Losing a language / Changing native tongue

Nanon

Senior Member
français (France)
I wish I would not feel that I have to ask about it, yet it happens.

There is a topic about the process of learning a language, but how about forgetting it? The main cause is lack of exposure, but what are the symptoms? At which stage do you identify them? How do you fight against losing a language? What do you feel about the loss?

To better define above questions, I am not referring to aphasia, which might be out of WR's scope. I am asking about learnt languages, about bilingual persons who lose one of their languages, or about persons who lose their primary language when they are in a different linguistic environment for a long time.

I think that the question has not been asked yet in this forum (if it has, please accept my apologies and merge my question with the relevant thread).
 
  • CrazyArcher

    Senior Member
    Russia/Russian
    Nice question :)

    I personally can observe such a phenomenon very closely. This process is going among immigrants/repatriants in Israel, especially from the post-USSR area: those who were brought to Israel at young age (younger than 10) have difficulties in expressing themselves in Russian, which was their mother-tongue. The reason for that is dual: at the one hand, it's immersion in Hebrew-speaking environment. At the other hand, spoken Hebrew is a very simple language (grammatically and otherwise), and the teenagers just give up struggling with the intricities of Russian, and it's often difficult to them to recall a Russian word that isn't among the 500 used in the everyday speech. Even adults use some Hebrew words in Russian speech, since they are shorter and more convenient. The most widespread example is "air-conditioner": Hebrew "mazgan" is much shorter and easier to pronounce than Russian "konditzioner".
    As for myself, I've studied in Russian school up to 6th grade and rarely have problems with this language, but I have to say that I read alot in Russian and thus maintain (mostly passively) my language skills - something that the majority of Russian-speaking populution here doesn't do.
     

    ayupshiplad

    Senior Member
    Scotland, English
    I agree, nice question.

    It's awful when you lose a language. My cousin lived in Italy when she was about 3-9, and so was completely bilingual in English and Italian, but now that she's been living in the UK for about 25 years, she's forgotten almost all of it, and feels very melancholic about that!

    The thing is, it's so easy to lose a language if you don't use it. I don't really have anyone to speak German with for example, so when I stopped using it in April after my exams, and it came to starting back at school again this year, I struggled quite a bit to get back into it again after 4 months without ever using it! It can also be so hard maintaining standards in several languages...I think the worst example of my English has been "that's all the much I've wrote" after a few days of intense multi-lingual study! How embarrassing.

    The most common thing is of course forgetting individual words or saying things slightly incorrectly than losing a language completely. For example, I said 'acceptation' in English yesterday instead of 'acceptance', because of acceptation in French! You know it doesn't quite sound right, but can't really put your finger on it..!

    I think it's really interesting what you wrote, CrazyArcher. My Russian teacher was telling me how many people in the former USSR can't even speak their own language, and normally speak Russian. I think she was referring more to Georgia and Armenia, from what I can recall, rather than somewhere like the Ukraine (even though most speak fluent Russian there too).
     

    Horazio

    Senior Member
    italian / spanish (bilingual)
    This is very common actually among people who live long years abroad (immigrants)
    They never become proficient in the language of the host country and they "forget" their own native tongue,they might not forget it completely but they do speak it poorly.
     

    tinlizzy

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    Losing a native language- I have a Japanese friend who immigrated to the US (San Diego) when he was 15 with his mom, step-dad, and brother. He is now 57 yrs old. He says it is really weird that he cannot speak any Japanese but can still understand every word. He is retired now, but was a delivery driver in Balboa Park (a tourist attraction in San Diego) and often Japanese tourists would ask him for directions assuming he spoke Japanese. He could direct them in sign or English but was always mystified that he understood every word but didn't remember how to speak Japanese.

    Does it depend on your age at the time when you switch languages?
     

    thisoneg1rl

    New Member
    U.S. Spanish, English, French
    I was brought up in Mexico by my great-grandmother who was French, but was brought up in Shangai herself. Naturally, I grew up knowing Spanish, French, different Chinese dialects, and English (by way of my cousins).
    English wasn't a very strong influence in those times, so I was in bilingual classes from preschool-4th grade (U.S. schooling). I distinctly remember telling my mum, when I was about 7 or 8 years old, that I was forgetting Spanish, to which she replied, "Don't be silly!" (It was fairly funny when she said that to me 5 years later, when she was learning English.) Luckily, she encouraged the family to speak more Spanish at the house.
    The two languages I speak the most now are English and Spanish, I have a hard time remembering certain words in French, and I understand all the Chinese dialects I learned but can't speak them.
    The only reason I haven't completely forgotten any of the languages I learned is because I have family all over the world, so I have some practice every now and then. The Chinese dialects were the only that I have never practiced. This is because my great-grandmother passed away and she was the only one who spoke Chinese with me.

    I do think that one can lose their native language, or any other learnt language, but only if there is no practice.
     

    Etcetera

    Senior Member
    Russian, Russia (St Petersburg)
    I studied two languages at school - English and German. German began a year later than English and we had fewer classes in German; nevertheless, for some time my knowledge of both languages was equally good. But then, after the resigning of our favourite teacher of German, my interest in the language faded. At the same time, we got a new teacher of English, a young woman who was really interested in the English language and teaching it, so English natually became my primary language.

    After leaving school I entered the University in order to study English, and a year later I took Finnish as my second foreign language. Since leaving school, I didn't speak a word in German, and by now I forgot it almost completely.
     

    jonquiliser

    Senior Member
    Svediż tal-Finlandja
    Sometimes the opposite may happen, though. I was never too good with Finnish, but after living abroad for some years I actually found I spoke it *better* when I came back (after the first weeks of absolutely incomprehensible spafinnish, that is). Same with French, which I never used much in practice. My French is probably better now than it was years back when I still studied it at school. This in part is due to speaking Spanish, though, so my vocabulary increased passively also in French.

    By and large I only speak Gibberish well these days, though.

    Anyway, I do notice many times when I speak Swedish that I have to think a bit before I speak in order to find the words (and frequently I don't) so that would probably be the main symptom of my language loss (or well, lost some things and gained other... anyway.)
     

    alexacohen

    Banned
    Spanish. Spain
    One loses a language if there is no one to talk to. My great grandmother couldn't speak her native language when she was old. No, she didn't lose her memory, but she hadn't spoken Polish or Yiddish for so many years that, in the end, she couldn't speak them any longer. She could only remember the songs... more exactly, the lullabies.
    I cannot speak French at all, and I grew up speaking French with my grandmother. Funny enough, I can still read it, and understand it, but as to speaking, I'm lost. Frustrating!
    Skills must be practised; if they are not, they're lost.
     

    ColdomadeusX

    Member
    English
    I was told that I could speak a dialect in Chinese and Vietnamese fluently before 4yrs old. But when my grandparents started speaking English with me I completely forgot. I reckon it's a lot easier to forget a language (just as it is to learn another language) when you are young.
     

    astlanda

    Senior Member
    Estonian maamurre
    I spent 2 years in Korea, China and Japan, speaking mainly the local languages, English, occasionally Russian and German.
    I had 3 chances to speak with another Estonian & then it was already difficult for me.
    Once I realized, that I mix languages while thinking. My memories were partly in different languages corresponding to the context of their occurrence.
    Then I was terrified by the idea of loosing my identity and I returned home, but what a surprise - the people had already a different attitude and language, which I didn't like. So I try to recollect the language of my childhood, which sounds weird to my colleges (besides my Korean accent).

    2 years may be long enough, if you are alone.
     

    KaRiNe_Fr

    Senior Member
    Français, French - France
    My dad learned French as a foreign language when a child (at 8), and now he still can speak his mother tongue because he practises it, almost every day, at least by phone (speaking to relatives). When he stopped for a while and tried to speak again, he was looking for each word and he was very upset by that. But practising again, his language has came back.
    Same process for me playing tennis. Each time I'm back to this sport, I feel like a beginner. Practising again, automatisms are coming back.
    I've the impression languages are like every other skills: if not practised, you become less good. But can you lose it completely? I don't think so. In France, we used to say we never forget how to ride a bicycle (on n'oublie jamais comment faire du vélo)... ;)
     

    geve

    Senior Member
    France, French
    But can you lose it completely?
    If it's a language in which you've been immersed in your early childhood, I would tend to think that you can't... or at least, not forevermore. You can forget the vocabulary, your fluency might get rusty with lack of practice, but won't the music of the language stay "under your skin"?
    There's an interesting animation that analyses the sounds made by 10 month old babies from 4 different countries (unfortunately the explanation is only in French...) and how these sounds are already characteristic of the language they're evolving around.

    But then we should define what it is to know a language. Tinlizzy says his Japanese friend understands Japanese but can't speak it. So, does he or does he not know Japanese? Couldn't we think that he might recover his ability to speak the language if he were exposed to it more drastically and once the shyness is gone?
     

    tinlizzy

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    But then we should define what it is to know a language. Tinlizzy says her Japanese friend understands Japanese but can't speak it. So, does he or does he not know Japanese? Couldn't we think that he might recover his ability to speak the language if he were exposed to it more drastically and once the shyness is gone?
    That's what I told him- that I thought with practice, speaking Japanese would come back. He didn't think it would be that easy. He says he doesn't 'know' Japanese just because he is able to understand it. For example, he can't tell you what the word is for something but would know what that something is if he heard the word. He may have to re-learn Japanese but I think it would go a lot faster for him then someone else.
     

    Lucky Luke

    New Member
    Slovenia / Slovenian
    I saw this phenomen at my teacher.

    His father is from Hungary, and mother from Poland.
    As he was 3, they imigrated from Germany to Israel and stayed there for like 10 years.

    At his time, he could speak German, Hungarian, Polnish, Hebrew and English, but he now have forgotten the most of this languages.
     

    Glitz

    Member
    UK/Croatia - English, Hrvatski
    That's what I told him- that I thought with practice, speaking Japanese would come back. He didn't think it would be that easy. He says he doesn't 'know' Japanese just because he is able to understand it. For example, he can't tell you what the word is for something but would know what that something is if he heard the word. He may have to re-learn Japanese but I think it would go a lot faster for him then someone else.

    I think this is similar to when you know one language from a close knit group so you are able to largely understand another. I can understand alot of conversational Bulgarian becuase I can speak Croatian, though at the same time I couldn't translate a word from English into Bulgarian for you, nor could I speak the language. It's like having a familiararity with the language that allows you to vaguely understand things.
     

    viera

    Senior Member
    English/French/Slovak
    So sad when a language is lost, but even when completely forgotten, it leaves traces.
    My daughter is a case in point.

    I grew up in Toronto speaking English most of the time, Slovak at home and then French in a total immersion bilingual school from age 11. I have been living in France since 1970.

    When my children were small, I spoke to them mostly in Slovak and also in French (since my husband was French). But when my eldest daughter started kindergarten at age 5, we stopped speaking Slovak and the children forgot all they knew. When they were about 12-14, we went to Slovakia for a few weeks' holiday.

    In preparing for the trip, she asked me to teach her some basic vocabulary. So I dictated various simple every day words and expressions, and she wrote them down in her small notebook. By about page 4, I told her the word Y, and she said 'Oh, yes, that must be the same family as X', which I had given her 3 pages earlier. Knowing how hard it is to learn vocabulary in a new language, I was shocked that she could remember a word heard only once, in the middle of a list of over 30 new words.

    During the actual trip she enjoyed going shopping on her own and doing her best to communicate using the little she knew. She subsequently returned to Slovakia a few times on her own, and has now been living there for about 3 years. She 'picked up' the language and now speaks fluent and idiomatic Slovak, with a much richer vocabulary than me. She is a 'language person' and enjoys learning and speaking different languages (including German and English). Nevertheless she has found mastering Slovak far easier than learning German which took a lot of hard work. I suspect that she was able to build on what she had learned in the first five years of her life. Perhaps all hope is not lost for those who have 'forgotten' a language.
     

    Vagabond

    Senior Member
    @viera: That's a very interesting story. I was always under the impression that, much as it is easy to pick up a language at a very young age, it is just as easy to lose it. It's good to know it is not entirely like this.

    My personal experience is weaker, in that I picked up a language in its spoken form at a very young age from TV (sounds crazy to me now, but I actually had perfect passive knowledge at the time). The fact that I only had passive understanding of it though, combined with the fact that my exposure to it stopped when I was still quite young, resulted in my losing it completely. Now, I understand it somewhat in its written form only because I speak other languages of the same family, but when spoken, it makes absolutely no sense to me. Quite a shame.
     

    Grosvenor1

    Member
    Scottish, resident in England, language English
    I don't think you completely forget a language, but partial forgetting is easy. I studied German and Russian at university. I have forgotten to speak much of the latter language in recent years, however, through lack of spoken practice, though I have little difficulty reading Russian-language newspapers and magazines. I am making some attempt to re-learn Russian, though it is difficult when there is no Russian speaker in my environment.

    I learned Turkish from asylum seekers in London, then returned to Scotland for a time, where there are few Turkish speakers. My Turkish suffered from lack of exposure to the language and lack of speaking practice, though it is recovering now I am back in London. Specifically, words I had once learned, including quite common ones, were forgotten.

    Taking the theme "losing a language" to mean something broader, languages under threat of extinction become heavily loaded with loanwords, generally from the language that is driving the threatened language to the wall. For example, the extinct Slavic language Polabian, once spoken in the Elbe region of northern Germany south-east of Hamburg, was recorded in its last stages, and glossaries prepared. It already had a high proportion of Low German in its vocabulary, the language which replaced it completely.
     

    flame

    Senior Member
    German-Austria
    There are famous examples of people whose abilities to speak in their mother tounge degrades when they have been abroad a long time and been exposed to a foreign language:

    (in memoriam) Joe Zawinul (+ 11 Sep 2007):
    when you listen to interviews he gave in German, you can sense his struggle to find the correct word in German, but then choosing the English one.

    Arnold Schwarzenegger:
    the way he pronounces German (or "steirisch", the dialect of his origin) today makes you believe he's not a native speaker. In fact the (humoristic) term "steirikanisch" was created for and because of him.
     

    Alchemy

    Member
    England, English.
    My mother is a good example. She was born in Portugal and raised in Brazil. She came to England when she was about 30 and hasn't spoken a lot of Portuguese in the last 20 years or so. In fact, just a few brief telephone calls a year to Brazil. She has completely lost her accent and her pronunciation is far from native too. She often applies English phonetics to Portuguese as well as using English words in place of the Portuguese ones that she can't quite recall.

    I think it's a very sad thing, but she doesn't seem to mind.
     

    ireney

    Modistra
    Greek Greece Mod of Greek, CC and CD
    May I remind all the original topic of discussion and that, although personal stories/experiences are, in this case, perhaps more relevant than usual as examples, they should serve only as examples?
    Thank you


    I wish I would not feel that I have to ask about it, yet it happens.

    There is a topic about the process of learning a language, but how about forgetting it? The main cause is lack of exposure, but what are the symptoms? At which stage do you identify them? How do you fight against losing a language? What do you feel about the loss?

    To better define above questions, I am not referring to aphasia, which might be out of WR's scope. I am asking about learnt languages, about bilingual persons who lose one of their languages, or about persons who lose their primary language when they are in a different linguistic environment for a long time.

    I think that the question has not been asked yet in this forum (if it has, please accept my apologies and merge my question with the relevant thread).
     

    panjabigator

    Senior Member
    Am. English
    There is a topic about the process of learning a language, but how about forgetting it? The main cause is lack of exposure, but what are the symptoms? At which stage do you identify them? How do you fight against losing a language? What do you feel about the loss?
    The symptoms? I find it difficult to believe that one can completely forget a language. From what I've gathered from the prior posts, people have lost certain abilities they once commanded, but they still had some sort of capability, be it some tacit understanding of what's being said or a no longer native sounding accent (which isn't very serious sounding). Perhaps the only way a language can be forgotten is if it isn't spoken or encountered since youth. Person A who, is 8 years old, speaks X language and moves such and such country and never hears it again. But that is fairly obvious.

    What are the symptoms? I don't think accent is at all one of them, because you still retain the most important aspect of the language, it's communicative ability. You may not sound like your from around there, but many people are able to return to a native sounding accent when placed in the correct environment. If my mother were to return to India, her Hindi would begin to approximate a native accent again. While I was in India this summer, my English picked up certain Indianisms (in both accent and diction) which have since been lost in my month back in the US. Probably a stretch of an example because my English sounds indisputably American (especially over there!!), but it suffices to serve my point.

    How about forgetting words? Northern Indian language speakers have a tendency to use English words wherever possible in speech because it sounds more urban, western, and for many, less artificial and easier. My parents use lot's of English in their Hindi and Panjabi, so much so that if I ask them for a specific Panjabi or Hindi word, they have great difficulty recalling it. When they hear the word, they immediately recognize it. Perhaps in regular conversation in India they may remember to naturally use a more Indic vocabulary, but over here they rarely do. This doesn't seem to be an example of forgetting a language to me, because the word still exists somewhere embedded in your register, and it just takes some stimulus to get it out.

    I think the most serious stage in "forgetting a language" is when you become so rusty that you stumble when speaking it. I have never really met anyone who has this problem, so I'll await some different opinions to see what everyone thinks.

    There are several ways to combat this> One easy way is to read. Another way is to try and use TV or other media to increase your exposure. Forcing yourself to speak X language is also good. The best would be undoubtedly a study abroad trip.

    I think the loss of a language is absolutely terrible but in many cases unavoidable. Many immigrants work so hard to fully Americanize that they just encapsulate English as being vital for their identity and loose interest in their native tongue. Other people just have no one around them to speak with. What's a Panjabi speaker in Chile suppose to do when there is no one else to speak with?
     
    This is very common actually among people who live long years abroad (immigrants)
    They never become proficient in the language of the host country and they "forget" their own native tongue,they might not forget it completely but they do speak it poorly.
    Yes it does happen, also many people mix up the languages.

    There’s a joke in my country that roughly goes like this:

    A father receives a call from his son who left for the US awhile back.
    During the conversation the son says to his father, Dad I´m returning home.
    What? Why? Asks his surprised father ¿Is every thing alright?
    The son says, Dad I can´t seem to learn English, I just can´t!
    The father says, well that´s not that terrible, is it?
    Well the problem is… I’m also forgetting Spanish! :eek:

    :D
     

    stanley

    Senior Member
    Germany / German
    When i visited my grand mother in Canada we met a friend of her who was german, too and her husband was from Germany as well. But my grand mother's friend had been divorced for more than 20 years so she did't really stay in touch with her ex-husband. We went to his house because we wanted to suprise him with a visit. We started speaking german but he wouldnt answer at all. He refused to speak german. I just do not understand people who totally want to lose their native language. It was kind of insane because he got very angry as we asked him something in german. I just don't get it.
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    People who had to leave their home country are sometimes not its greatest fans. When they feel that they were forced out due to political reasons, or to poverty (probably not the case of Germany), I can understand their bitterness.
     

    stanley

    Senior Member
    Germany / German
    People who had to leave their home country are sometimes not its greatest fans. When they feel that they were forced out due to political reasons, or to poverty (probably not the case of Germany), I can understand their bitterness.
    Well he's been out of Germany for about 50 years. So they moved to Canada right after the war. On the one hand I can understand his bitterness but on the other hand it's still a big loss if you just don't speak a language anymore. You're very gifted if you get the chance to be bilingual so why would you just let it go. I will neither forget German nor English.
     

    Glitz

    Member
    UK/Croatia - English, Hrvatski
    Yeh though there is also that thing called the " American dream," which in order to gain, people tend to want to lose any links to their native and more (what maybe seen as lesser in comparision with America) "primitive" home countries. So they throw themselves into the American mainstream culture and English language...
    In regards to the German guy alot of people where fleeing Europe after the war, especially Germans in fear of being prosecuted, maybe this is something some would like to forget along with the language.
     

    stanley

    Senior Member
    Germany / German
    Yeh though there is also that thing called the " American dream," which in order to gain, people tend to want to lose any links to their native and more (what maybe seen as lesser in comparision with America) "primitive" home countries. So they throw themselves into the American mainstream culture and English language...
    That's why only 10 % of the 60 000 000 German descendents speak German. It's very sad but that's America. If my child will be born in the US, I'll definately speak German to him/her.
     

    LeChacal

    New Member
    USA - English
    From what I have seen I don't believe that you can forget your native language completely. My great-grandmother came to the US from Italy in her 20's and didn't know English when she came. When I knew her in her 80's she couldn't speak or understand Italian in any form anymore. Sadly in her late 90's she developed Alzheimer's and around the time that she forget who everyone was she began to think that she was back in Italy and she couldn't speak English anymore but she could speak Italian perfectly again with an accent and all. So from that I have to believe that you may conscientiously loss a language but sub conscientiously or something you don't loss it.

    Also I had an English teacher that experimented on his children when they were born by only allowing them to hear bad English (meaning grammatically incorrect or along those lines). What he found was that when they started to speak they would speak in proper English and his influences didn't cause any problem with their speech development.

    So if these two things show anything they show how our brain can do amazing things. What you get from this I don't know, but it seem to fit the post.
     

    stanley

    Senior Member
    Germany / German
    What he found was that when they started to speak they would speak in proper English and his influences didn't cause any problem with their speech development.

    So if these two things show anything they show how our brain can do amazing things. What you get from this I don't know, but it seem to fit the post.
    Why would somebody do that?
     

    cmongeoro

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    Geve, I think you may be on the right track. I grew up speaking Spanish, but spoke only English after entering school. My mother insisted we speak Spanish at home, so it never went away. I've been far from home for twenty-seven years around few Spanish speakers and felt I was losing my skills. But every once in a while, I'll come in contact with someone, that puts me in my Spanish frame of mind( loss of inhibition),and though I may not remember all of the words, I am able to attain not so much fluency as fluidity.
    I think that if we can lose our fears and tap into the fluidity, or rhythm as you said we tap into things that are not lost, but misplaced.

    cm
     

    stanley

    Senior Member
    Germany / German
    I stopped speaking English since I got back to Germany but today I talked to some Americans here and my English improved soooo quickly. In the first place I wasn't able to speak extremely fast but after like 10 minutes I spoke so quickly, it was insane. And I was told I wouldn't have an accent at all.
     

    Nanon

    Senior Member
    français (France)
    Thank you for your replies. Although I will post my own contribution here, I do not intend to close the discussion, so please keep it going!

    I have been immersed in a French-Spanish bilingual situation during most of my childhood and adolescence. I studied in France, then I moved to Venezuela where part of my family is from. I stayed there for several years. As a consequence, my French had become over-correct, posh and not-so-idiomatic. Exposure to the language was a problem. I am talking about eleven years ago -- for those who remember, this meant no internet and no cable TV; besides, there were no expats around me, I just had reading and the few phone calls that I could afford.

    When I returned to France, I disciplined myself to read a lot and to formulate my thoughts in French. It worked – I only tend to overuse subjunctive sometimes, but not to an extent that would sound incorrect. However, it took ages :eek: before I stopped mixing numbers beginning with 60 and 70, a typical error done by learners!...

    But now, though I keep myself as exposed to Spanish as I can, I feel I have lost fluency and intellectual honesty prevents me from defining myself as a bilingual person, i.e. with equal strengths in both languages. Yet I am confident (too confident?) that nothing is totally lost anyway, because when I am in any Spanish-speaking country, the mechanisms of Spanish restart at once.

    One of the symptoms of the loss of bilingualism I feel (apart for the thousands of times I think “Oh, I should have remembered that” :eek:) is mixing regional and standard variants. Strangely, I never lost the pronunciation and intonation of either Spanish or French. I'm not boasting... I just happen to be an “Ohrmensch”.

    Another sign of loss is that I started studying Portuguese recently and, since Portuguese is very close to Spanish and I have to use my imperfect Portuguese on a rather frequent basis, I noticed that I could produce some interesting :rolleyes: yet unexpected lexical cross-contaminations... A language you are not constantly exposed to becomes extremely vulnerable.
     

    cmongeoro

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    I believe that panjabigator and LeChacal are on the right track. Our brains are amazing rat's nests. The save a lot of junk we won't need until much later. It is only up to us to lose are fears and use that junk, even though we may sound a bit ridiculous at first. After the first few awkward attempts the old passageways will lead us to other things we may have forgotten. Initially, I needed a glass of wine to wipe the inhibitions away. Now, with more passageways open it is easier.

    cm
     

    vasilek

    Member
    Russian
    I believe that much depends on the age of a person who learns and forgets a language. For example, when we immigrated to Israel from Russia, my son was only 5 years old. And while my Hebrew was good his Hebrew became perfect very quickly. I used to talk to him in Russian and he answered me in Hebrew, so Hebrew was the only language he thought in and spoke. However, when 6 years later we immigrated to Canada, he forgot Hebrew completely in 1 year (despite the fact that he went to Jewish private school, where he attended enhanced Hebrew class during this year). When my Israeli friend called me, my son couldn't even tell her that Mom wasn't at home in Hebrew (!) But at the same time his Russian has become better and better although he didn't have any Russian friends and only talked Russian at home. Go figure...
    I, in turn, still remember Hebrew, and although haven't spoken it for 11 years (or read anything in this language) can still speak and understand it quite well. Recently I took my son to see a documentary in Hebrew, and surprisingly I understood every word, while he was reading English subtitles.
     

    Glitz

    Member
    UK/Croatia - English, Hrvatski
    I believe that much depends on the age of a person who learns and forgets a language. For example, when we immigrated to Israel from Russia, my son was only 5 years old. And while my Hebrew was good his Hebrew became perfect very quickly. I used to talk to him in Russian and he answered me in Hebrew, so Hebrew was the only language he thought in and spoke. However, when 6 years later we immigrated to Canada, he forgot Hebrew completely in 1 year (despite the fact that he went to Jewish private school, where he attended enhanced Hebrew class during this year). When my Israeli friend called me, my son couldn't even tell her that Mom wasn't at home in Hebrew (!) But at the same time his Russian has become better and better although he didn't have any Russian friends and only talked Russian at home. Go figure...
    I, in turn, still remember Hebrew, and although haven't spoken it for 11 years (or read anything in this language) can still speak and understand it quite well. Recently I took my son to see a documentary in Hebrew, and surprisingly I understood every word, while he was reading English subtitles.
    See that's very perculiar, I can't come to understand how if someone lives in a country and goes to school there for years, then somehow manages to lose all language ties with the country. How is that possible? It's like having your memory erased.
     

    alexacohen

    Banned
    Spanish. Spain
    Well, age is very important. Even if you speak a language fluently, if you leave it at a very young age you may forget it entirely.
    My daughters have forgotten their English so completely that they can't understand a word. It was the only language I spoke to them; I had that idea that if they could grow up speaking English, it would be one subject less to study at school:D.
    So I, and my family, talked to them in English. And they answered in English, till they were four. The watched all the films and cartoons in English. Their books were in English.
    When we moved to a community where no Spanish is spoken, I decided to switch to Spanish. It seemed to me so terrible that my daughters couldn't speak a word of my native language.
    But they remember nothing of the language they spoke for the first four years of their lives.
    They are twelve.
     
    See that's very perculiar, I can't come to understand how if someone lives in a country and goes to school there for years, then somehow manages to lose all language ties with the country. How is that possible? It's like having your memory erased.
    Yes it seems strange. I can't imagine myself forgetting how to speak Spanish or English for that matter.
     

    geve

    Senior Member
    France, French
    From what I have seen I don't believe that you can forget your native language completely. My great-grandmother came to the US from Italy in her 20's and didn't know English when she came. When I knew her in her 80's she couldn't speak or understand Italian in any form anymore. Sadly in her late 90's she developed Alzheimer's and around the time that she forget who everyone was she began to think that she was back in Italy and she couldn't speak English anymore but she could speak Italian perfectly again with an accent and all. So from that I have to believe that you may conscientiously loss a language but sub conscientiously or something you don't loss it.
    This is a fascinating example. So Italian was stored somewhere in her brain, but in a place she couldn't access.
    There must be many locked rooms in our brains, if only we could find the key to enter them...
     

    cmongeoro

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    alexacohen: I may be way off base, but I think in your daughters' case it may be more a factor of peer pressure than anything else. When they want( the key word want) and they let go of their fears of embarrasment, it will all come back to them.
    At least that's my theory.

    cm
     

    argentina84

    Senior Member
    Argentina Spanish
    I really don't know what is happening to me, but I just feel I don't know any English.

    Am I losing it? It cannot be. I am in contact with it as much as I can. But I feel I cannot explain grammatical rules and make mistakes I would have never made a year ago.

    I am very worried. If I lose my English I will lose the most important thing in my life. English has always been the love of my life.
     

    JGreco

    Senior Member
    Native of: English, Portuguese (oral) , and Spanish (oral)
    Yes I do agree you can loose a language coming from my own experience. My father was stationed in Panama near his mothers family for nearly too decades where he met and married my mother who is Brazilian living in Panama. My parents did not speak a word of English too me when I was young only speaking in Portuguese and Castellano. I went to a Panamanian school my first two years of education before we were moved back to The United States when I was seven years old. It took no more than two years for me to acclimate to the English school system and with the strong pull of English by my teens I had nearly lost all my Portuguese and Castellano speaking and writing skills. I still in my late twenties can completely understand Portuguese and Castellano as if it where like English but it takes me a good week of visiting either Brazil or Panama to get used to speaking the languages if I go on vacation to those countries only to loose the skill when I get back to the states. So yes you can severely loose language ability depending on your situation. English is such a strong pull on me in The United States during my life that I now have an American accent and English is my first language now even though many of my family members only speak to me in either Portuguese or Castellano.
     

    Prometo

    Senior Member
    USA English
    I know a woman from the Andean highlands of Peru who spoke only Quechua until her early twenties, then began to learn Spanish after moving to the capital city.

    By her middle twenties she had forgotten her mother tongue, having moved to an English-speaking country.

    After that she has been trying to re-learn Quechua, but does not find it all that easy, although her Spanish and English are "tainted" by traces of the native language.

    I'm under the impression that she was not even aware of any "symptoms" and much less how to identify or fight them. However she does grieve her loss -- she was not able to speak to her monolingual Quechua mother who died not long ago.
     

    panjabigator

    Senior Member
    Am. English
    Not to say that I don't believe you Prometo, but it is very hard to stomach that a person in their mid twenties can forget their mother tongue, after spending so much time as a monolingual speaker, only several years later. Nonetheless, that is a very sad story!
     

    Prometo

    Senior Member
    USA English
    Panjabigator,

    Not to say that I don't believe you Prometo, but it is very hard to stomach that a person in their mid twenties can forget their mother tongue, after spending so much time as a monolingual speaker, only several years later. Nonetheless, that is a very sad story!

    I cite this example precisely because of its extreme nature. It has occurred to me that because Quechua has been a forbidden and "persecuted" language in Peru the person in question was under some sort of twisted abnegation derived from her psychological torture... who knows?

    This woman has not given up on re-learning her native language.
     

    Chaska Ñawi

    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    I cite this example precisely because of its extreme nature. It has occurred to me that because Quechua has been a forbidden and "persecuted" language in Peru the person in question was under some sort of twisted abnegation derived from her psychological torture... who knows?

    This woman has not given up on re-learning her native language.
    Note: Quechua is certainly not forbidden and hasn't been for lo these many years, although speaking it does carry a social stigma. Psychological torture is an absolute exaggeration in regards to the discrimination against Quechua speakers; it's more a term to be associated with the Sendero Luminoso, when they weren't doing the actual physical torture.

    The reason that I too find this story very difficult to swallow is because I know several people in almost identical situations .... and like JGreco's example, their Quechua may be rusty but they certainly can and do communicate in it. I suspect that your example relates more to family dynamics than linguistic problems.
     
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