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Sofi

Can You Ever Forget Your Mother Tongue?

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Sofi

Is it possible to ever actually 'forget' how to speak in your mother tongue; the language you first learnt to speak in? 

For example of - If you have moved country and learnt that language fluently and spoke that every day and never really speak your mother tongue anymore, can you forget how to speak it? 

I am not really asking because I have actually read stories of people who actually have forgot, or found it really difficult to speak in their mother tongue after a long time of not. It is common to find it hard to speak back in your mother tongue, or change accents and speak in your new language's accent, or have to translate your mother tongue back into your 'new' language first to understand it, so it's swapped.

I don't speak a foreign language fluently daily but I know a few languages but I never really speak in them. I just love to read and listen to them. I can see how it would get more difficult to speak your first language if you have spent so long in another. 

I thought this might be interesting for people like - Nesf, Alex, Dominika, Arthur, Caroline, King_Oni 

*10 bonus points if you can say why I have made this specific topic on this specific day.....:P I will be very impressed!*
 

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Guest Chris

I've read a fair bit about this, and as is so commonly the case: It depends.

 

I expect if you'd moved somewhere that meant you had zero exposure to your native language, then given enough time it could happen. Assuming you'd practised your mother tongue for 20+ years, whether or not you could completely forget, and not just become extremely rusty, I don't know.

 

I read a story on reddit once of someone from China that moved to the US with their parents. After living there for a while, the parents could no longer read or write Chinese. Listening and speaking - not a problem! But no text-based communication.

 

Apparently this is a common problem as people age for many East-Asian languages, even for people that remain in their native-language country, just because of the sheer number of characters they have to remember in a language like Chinese.

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Alex

Honestly, I spend so much time writing and reading English everyday, that my Danish is getting a bit rusty, mildly speaking. It has gotten to the point where I actually translate more advanced words from English to Danish, because I don't remember the Danish words! It's a bit embarrasing  :P

 

I reckon I'll quickly catch up on my Danish skills though, once I start to use it more frequently again. Like, if I start studying it again or something. But still, even though it's rusty, it's a bit like riding a bike for me... You never completely forget how to do it, even if you haven't done it for a long time.

 

It's the same with my sister. She moved to Italy a few years back, and she has gotten so used to either speaking Italian or English with her husband, that her Danish is rusty like mine.

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L Lawliet

I spent so much time learning the German alphabet for my GSCE German exam at school that I can now say the whole alphabet ten times quicker than I can the English one! :P

 

I had a French friend and I once asked him what language he thinks in because he spoke English so well. He said both English and French now. I thought that was interesting to distinguish the language your inner voice speaks :)

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Ben

My ex girlfriend - from Gujarat, had a similar problem. She moved over to the UK in 2005 and learnt fluent English from watching... Hollyoaks - ehh! 

 

But her family are very reserved, and rarely communicate with each other - so English became her main language. Now, if she didn't see anyone for a while her languages on both sides of the coin suffered. If it had been a while since I had seen her, and she hadn't been around many English people, I noticed that she would speak in a very broad Indian accent. But on the same token, if she hadn't been around many Gujarati people, then she spoke the most fluent, and well spoken English of anyone out there - is was so weird!

 

Incidentally, she spoke five languages, including Hindi, Urdu and Punjabi, as well as Gujarati and English. I actually asked her once: "When you stub your toe really hard, what language do you shout in?" She just giggled in reply and shrugged her shoulders. 

 

She was a funny girl. Sweet though... 

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Alex

I had a French friend and I once asked him what language he thinks in because he spoke English so well. He said both English and French now. I thought that was interesting to distinguish the language your inner voice speaks :)

 

That is funny! I think in English most of the time actually. Maybe about 80% of the time. But it varies, and it's dependant on what task I'm carrying out. When I'm on the computer, I think almost exclusively in English. I've also been told that I say some wierd things when I'm half asleep in the morning, and someone wakes me up. Like "The meek shall inherit the earth", or something equally wierd, in English.

 

I think I may be possessed...

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Nesf

No, I don't think I'd ever forget my mother tongue - I hope I won't, or how will I teach it?  :unsure:  I'm exposed to it a lot in written form, if not spoken. What has happened is that I'm stuck about 20 years in the past, I don't know all the latest colloquialisms and expressions, so I probably sound old-fashioned and posh. Also, I don't converse much in English, so I've become more scripted and less creative than I used to be. I can understand Greek, German, Romanian, and to certain extent French without having to translate them into English. I used to be able to speak French quite fluently, but not any more. I don't think that I've forgotten it - it's more that it hasn't been used for a long while and it has been filed away in the recesses of my mind for safe keeping - so I have a passive rather than active understanding of it. If I read something in French, I can understand it and it comes back, but it's really hard to speak it.

 

I've no idea why you started this topic on this day, Sofi - you've got me stumped there :)

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Sherbert

I heard Jeremy Vine talking about this on radio 2! It was really interesting :D  

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Sofi

I heard Jeremy Vine talking about this on radio 2! It was really interesting :D  

The 10 bonus points goes to you :D Well done. I listen to Jeremy Vine quite often. 

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Sherbert

The 10 bonus points goes to you :D Well done. I listen to Jeremy Vine quite often. 

Yay  :D

I listen to Jeremy Vine a lot too. His shows (is that what you'd call them?) are really informative  :)

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