Use it or Lose it – Don’t Let Your New English Go to Waste


​​You've been studying English really hard and have learnt plenty of new language in the last few weeks. Want to make sure you remember it? ​Take th​is final step ​to avoid adding the phrase to your 'forgotten English' list.​


Let's go back to the first stage of the learning cycle. You've discovered a wonderful new word, phrase or piece of grammar through something you read, heard or studied.

You've made a note of the language and used this note to test your memory a few times over several days or weeks.

The final step involves actually using the new language in some form of real-world communication.

​Example 1

Bill is an upper-intermediate level English learner. He's reading an email in English on the bus one morning and discovers that the word 'onomatopoeia' relates to words that actually sound like their meaning (for example, 'bang', 'woof', 'whoosh' and 'knock'). He writes it in his notes and tests his memory every now and then for two weeks. One day, he's watching TV in English and he hears someone speak about 'onomatopoeic references'. The meaning seems to make sense to him and he's pleased that he was able to understand the speaker.

​Example 2

Lisa is an intermediate-level English learner living in London. She discovers a new phrasal verb ('hold up', which means 'delay') one day in an English lesson. She decides to try to remember it so adds it to her vocabulary notebook. She spends 10 minutes a day reviewing her notes for the next few days. A week later, she's caught in a traffic jam on the way to her lesson. She arrives late and apologises to the teacher by saying, "Sorry, I was held up in traffic. Did I say that right?" The teacher smil​es and nods, asking her to sit down.

​In both examples, the language learners discovered language, stored and reviewed the language, and finally managed to use the language in some meaningful real-world way. Bill reused ​the new language by hearing it on TV. Lisa reused​ the new language through saying it.

In both examples, they received real-world confirmation that their understanding was probably correct (Bill understood the TV message and Lisa's teacher ​understood Lisa).

In both examples, the way they used the language was different to the way they ​discovered ​the language (Bill discovered the word when reading and used the word when listening, while Lisa ​​​ discovered the word when listening and used the word when speaking). Perhaps th​is use of different skills will strengthen ​their memory of the language?

​Both Bill and Lisa are quite likely to remember th​e language now as they have a memorable situation where they actually used the language in the real world. If they manage to have a few more situations like these, then they'll be highly likely to remember the language in the long-term.

​So, we ​could help ​strengthen our long-term memory of new language if:

  • ​we find ways to use the language in the real world
  • we use the language in different ways.
Finding real-world opportunities to use new language

If you live in an English-speaking country, there are clearly more opportunities to use the language you've studied. You're likely to have conversations with people in your everyday life activities like going shopping or going to restaurants.

However, the conversations you have are likely to be quite similar and if you don't make an effort to create a variety of opportunities for yourself, you may struggle to find the right moment to use your new language. 

Here are some situations you should look out for in order to get valuable real-world opportunities to use language:

  • speaking/listening - getting your hair cut (speak to the hairdresser), in a taxi (speak to the driver)waiting for the bus (speak to the person waiting next to you)
  • listening - on the subway/bus/train (listen to conversations people are having around you)
  • reading - out on the street (use an English guide book when visiting new places, read road and building signs, read the free local newspaper)

If you're not living in an English-speaking country, don't worry. Here are some ways you can create new practise opportunities no matter where you live:

  • speaking/listening - use to find English activities in your local area (for example, 'English corner' activities offer opportunites to chat casually in English)
  • speaking/listening - hire a conversational English teacher on 
  • reading/writing/speaking/listening -​ find partners for language exchange on apps like
  • reading/writing - make friends or 'penpals' and write to them using websites like
  • listening/reading - find interesting English videos or TV shows on websites like, (paid).
​Maximising your real-world opportunities​

The above suggestions should give you more real-world opportunities to use language. ​But you can't always just hope that the golden opportunity to use that new language you're trying to remember will come along by chance. 

You can increase your chances by:

  • ​​telling your conversational English teacher or language exchange partner what topic you want to talk about (related to the language you're trying to learn)
  • ​searching for videos on specific topics that the language you're trying to learn is related to​
  • ​carrying a small notebook with the language you're trying to learn in your pocket (to help remind you if you forget when the opportunity does come)

​And if you do manage to say your new language to someone, don't be afraid to ask them whether you used it correctly afterwards​ - just like Lisa did.

​How easy do you find it to remember new language?​ Share your ​experiences by leaving a comment below.