Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"

It’s so exciting when you learn a new skill!

These can vary, from something like learning Arabic to writing songs.

But what happens when you forget what you’ve learned?

You can always brush up!

Today you’ll learn what this phrasal verb means and more ways to talk about getting back into something.

Letting skills dwindle

Michelle asks Lindsay if she needs to brush up on any skills.

Lindsay shares that she has a lot of things she needs to brush up on.

She wants to brush up on her Arabic which she learned recently.

Michelle is the same and wants to brush up on her French.

She also wants to brush up on her music and songwriting.

She became a mom and didn’t continue all these things.

Today’s question

Today’s episode is inspired by a listener’s question.

Roberto is from Sao Paulo, Brazil and he wants to learn about the phrase ‘brush up.’

The All Ears English team has a lot of episodes that can help you learn more vocabulary and phrases to improve your English.

Click here to search keywords about anything you want to learn about!

Brush up

‘Brush up’ means learning more about something you already know how to do.

Michelle clarifies that ‘brush up’ can’t be used for learning something new.

It’s only used to refer to relearning a skill you already have or used to know how to do.

You can brush up on something you’ve done in the past that you either paused or stopped doing.

It can be a language you used to speak.

It can be a skill you want to get better at.

Brushing up on knowledge

For example, you might want to brush up on your knowledge of history.

You can also brush up on something you learned in school.

If you’ve let something slide, you may now want to pick it up again and continue to learn it.

World geography or trivia are subjects you might want to refresh.

Benefit of imagery

Michelle shares that when she hears the phrase ‘brush up’ she thinks of an actual brush being used to sweep away dust and make things clear.

In a previous episode, it was mentioned that imagining a picture will help you remember the meaning of English expressions.

The more you can visualize it, the better you’ll be able to visualize and remember the meaning.

In this case, think of a brush cleaning something old that may be dusty.

This can be your image to remember that ‘brush up’ means to relearn something.

Using brush up in a conversation

Michelle asks Lindsay if has she ever brushed up on an old skill and gotten really good at it again.

She wonders if Lindsay ever had to brush up on her tennis skills.

Lindsay reflects on whether ‘brush up’ can be used on a physical activity or skill.

Michelle and Lindsay point out that we use it for physical activities but we’d be more specific.

You wouldn’t say, “I need to brush up on my tennis.”

It would be better to say, “I need to brush up on my tennis skills.”

Alternatively, you could share the skill, such as, “I need to brush up on my tennis serve.”

They share other similar or related expressions you can also use.

#1: To get rusty

This means that you used to know how to do a particular thing but you’ve stopped doing it for so long that now you have to relearn it.


I’m getting rusty on my guitar-picking technique, so I need to take some time to brush up.

#2: A refresher

This refers to a reminder you need to look back on so you can remember how you used to do something.


I forgot how to get into this program. Can you give me a refresher?

#3: Fine-tune

This means to tweak or refine what you used to know or used to do.


I haven’t practiced my Spanish in so long. I really have to fine-tune my skills before I move to Spain.

Tips on how to brush up

It’s always good to brush up on skills or hobbies you used to do.

You can relearn some things if you’ve begun to become rusty.

Lindsay and Michelle encourage you to take it slow when brushing up on things.

Don’t pressure yourself.

Give yourself time to have a refresher and awaken your muscle memory.

Also, don’t forget to enjoy the process of brushing up on things.

Keep your goal in mind and have fun along the way.

Motivate yourself to get back into something by having an accountability partner.

This will help ensure that if you slip, you hop back on because you have someone to encourage you.


Here is a quick roleplay from Lindsay and Michelle using the expressions and phrases shared in today’s episode.

In this scenario, Lindsay and Michelle used to take a dance class together.

Lindsay: Michelle so good to see you! It’s been too long!
Michelle: I know! How are you? Still dancing?
Lindsay: Eh, not too much. I’ve actually meant to brush up on my tap skills because I want to audition for a show.
Michelle: That would be great! Well, my ballet has definitely gotten rusty.
Lindsay: Same. I definitely need a refresher from Mr. Jet!
Michelle: Oh man, he was the best! I’d love to fine-tune my skills again. Maybe we should take another class together.
Lindsay: Definitely!


Just because you stopped working on a skill doesn’t mean it’s gone forever.

Brushing up on what you used to know or used to do is fun and enjoyable.

If you plan to get back into things, find the fun in it.

Relearning things can awaken core memories that will motivate you to keep going and maybe be better than you were before.

Try using this phrasal verb and today’s expressions shared in today’s episode to start meaningful conversations with colleagues and friends.

Ask them about past skills they would want to brush up on!

What other English phrases and expressions do you want to learn about?

Share it in the comments below.

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