on Your Second Language

As a successful translator, you want to translate. And if you’re not translating, you’re focusing on your translation business. Marketing, billing, attending translation conferences, etc. all take time.

And sometimes, actually studying your source language is the last thing you want to do.

But you should.

Here are a couple of reasons why:

1. Your Language is Your Money Source
If you don’t at least put forth the effort to maintain your second language, you are telling yourself that that particular skill is not important.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

While marketing yourself is what gets you clients, and hence more money, your language ability is what you’re selling.

You want to make sure it’s the best it can possibly be.

2. Improving Your Source Language Can Lead to Other Income Sources
Most translators translate into their native language because they’re simply not fluent enough in their second language.

However, if you improve your second language, you’ll not only have the confidence to translate into it, but will also have the necessary ability to market that skill.

Which will inevitably lead to an increase in translation jobs, leading to more money.

In addition to leading to more translation jobs, improving or at least maintaining your second language will allow you to branch out of the translation industry if you want and try other forms of freelancing.

For example, content writers in languages other than English are in high demand.

200+ jobs just for Spanish content writers
200+ jobs just for Spanish content writers

So are copywriters.

And journalists.

By building up your second language, you increase your skill set, which leads to more job opportunities. The more opportunities you have, the better chance you have to get the jobs.

It’s that simple.

But you have to set yourself up for those opportunities.

And setting yourself up for them takes work.

But it doesn’t have to be 18 hours a day kind of work.

It just needs to be a consistent focused effort.

This is your magic formula for success.

Consistency

The single most important principle to success is consistency. You have to be working every single day for where you want to be or you’ll never get there.

If you want to get to the point where you can translate into your non-native language, you need to be working on that every day.

If you want to be able to write professionally in your non-native language, you better be working every day on that.

Consistency will beat out pure talent 9 out of 10 times.

I’m not as talented as many. I knew that every since I started my first translation class at college.

I was probably ranked in the middle of the class, if that high. But I was consistent in my studies.

I knew what I wanted and I knew that nobody in my classes could out hustle me.

Which is why I’m the only one that I know of from that program who ever even made it as a professional translator.

Focus

Consistency is most important, and you will have success if you’re consistent in your language studies.

But your success will occur 5 to 10 times faster if you are consistent with a focused effort.

Focus comes about by creating a plan. And your plan needs to reflect the specific steps you are going to take in order to reach your goal.

So if your goal is to get good enough with your second language in order to translate into it, then you need to outline steps that will take you there.

Just saying that you will “study your second language more” is not going to cut it.

The steps you outline need to be focused exactly on improving that specific part of your life.

Being good enough in your second language to translate into it mean that you need to focus your language improvement on specific things that will help you become more confident and more skilled in that area.

So with that being said, here are 17 ways to improve your language so that you can begin translating in both directions:

1. Read news and editorials

Your best friend when it comes to maintaining your second language is news.google.com.

Most news articles are written between an 8th-grade and 11th-grade level and are perfect for language maintenance. Google is great because you can easily choose your language and read articles in a variety of topics.

2.Write blog posts in your second language

For most language learners, writing is the most difficult skill. But writing in your second language can be very beneficial to your continual improvement in the language.

Plus, if you want to use your second language in translation as a stepping stone for other types of writing jobs, you’re going to have to practice your foreign language writing.

A great way to do that is by writing a blog in that second language. You don’t even have to make it a public blog; keep it private if you feel better that way. Just try to write consistently and you’ll see yourself improving in no time at all.

3. Find a speaking partner

Like writing, speaking in a second language consistently is another language skill that many translators fail to cultivate on a regular basis. But speaking your second language on a consistent basis can help your translation skills by giving you exposure to new types of language and language uses.

4. Translate into your second language

OK, this might sound obvious but most of the times the obvious course of action we should take is the one we’re least likely to take.

That being said, if you want to improve your second language and especially your ability to translate into that second language, one of the best things to do is to actually, you know, translate.

One of the complaints people have about doing this, though, is that they don’t feel that translating just to improve their skills is somehow not worthy of their time. If this is you, then one thing you can do instead of translating random documents is to sign up to be be a volunteer TED translator. The TED organization is always on the lookout for competent translators and this would be a great way to cut your second-language translation teeth.

5. Study your area of specialization in second language

As a translator, you should have at least one area of specialization, if not a few. If you do, though, you’re most likely more well-versed in that area of specialization in your target language as opposed to your source language.

Spend some time learning more about your specialization by reading and studying it in your second language. This will help you in your primary translations but also give you confidence should you want to attempt to translate into your second language.

6. Visit a country

Easier said than done, I know, but if you have the chance, take some time to really immerse yourself in your second language by visiting a country where it is spoken.

Forget the touristy stuff. Make a concerted effort to focus on improving your language.

This takes a concerted effort but can pay huge dividends.

7. Look for easy jobs

If you’re not comfortable tackling major 10,000-word translation jobs into your second language, don’t worry. You can start off small.

Look for small jobs that are relatively easy that are on a topic you feel comfortable about. Places like fiverr.com can be a great place to start small and build up your confidence translating in a direction you’re not quite used to. If you still don’t feel confident doing that, find someone you trust that can check your work before you turn it into the client.

8. SYL day/week

This goes along with speaking the language, but one way to improve your language skills is to commit to speak it every day for a whole week/month/whatever. This means no falling back to your native language for any reason.

This can be difficult. But, yeah, that’s the point.

9. Find a teacher

You’re never too old/good enough/knowledgeable enough to not improve by using a professional language teacher.

There is so much you can learn from a teacher, but the secret is to find the right one. There are plenty of language teachers out there whose only credential is being a native speaker of that language. These teachers might be fine for beginning language learners, but if you want some advanced instruction or even advanced speaking/writing/translation practice, you’ll need someone who is more experienced.

10. Write a journal

Instead of writing blog posts in your second language, go old school and write in a journal. Make it really old school and write your entries by hand. It’ll cause you to think more about what you want to write before you start writing.

11. Practice interpretation while watching TV

I used to do this when I was in college and we were going through the interpretation section of our translation program.

I’d sit in front of the TV or listen to the radio and try to translate what was being said. It was hard but I learned two things: 1) My second language vocabulary improved the more I did it, and 2) I never wanted to be a professional interpreter.

12. Find a native language checker

If you can find someone to partner with native language skills in your second language who you trust, hold on to him or her and make a pact to work together. Translators who work in teams generally have an easier time finding success in the translation industry.

13. Skype

If you can’t visit a country where your source language is spoken, use Skype or some other online platform where you can communicate with someone from that country.

14. Teach a class

When I was in college, I worked for AmeriCorps, a domestic Peace Corps type of organization. One of my responsibilities was to teach an ESL class to Spanish-speakers who had little to no knowledge of English.

Even though I was teaching English to these students, my Spanish improved tremendously. While I spoke little Spanish in class, as I prepared my lessons I was forced to understand not only the English grammar, but how it related to Spanish so that I could better bridge that gap with my students.

15. Find a customer support job in that language

Want more speaking practice? Find a job where you are providing customer support in that language. You’ll quickly realize where your limitations and deficiencies are and quickly find yourself improving as you work to overcome them.

16. Translate everything you see in your mind

An easy thing to do to improve your translation practice in your second language, especially if your first or target language is English, is to just start translating in your mind every language-related item you see around you.

How would you translate that billboard message?

What about the sign posted outside that restaurant?

What about the traffic signs?

Being able to understand and translate the world around you would improve your language immensely.

17. Volunteer at library or hospital

Finally, volunteering at a local library or hospital would give you plenty of practice in your second language. Even a couple of hours a week would not only improve your skills but would also be a great help to the library or hospital staff.

3 thoughts on “How to Maintain Your Second Language Plus 17 Ways to Improve Your Language Skills”

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