This article looks at how bilingual students harness previous language experience when learning a new language. Research generally affirms that higher second language proficiency is linked to higher levels of proficiency in subsequent language learning and greater use of previously acquired language skills. In the Irish context, however, the varied nature of acquiring/learning languages and perceptions of linguistic distance potentially hinder students in mobilizing their experience with English and Irish when learning foreign languages at school. The study presented here examines how bilingual language experience can be harnessed through analysis of quantitative and qualitative data from English-medium and Irish-medium secondary school students in Ireland, focusing on how they identify and deploy elements of this experience when learning French via the elaboration of strategies and use of metalinguistic awareness. Beyond measures of proficiency, findings show the need for pedagogical tools that allow students to fully exploit their previous language experience.