French, as well as many other skills, all follow the one well-known colloquial expression: if you don't use it, you lose it (or in French, ne s'use que si l'on ne s'en sert pas)! This article is meant to address how to maintain your French over time and how to avoid losing all of that hard work. You don't understand how often this question comes up, especially on French Reddit, essentially outlined as such:
"I haven't used my French since high school (or college)! How can I keep my French up to par?"
"How can I maintain my French during the summer?"
"What are some good ways to practice French outside of the classroom (on my free time)?"
How to Maintain French Listening Comprehension and Speaking:
Listening comprehension (the ability to distinguish and understand what people are saying) is easy to maintain if you have a viable internet connection. BFMTV en directe is my preferred way to do this because it is the most popular French news channel which streams their feed live, worldwide, 24/7. This is the same stuff you get in France so it is not really for beginners, but you can enjoy debates, weather updates, and current events throughout their webpage.
Other great ways to listen to French include watching French movies (or English movies with French Audio if available), listening to French music, or watching French videos on youtube. There is a big following for French comedians such as Cyprien or Natoo. Also Canal+ has some decent shows like Les Guignols de l'info and Le Meilleur d'Hier.
Speaking and pronunciation is a bit harder to target. Ideally you should travel to a francophone area and dive right into the speaking! However, good alternatives include finding a French person or somebody who knows French to talk to, even if it means setting up conversations on Skype. Another option could be to find a local Alliance Française, or do an activity similar to the pronunciation exercises found on the popular language programs of Rosetta Stone or Fluenz (which costs hundreds). My last suggestion would be to try out the pimsleur approach or other audio CD sets, and repeat after the speaker to work on pronunciation.
How to Maintain French Grammar and Reading:
I'd like to believe that reading and grammar are not completely dead. If you like to read for leisure then you not only have a good way to entertain yourself... you subconsciously learn French grammar as well! It's not a coincidence that good readers have a better command of the language when it comes to reading, writing, grammar, and vocabulary.
My first recommendation would be to find a written book in French that matches your comprehension level. The amazon kindle marketplace has plenty of French novels, but if you don't fancy paying for reading there are plenty of other great alternatives. Livres pour Tous has over 5,300 books you can download for free (even Hugo's les miserables) or, you can read beginner-friendly articles which are posted daily at 1jour1actu. French Yahoo.com as well as reputable French newspapers publish more adult-friendly articles on their websites. I have a ton of other possible reading sources listed under my French Resources tab.
French Grammar can be maintained in a variety of ways. The easiest way is to purchase one of the McGraw Hill's Practice Makes Perfect books which focus on French grammar, vocabulary, or sentence building. I like these workbooks, they are paperback and contain plenty of exercises to practice with. These books stay around a beginner-intermediate friendly level (sometimes it's great to review the basics). You can also find tons of grammar rules, practice exercises, and conjugations for free on the internet. Take for example lepointdefle, ielanguages, or FrançaisFacile which contain plenty of grammar, vocabulary, and conjugation exercises. French grammar can also improve through a free program known as Duolingo.
How to Maintain French Vocabulary:
I already wrote an article on this subject, so there's no point in rewriting it all here. Let me add though that Memrise is a good website that contains a lot of picture-word associated Flashcards which are set up by users. Another technique I use is called words throughout the day, which you can find in the link I mentioned. Duolingo would also pass as a free resource to learn vocabulary. Unbeknownst to many, reading helps vocabulary, so pick up a book and learn some words!
How to Maintain French Writing Skills:
As stated before, writing skills improve with reading. They also improve with writing, and then getting your work proofread to ameliorate common mistakes you make. You can do just that through a website called Lang-8. The purpose of the Lang-8 community is that you write in your target language and get your work looked at... in turn, you look at other people's work in your native language. You could also write short amounts of text or get your difficult sentences looked at on French Reddit. Lastly, you can try to find a French pen pal and exchange emails, snail-mail, or Facebook messages with them.
I hope this expansive list will serve as a convenient resource to direct those who are looking for ways to improve and maintain their French. You can peruse my French Language Learning section or French Resources section to find more help on learning French.