Time required to maintain. In a post titled “How to learn many languages to a high level” I state that the most efficient way is to learn a single language all the way to C1/C2, then move on to the next one. The reason for this is that maintaining C1/C2 languages takes little if any time. In contrast, maintaining languages at B2 or below takes enough time to severely limit the number of languages one is capable of learning. After all, there are only so many hours in a day. Let me explain how I came to this conclusion. I have experimented extensively with maintaining languages. I have learned 8 languages to a level of B1 or better over the years, and I can speak 7 of them at my highest, or near highest, level at any given moment. This is a good indication that my maintenance method works. Let me summarize my languages and maintenance experiences below. English – native; obviously this doesn’t need to be maintained. Spanish – C1; started learning at the age of 11 and learned over the course of 30 years very slowly and inefficiently. Other than overhearing conversations, occasionally glancing at a Mexican TV show, or having a Skype conversation 1 or 2 times a year, I don’t use it. I probably spend less than 5 hours a year “maintaining” it. It doesn’t need to be maintained; it’s still there. Ok, in the first minute of conversation after months or years of inactivity I often sound like an imbecile, but it comes back quickly after that, and listening is never a problem. Is the reason I don’t need to maintain because I learned it to C1, or that I learned it for 30 years? I will include that in my post about CEFR levels later, but I believe it’s because I’m a true C1. You can reach C1 much faster than I did, and still be able to get away without maintaining. Conclusion – it’s not necessary to maintain a C1 language. Swahili – B1; started at the age of 38, learned it for a few months, and was immersed in it for 3 years. I lived in Tanzania, used it daily, and reached a “conversational B1” level. I haven’t used it since, and would have great difficulty trying to converse today. This is the only one of my languages that I let slip away, because I have no need or interest to maintain it. Conclusion – not maintaining a B1 language will result in your level dropping. I have been learning/maintaining my last 5 languages since I started them. Thai – B2; started it at the age of 42. Japanese – B2; started it at the age of 44. Mandarin – B1; started it at the age of 46. French – B2; started it at the age of 48. Russian – B1; started it at the age of 49. I’m now 52. Thai was my first self-learned language. I learned it to A2/B1, then just quit it for about 6 months to learn Japanese. After the 6 months I visited Thailand, and was disappointed to find out my level had dropped back to A1. I had to re-learn about half of what I knew before. Yes, I learned it faster the 2nd time, but the loss was significant. So that fueled the desire to maintain my languages, because I wanted to be able to use my languages at any time, or at least get back to “normal” in under a week. I started experimenting with language maintenance. I wanted to put the least amount of time possible into this. I was in the process of adding new languages, and I preferred to use as much of my free time as possible to study them. This experimentation was one of the main reasons I became such a big believer in Synergy. Let me explain. I tried to maintain my Thai. Again, it was A2/B1 at that point. I didn’t want to be learning any new material; after all, that was one of the basic principals behind maintenance. The trouble was, I learned Thai by using a textbook, memorizing vocabulary, and talking to native speakers when I was in country. No reading, no writing and no listening. So I did what I could do – I talked to native speakers on Skype once or twice a week, and I went to Thailand once a year. When I visited Thailand, I was able to check my level. It had dropped considerably, but it came back to about where it had been after 2 or 3 weeks. This recovery was also due to the fact that I normally studied new material in country. But my conclusion was that under my current method I wasn’t really maintaining, I was just limiting damage. I used the same learning and maintenance methods with Japanese for quite a while, and as a result I was just limiting my damage. But when I started learning Mandarin, I started listening to all my languages on a regular basis. Inspired by the improvements in my learning, I decide to add listening to my maintenance plan too. (Note - since I was studying three languages at the same time, I started the habit of only learning one language actively, and putting the others on hold. When visiting the host country, I switched the active language to the host language while I was there. I make this point because I want you to see the need for maintenance. I maintained languages on hold.) My verdict on adding listening was that it helps, but I was still experiencing a slight level drop. I started to read Thai on a regular basis about the same time I started to learn and read French. I could tell that this was helping my learning a lot. Actually, I had been making very feeble attempts to read Japanese and Mandarin for a couple of years, so this latest revelation inspired me to shore up those efforts. I went to China and read several small learner books, and kept this up for several months after getting back. I did something similar for Japanese. And of course I added reading to my language maintenance schedule. Now I need to be careful here, because I didn’t want to spend too much time on maintaining, and it’s easy to add time when adding skills. So I sat down and decided I needed to practice each of the skills at least once a week, but I wouldn’t go over 30 min/day total. I prefer to do each skill twice a week, but sometimes I fail. And due to work, I probably average closer to 2.5 hours a week than 3.5. Note - there is definitely a difference in B2 and B1 languages. B2 take less time to maintain. But I continue to shoot for 30 min/day for simplicity. Anyway, I discovered that conversation, listening and reading is a pretty effective way to maintain a language. I finally felt that my level wasn’t dropping. I’d like to mention a caveat though. If you study a language for many hours a day, learning lots of new material, for weeks or months, then go into 30 min a day maintenance mode, before too long you will notice a drop in your level. This is because during that short intensive study period you were sort of artificially at a higher level. In this case, it’s best to reduce your hours slowly over several months. Give your brain enough time to assimilate the new material before reducing all that reinforcing comprehensible input to only 30 min a day. Let me address languages at A2 or lower by using some different cases. Say you have memorized 100 words. To me, it would be very inefficient to try to maintain these. I’d just wait until I have enough time to truly study a language, and start over. What if you know several hundred words and can exchange some greetings? I can’t see spending the time to maintain this either, for the same reason. What if you studied Mandarin for 2 hours a day for 6 months, but then don’t have time to study it for a year? You know a few hundred characters, a few hundred words, can hold very basic conversation, understand really simple podcasts for learners and can’t read anything but some lines from a textbook. If it were me, I wouldn’t try to maintain it. It’s unlikely that spending 30 min a day will save much of what you had after a year. It takes more time to maintain a language at a lower level, it will be hard to find appropriate materials to maintain it, it’s not good to keep repeating the same materials over and over, etc. You are better off to continue learning, maybe at a reduced rate, or just dropping the language until you have more time. Conclusion – don’t maintain languages at A2 or lower. The future. To be honest, if I have time off and I can truly spend 3.5 hours a week maintaining a language with conversation, listening and reading, I find my level actually rises a tiny bit. This is something exciting I discovered when I spent nearly 6 months at home, not working, and studying Russian actively. My maintained languages improved a little over that time. It’s important for me to shoot for 3.5 hours a week when I’m working, because my schedule will eat into my study time some times. So I’m not going to change the old 30 min/day goal. 30 min is easy to think and talk about too. Regardless, 3.5 hours is too much, which is a good thing. So I’ve proven 2.5 is possible. Can I reduce it further? Well that’s what I’m trying to do right now. The last year or two I’ve been experimenting more and more with writing. Because I was impressed by the results, suddenly the concept of Synergy presented itself to me, and that’s why I’ve written all of these posts. The well-rounded approach is more efficient. I believe writing will drop the magic number to 2.0. In addition, I’m considering challenging the very definition of maintenance by learning a little new material. I’m assuming that learning new material in each skill will make maintenance even more efficient. I hope to get down to 1.5 hrs/week, or maybe even just 1. Summary. So, I’ve learned 8 languages. My mother tongue and a C1 language don’t require maintenance. One B1 language wasn’t maintained, and deteriorated down to practically nothing. The other 5 languages, all in the B’s, require regular work to maintain their levels. Common sense dictates that one shouldn’t maintain A2 or less. Therefore, I’ve come up with the following table for the time required to maintain: C1/C2 – zero B1/B2 – 30min/day A1/A2 – not worth it How to do it? Let me reiterate that I am talking about maintaining B1/B2 languages. The best thing you can do is practice all the skills. You can use Synergy step 4 as a guide. Maintain similar to the way you learn, but don’t spend as much time at it, and don’t add new material. You should do this 30 min/day. Converse, listen, read and write material that you are somewhat comfortable with, preferably at i+1. No grammar, vocabulary or pronunciation studies; just use the language. Try to do 2 sessions per week if possible, to spread it out and keep your mind fresh. A sample schedule: Reading 30 min, twice a week; Writing 15 min, twice a week; Conversing 30 min, twice a week; Watching movies 30 min, twice a week.