How Translators Can Maintain and Perfect their Language Abilities

By Sara Maria Hasbun


If you are a translator, language learning will be a lifelong pursuit. Why?


  • Because language changes. The only languages that have stopped changing are languages that are about to die out. Your job as a language learner is never done, as you must stay up to date on current events, slang, and even semantic drift (slight variations of connotation, context, or meaning).
  • Because YOU change. Depending on where you have been living, what you have been reading, and who you have been talking to, your language abilities in both your source and target languages are subject to fluctuation. It is your responsibility as a translator to recognize which parts of your language repertoire need work, and to maintain your abilities!

And while much of your life was probably devoted to perfecting your second and third languages, don’t neglect your native language for too long! Many translators experience language decay in their native languages, because they are too preoccupied with perfecting their target languages. It is very important to make sure all of your working languages are not being neglected.

Here are some great ways to maintain and improve your language abilities:



Not all translators need to be fluent speakers or listeners, if they work only with text. However, maintaining basic speaking and listening skills can only help you stay abreast of language changes, as well as help you absorb new vocabulary without having to sit down and study flashcards.


  1. Italki

I am a huge evangelist for italki, which helps you find a language tutor  for nearly any language in the world, sorted for price, timezone, and teaching competencies. Language classes take place on Skype. With two-way reviews, both you AND your tutor are held accountable for your performance, which does wonders for motivation! I usually choose expensive, highly-qualified teachers when I’m trying to learn a new language, but the cheaper “Community Tutors” if I just want to chat and maintain my languages.

  1. Glossika

If you are an interpreter, or just really need to keep up your pronunciation and speaking abilities, Glossika is a browser-based app that presents you with “reps” of commonly-used sentence structures and sounds in dozens of languages. Using their “spaced repetition” method, they present you with sentences at just the right intervals so that you won’t forget them. The next time you need to say a sentence that is similar to any of your Glossika sentences, your tongue’s muscle memory will already know the way!

  1. Podcasts

Podcasts are an easy way to squeeze language maintenance into a busy day: listen to them while driving, exercising, or doing chores! If it is hard to find original podcasts in your target language, try looking for the localized versions of Voice of America, BBC, Radio France Internationale, and NHK, all of which offer their podcasts into several languages.



  1. Newspapers, magazines, and books

It goes without saying that being a voracious reader is probably the single best thing you can do for your reading and writing abilities. While reading, you will passively absorb mountains of linguistic information, without even needing to think about it, making it the single most efficient strategy advanced language learners can use. Try registering an Amazon account in another country to access Kindle books in several languages, or be sure to stock up whenever you travel!




  1. Innovative Language

If you are looking for a convenient language course, Innovative Language (creator of SpanishPod101, ChinesePod101, etc.) has extensive course libraries of material going up into the very advanced levels for dozens of languages. Their advanced level courses include dialogues that introduce you to advanced grammar, slang, and culture, while their app lets you follow along with text or create flashcard packs.

  1. Online or local literature courses

When I was working on maintaining my French in New York City, I found literature courses at the Alliance Française to be indispensable in keeping me motivated. Look into your local language-learning institutions or universities. Sometimes you can even find university courses online!



There are several great flashcard apps out there that offer vocabulary for several different levels or specializations of language learning. And of course, as a translator, you can usually look up vocabulary that you don’t recognize in a dictionary. But the more vocabulary you already know, the faster you can translate, and the faster you can translate, the more money you can make! Not to mention that is just very satisfying to recognize a recently-learned word in a source text, right?


  1. Memrise

A freemium-model app with thousands of packs to choose from, although you can also make your own. Their “streak” model gamifies your motivation and keeps you checking in every day.


For more language learning tips, subscribe to Sara Maria’s soon-to-launch blog on language learning, at

Sara Maria Hasbun is the founder and managing director of Meridian Linguistics, a Hong Kong-based language services company, as well as the founder of “misslinguistic”, a language-learning blog. She is currently based in Seoul, South Korea, where she continues to perfect and maintain her language abilities in English, Spanish, French, Mandarin, American Sign Language, Nicaraguan Sign Language, Cantonese, Korean, and Indonesian.


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