lushlala

Is It Possible to Forget Your Native Language?

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I have known a few people from my country who have gone abroad to study or work; who on their return have apparently lost all ability to speak their native language. I'm talking here about people who left when they were say 18-21 years old.

What are your thoughts on this; is it really possible? Why does it happen to some, but not others?

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I think it is possible, especially if you stopped using it at a very early age. I guess it just depends on how much the person really utilized the language prior to stopping, or maybe their proficiency at retaining this particular knowledge, but I think if you use it enough before you stop then you'll most likely still remember the basics forever at least.

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I highly doubt someone who's lived in the country for 18 to 21 years will easily forget his native tongue just because he's gone abroad. At that age, your native tongue is pretty hard-wired in your brain that forgetting it is highly unlikely even if you've been out of the country for several years. Sure, upon the return to the home country one might be rusty with the native tongue, but I do believe it will return eventually the longer the person remains in the home country.

Personally, I think it has something to do with how you view your country. If you don't like or worst, don't love your country - you will embrace the new language - and forget about your own. I don't believe that 'forgetting' is possible except that the person just wish to erase any trace of the home country by refusing to speak using the native tongue upon return to the home country. If going abroad is highly valued in your home country, then being able to acquire the foreign language can bring a sense of pride when you return to the home country having the ability to fluently speak the foreign language. For some reason, I can't help but think that the person is only "pretending" to have forgotten his native tongue.

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I think it is possible, especially if you stopped using it at a very early age. I guess it just depends on how much the person really utilized the language prior to stopping, or maybe their proficiency at retaining this particular knowledge, but I think if you use it enough before you stop then you'll most likely still remember the basics forever at least.

I can understand if they left at a very young age, say from 0-9 maybe. My question really is about people who regularly spoke their language, and then left to go and live abroad from the ages of 18-21. I'm curious to know how realistic it is for them to totally forget their language that they used to speak on a daily basis, to the point where they can't string a whole sentence together.

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I highly doubt someone who's lived in the country for 18 to 21 years will easily forget his native tongue just because he's gone abroad. At that age, your native tongue is pretty hard-wired in your brain that forgetting it is highly unlikely even if you've been out of the country for several years. Sure, upon the return to the home country one might be rusty with the native tongue, but I do believe it will return eventually the longer the person remains in the home country.

Personally, I think it has something to do with how you view your country. If you don't like or worst, don't love your country - you will embrace the new language - and forget about your own. I don't believe that 'forgetting' is possible except that the person just wish to erase any trace of the home country by refusing to speak using the native tongue upon return to the home country. If going abroad is highly valued in your home country, then being able to acquire the foreign language can bring a sense of pride when you return to the home country having the ability to fluently speak the foreign language. For some reason, I can't help but think that the person is only "pretending" to have forgotten his native tongue.

Thank you for answering that question so eloquently and clearly, takibari I absolutely agree with you on all the points you made. I studied Linguistics for my degree and at no point did anything I learnt support this. The brain is a very powerful instrument, and it baffles me how anyone can totally forget their mother tongue.

Yet there are many examples in my country that defy logic. I have a strong feeling it's borne out of the misguided belief that by doing this, they're somehow elevated to the higher echelons of society, when in reality; it ironically reflects very badly on those individual. The trend is fairly common in my country and I just cringe and feel sorry for the people who do it.

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It is DEFINITELY possible, if you're socializing ONLY in the foreign language. I know quite a few Vietnamese Americans who fled after the war, have been living in the US and they don't know a lick of Vietnamese.

It also happened to me, but that was when I was quite young (like 14), and it was only for a few days, then it all came back to me, so...

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I don´t know about losing the ability to speak your native language, but even after only 3 years I already find myself getting tongue-tied when trying to correct someone else´s english.  There are so many spanish words that are almost exactly the same as english, that you find yourself starting the word in spanish, and then having to back track.  The one that got me recently was ´terrible´.. took me a few seconds before I was able to say it in english.

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It also happened to me, but that was when I was quite young (like 14), and it was only for a few days, then it all came back to me, so...

I don´t know about losing the ability to speak your native language,...

The one that got me recently was ´terrible´.. took me a few seconds before I was able to say it in english.

Exactly my point. RUSTY - sure. FORGETTING - for a while, maybe - but it will come back especially if you're between 18 to 21 when you left the country. That's just so many years that your native tongue is now strongly imprinted in your brain.

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I have known a few people from my country who have gone abroad to study or work; who on their return have apparently lost all ability to speak their native language. I'm talking here about people who left when they were say 18-21 years old.

What are your thoughts on this; is it really possible? Why does it happen to some, but not others?

Eh, that is odd!  I know a girl who left her country when she was 13 years old, her Spanish wasn't very good when she wrote, but she spoke it just fine.  She never forgot it and she was very young, but I guess a few people might lose the ability to speak their mother language?  On rare occasions? But I think that kind of happenings are more an exception than a rule.

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I don´t know about losing the ability to speak your native language, but even after only 3 years I already find myself getting tongue-tied when trying to correct someone else´s english.  There are so many spanish words that are almost exactly the same as english, that you find yourself starting the word in spanish, and then having to back track.  The one that got me recently was ´terrible´.. took me a few seconds before I was able to say it in english.

Hehehe!  I know what you mean, that happened to me a little bit when I came back home, I felt a bit confused at first and switched from one language to another, but luckily after a few days I was just fine.  It would be so odd to completely forget one's mother language, I think.

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I know it is possible to forget ones native language but I think it would be less likely for older people as it has become a foundation already. With children, I believe that it can be completely lost because they haven't fully developed the language. However, not communicating any at all in your native language will certainly cause a decline in speaking the language after a long period of time.

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That is quite common here in the Philippines where the people who have lived in another country for quite some time pretend to forget their native tongue and speak with an emphasized English accent to make it seem like they "have arrived". I really doubt that those 18 and 21 year olds really forgot their native language. I think they're just putting on an act to make them look superior since they have lived in another country.

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I'm with you all the way in this, takibari I'm sorry, but I absolutely refuse to believe this is possible, especially considering the age bracket I indicated, 18-21 is key here people! I also go back to all the points you raised in your earlier argument to support your answer. I can understand someone being a little rusty, but the language then coming back the longer they remain in their country.

I just don't buy into the idea that someone could TOTALLY forget their mother tongue, the language that they learnt from being a baby! I lived in England for 13 years, and never ever forgot my language, and always spoke it with the same fluency till I returned in the last 18 months. I'm always shocked when people commend me on still being able to speak my language, because they know people who've gone abroad as adults, stayed for far less, but who have mysteriously forgotten how to speak our language. Very curios.

Exactly my point. RUSTY - sure. FORGETTING - for a while, maybe - but it will come back especially if you're between 18 to 21 when you left the country. That's just so many years that your native tongue is now strongly imprinted in your brain.

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Eh, that is odd!  I know a girl who left her country when she was 13 years old, her Spanish wasn't very good when she wrote, but she spoke it just fine.  She never forgot it and she was very young, but I guess a few people might lose the ability to speak their mother language?  On rare occasions? But I think that kind of happenings are more an exception than a rule.

Yes, very odd indeed Trellum!  I just can't wrap my head around it at all. The sad part is that some of these people have parents who can't really speak English. I'd like to be a fly on their wall to see how they actually communicate with their parents!

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That is quite common here in the Philippines where the people who have lived in another country for quite some time pretend to forget their native tongue and speak with an emphasized English accent to make it seem like they "have arrived". I really doubt that those 18 and 21 year olds really forgot their native language. I think they're just putting on an act to make them look superior since they have lived in another country.

It's amazing just how similar your country is to mine in many different ways! The brain is such a powerful instrument, I honestly doubt this is possible. I find it very sad that people would view their language as being somehow inferior to a foreign language. I don't know about the Philippines, but in Botswana these people are not actually viewed in a good light or even envied. They are ridiculed and viewed as being pretentious. Some of them tire of keeping up the facade and end up mysteriously remembering the language lol

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That is quite common here in the Philippines where the people who have lived in another country for quite some time pretend to forget their native tongue and speak with an emphasized English accent to make it seem like they "have arrived". I really doubt that those 18 and 21 year olds really forgot their native language. I think they're just putting on an act to make them look superior since they have lived in another country.

That's insane. Why would they need to have forgotten their native tongue to "make it"?

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I've never met anyone who completely forgot their native language, but I know a lot whose skills in their own native language have deteriorated to the point where they can't speak it anymore. They can still understand it well, right? Especially with context. But since they are surrounded by people who don't speak it, the fact that they don't hear it nor have the reason to speak it means they've been conditioned to forego it for another language which is more important.

I don't think this can happen today though, because communication is so much easier. But I know a lot of 50-80 year olds whose native language skills have deteriorated because there were none or to few people who speak it where they were and communication home was so much harder then. And they could only go home for years at a time.

That is quite common here in the Philippines where the people who have lived in another country for quite some time pretend to forget their native tongue and speak with an emphasized English accent to make it seem like they "have arrived". I really doubt that those 18 and 21 year olds really forgot their native language. I think they're just putting on an act to make them look superior since they have lived in another country.

Is it really that common? I keep hearing people who say this about someone who knows someone who they know or heard about, but it's always an issue of hearsay, almost like an urban legend. I've never encountered anybody who "forgot" to speak Filipino after living in another country for a long time. I've never met anyone who knows someone who "forgot" directly either; it's always, "Someone I know knows someone who---" which makes me wonder if it's just "common" because it's unusual and tend to stick to people who hear about it.

Lots of condescending people though, who suddenly think they're so much better because they've lived elsewhere. Like, why don't you stay there then, LOL.

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Oh no, you misunderstood me. I quoted those two because while they say that it's possible to forget your native tongue, both went on providing examples that suggest you really don't forget your native language. The examples of things "coming back to me" and eventually 'getting it right' contradicted the claim that it's possible to forget. Clearly, to have things coming back means you really didn't forget things in the first place. It's just that, your brain is being told to use your mother tongue again, but since it's not been used for a while, it needs a bit of time to access what one knows beforehand.

When you've been away from your home country and have not recently used your mother tongue - there is the tendency to be rusty and a bit of forgetfulness is understandable - but as mentioned at 18 to 21 years, your mother tongue is HIGHLY IMPRINTED in YOUR BRAIN. there's no way you'll lose the ability to use your mother tongue just like that. Those 18 to 21 years of using your mother tongue has made your language muscle strong and will definitely have a lasting effect regardless if you've left your country.

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Lushlala, I'm with you here through and through! :)

I can't pinpoint where I may have suggested otherwise. Reading your reply, I thought I used the wrong word to cause the confusion. So, I opened my Collins dictionary and see if I used the word correctly.

IMPRINTED - firmly fixed in your memory so that you will not forget it.

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@ Lushlala, I guess some non-white people like to act one, after all America is the "it country", the worlds superpower, so the people in your country and my country bask in living there and they brag about it and act "white".

@ VNtomboy, I don't think they really "forgot" their language, they just act like they forgot and continue to speak in English to be able to brag about their accent and for people to assume and think that they have l lived abroad. Typical 3rd world mentality.

@ petrushka, It's because I DON'T buy the fact that those adults genuinely forgot their mother tongue when they left at 18 years old, that's why I say it's common. I think you believe it's possible, but for me, I don't. I think they're just bragging.

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@ Lushlala, I guess some non-white people like to act one, after all America is the "it country", the worlds superpower, so the people in your country and my country bask in living there and they brag about it and act "white".

@ VNtomboy, I don't think they really "forgot" their language, they just act like they forgot and continue to speak in English to be able to brag about their accent and for people to assume and think that they have l lived abroad. Typical 3rd world mentality.

@ petrushka, It's because I DON'T buy the fact that those adults genuinely forgot their mother tongue when they left at 18 years old, that's why I say it's common. I think you believe it's possible, but for me, I don't. I think they're just bragging.

No, I know that they only pretend, but WHY would they have to pretend to forget their own language? There are millions of bilingual people in the world, if not billions. Also I LIVE in a 3rd world country and that mentality is not prevalent here at all, even though the younger generation love Western culture

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That's a really interesting question. In my own case, I have noticed that after nearly 20 years of hardly speaking my mother tongue, I occasionally need to look up words in the dictionary. I wouldn't say that I have forgotten some of my native language, it's just that certain words have escaped me, as I don't communicate in that language on a daily basis.

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Lushlala, I'm with you here through and through! :)

I can't pinpoint where I may have suggested otherwise. Reading your reply, I thought I used the wrong word to cause the confusion. So, I opened my Collins dictionary and see if I used the word correctly.

IMPRINTED - firmly fixed in your memory so that you will not forget it.

Thank you so much for so eloquently explaining this to the forum, takibari. I'm also of the opinion that at ages 18-21, you language skills are so IMPRINTED (I too like that word. I like posh English words, don't you lol?) that it's highly impossible to forget your language to the point where you can't speak it and/or understand it!

I was gone 13 years (granted I was older than 18-21 when I left), and although I was a little rusty at first when I returned; it took me say about a week for my brain to re-adjust! That's why I pointed out in one of my earlier comments, that the brain is too powerful a tool for that to happen. it's just NOT feasible.

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@ Lushlala, I guess some non-white people like to act one, after all America is the "it country", the worlds superpower, so the people in your country and my country bask in living there and they brag about it and act "white".

@ VNtomboy, I don't think they really "forgot" their language, they just act like they forgot and continue to speak in English to be able to brag about their accent and for people to assume and think that they have l lived abroad. Typical 3rd world mentality.

@ petrushka, It's because I DON'T buy the fact that those adults genuinely forgot their mother tongue when they left at 18 years old, that's why I say it's common. I think you believe it's possible, but for me, I don't. I think they're just bragging.

I agree with you on all those points! I think it's extremely sad when people do that, because it points to them having a severe identity crisis, almost like they are not happy within themselves about who they are, and have to project this I lived abroad, and I'm now superior because I forgot my language and now speak with an affected English/American accent. I find it disingenuous, embarrassing and SAD.

What makes me laugh is that some of these people don't even speak good English. I know a classic example of someone who lived in an area of England where the accent is very distinct and they have their own dialect. This is what she puts on, and it comes off as very affected and not quite what she's going for. I guess she's relegated the quality of her English to the back burner while she focuses on the fake accent and the affected dialect; which can't be easy at all!

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That's a really interesting question. In my own case, I have noticed that after nearly 20 years of hardly speaking my mother tongue, I occasionally need to look up words in the dictionary. I wouldn't say that I have forgotten some of my native language, it's just that certain words have escaped me, as I don't communicate in that language on a daily basis.

-and that Dora M is the point we're trying to make! You've been gone 20 years, and are probably not surrounded by people who speak your language. Very much like me when I lived in England; I very rarely had the opportunity to speak my language. I only got to speak it when I called home, like say once a month. So it's understandable that you would forget some words, and become a little rusty.

But for people to claim they can't speak it anymore is very WEIRD lol I just feel sorry for some of these people's families, because some of them are just simple, barely educated people; who don't speak a jot of English! So it's a mystery as to how they communicate with them!

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