lushlala

Is It Possible to Forget Your Native Language?

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I don't think it's possible to completely forget your native language. There maybe some phrases and words that just don't click at moment, but once you begin to converse and read and interact with that familiar environment again, then your brain will receive a refresher. If you have spent all of your childhood and teen years knowing a language, there is no way on Earth that you are going to forget 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...

Definitely it will come back to you. After all it was ingrained and inculcated. It's already there in the head written on membranes and neurons.

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Just throwing my two cents in here. I suppose from what some of you have said, it's possible to forget one's own native language but that might be because of some of the reasons previously mentioned. Perhaps they are pretending to have forgotten, they assimilated to a new culture when very young and or have not spoken their native language in so long that they forget most of it. I have to admit, I find it hard to believe that someone could forget an entire language they once spoke fluently but I guess anything is possible, who can say for sure? 

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Hi ancestraltongue

Warm welcome to linguaholic.com! According to your profile you are studying Hebrew, Italian and Russian at the same time? That sounds really interesting. Why those 3 languages? Just curious.

regards

Lingua

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Hehe Rimzi, I too had no idea this was possible! It never happened to me, even when I left my home country and went to live in the UK for 13 years, where I very rarely got the chance to speak my own language. Plus I know many, many people who came from around the world to work in Botswana many years ago, who still live here who have never forgotten their own languages. That includes my own step dad, who's Danish and still speaks it fluently, 40 years on. Plus all the English people who travel the world, including non-English speaking countries, but NEVER lose their ability to speak their language. It's a very bizarre thing that apparently happens to people. I'm glad I'm not one of those people, because I'd hate to be unable to speak to my relatives who can't speak English.

Hi Lushlala,

It would be a shame to lose the ability to speak your native language. I have to say that my mother, who spent half of her 80 something years in the U.S., seemed to have forgotten a little bit of her native tongue, when we visited Turkey a few years ago. We didn't have a single Turkish relative in the U.S., so the only time we spoke the language was to our mother. She was still trying to improve her English, so she would often mix her sentences with both Turkish and English.

I'm glad you've been able to retain your native language. Don't ever let that go.

 

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In my opinion If you leave a country of your origin after the first ten years of your life, then your mother language is so ingrained in your brain that it is not possible to forget. You might get a strange accent if you don't speak it for tears but you will always understand it.

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I think it is quite unlikely for you to forget your native language. You may forget it for awhile, if you are getting used to using another language all the time. I think that as soon as you returned home, or talked to relatives that you would remember right away. That is just my opinion, as I have never travelled or mastered another language yet. 

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In my opinion If you leave a country of your origin after the first ten years of your life, then your mother language is so ingrained in your brain that it is not possible to forget. You might get a strange accent if you don't speak it for tears but you will always understand it.

That's exactly the point I keep trying to make. -and like I said, how come the English NEVER seem to lose their ability to speak their language, even if they travel to the furthest point from their countries of origin, where little or no English is spoken. I know their accent can get affected, but that's it.

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I think it is quite unlikely for you to forget your native language. You may forget it for awhile, if you are getting used to using another language all the time. I think that as soon as you returned home, or talked to relatives that you would remember right away. That is just my opinion, as I have never travelled or mastered another language yet. 

I have first hand experience of this, but never forgot my language at all when I lived in the UK for years and years. I think it's possible it may become a little rusty, but like you say, when you start speaking it again, it should all come back with a minimum of fuss. It must also depends on whether or not you're interested in retaining it, I guess.

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I have never heard of people forgetting there mother tongue, on the other hand I do know that there are people that don't feel comfortable speaking it and preferred to speak in a another language. Apparently one such person is Arnold Schwarzenegger, even though he speaks German he normally falls back on his English.

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Honestly, I think it is impossible to fully forget your native language. It is possible, however, to lose vocabulary. Yet, I personally do not think it is possible to forget your own maternal language because this is the first language you learned when you brain was developing. The plasticity that your brain developed during your first years can last a lifetime.

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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 know those kind of people. Suddenly their pronunciation in their native language sounds like tourists who happen to speak the local language. Ashamed really... like they would lose their 'cool' if they suddenly be themselves again and 'speak' normally. :huh:

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People can get rusty for not speaking their mother tongue for a long time and being surrounded by another culture with a different language. But losing the ability to understand and speak it at all? Hmm... I heard about it but have yet to meet such people.

I know it won't happen to me :wink: Impossible really, since I always think in my mother tongue.

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Yes of course it's possible, you'll be able to understand it, you can remember some words, but you'll not be able to speak it fluently ! people are made to forget lol and language need a practice to be kept

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Agreed. However, I guess for adults who have been speaking their native language for dozens of years, they could problably never forget it, even if they would stop using it for like 5 or even 10 years. 

This is the point I have been trying to put across, @Linguaholic! Thanks for your input, even the original post I made points to a much older age that single figures :)

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Nope. Not possible.

It is highly impossible for someone who's been speaking their native tongue since they were little to suddenly forget their native language. I know Filipinos who lived abroad for 20-30 years but are still very fluent in Tagalog or their respective dialects. There might be cases though that a family moves to the US or some other country, and their child was still very little when they moved, the child might not remember how to speak his or her native language. However, this doesn't count when we're talking about this topic because the child never learned his native tongue in the first place.

For someone who was able to learn and speak his native language, it is impossible that he will suddenly forget his language. Forget a few words? Yes. But the entire language? I don't think so.

Thank you so much for your eloquently stated argument! I too believe this to be impossible. I'm of the strong opinion that whoever claims to have forgotten their language wilfully does this and actually doesn't want to retain their own language for whatever weird reason. But I think in their heart of hearts they know it's all BS because they do know their language, and are just being pretentious. Why they do it is beyond me, because to me it's nothing to be proud of at all.

I even have cousins who didn't grow up here and have studied abroad all their lives. They speak our native language, albeit in a weird accent. They never once claim to have forgotten it. yet some people will go abroad for a few years  in they early 20's, and come back suddenly having forgotten their own language. It would be  laughable if it wasn't so tragic LOL Some of the answers here really floored me, so I'm happy to see that there are others in this community who like me, don't buy into the whole idea.

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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.

Hehe I think we've crossed our wires somewhere, @takibari. I couldn't find my quote where I appeared to be under the impression that you were disagreeing with me, or whatever gave you the idea. Just for emphasis, I understood completely what you meant, and actually agree with you, the language at that age bracket is well and truly IMPRINTED and EMBEDDED in your brain to the point where there's simply no chance of it ever being erased from your brain, especially when you think this is a language that these people acquired as babies and then went on to speak as young children, through their teen years into adulthood.

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I know those kind of people. Suddenly their pronunciation in their native language sounds like tourists who happen to speak the local language. Ashamed really... like they would lose their 'cool' if they suddenly be themselves again and 'speak' normally. :huh:

Most Filipinos grow up being very un-nationalist. I don't know why and how, but I do know that the reason lies somewhere during the children's adolescence. I guess the continued patronage of Filipinos to foreign brands and products play a role in this negative behavior. It is ingrained in the minds of most Filipinos that local brands doesn't compare with the big name brands that hail from foreign countries. In addition, Filipinos who weren't well-educated think that speaking in English correlates with being rich and influential while speaking Filipino means that you're poor.

I also just want to say that I'm not against speaking in English since I am also a fan of the language, but being a total douche-bag and being embarrassed at your own native tongue? A big No-No. 

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Most Filipinos grow up being very un-nationalist. I don't know why and how, but I do know that the reason lies somewhere during the children's adolescence. I guess the continued patronage of Filipinos to foreign brands and products play a role in this negative behavior. It is ingrained in the minds of most Filipinos that local brands doesn't compare with the big name brands that hail from foreign countries. In addition, Filipinos who weren't well-educated think that speaking in English correlates with being rich and influential while speaking Filipino means that you're poor.

I also just want to say that I'm not against speaking in English since I am also a fan of the language, but being a total douche-bag and being embarrassed at your own native tongue? A big No-No. 

Speaking of brands (going slightly off-topic here) I remember when I was in New Zealand - Dunedin to be exact - I was shopping at one of the malls and was delightful to find some local brands from my country. It was my first time being overseas ^_^

Anyway, this matter of lack of nationalism is nothing new. Ability to speak English here in my country means = better job prospects + an indicator of how smart you are. 

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Anyway, this matter of lack of nationalism is nothing new. Ability to speak English here in my country means = better job prospects + an indicator of how smart you are. 

Same thing here basically, minus the smartness level one because almost everyone here in the Netherlands speaks English any way.
When people ask me what languages I know, it's like this:
Dutch = "you don't say"?
English = "you don't say"?
German = "oh".
A bit of Spanish = "nah, just a bit".
Polish = "wow".
Japanese = :o "REALLY?! WOW"!

So apparently, speaking an Asian language is the smartness indicator here. :P
Even though I find Asian languages to be straight forward when it comes to grammar (or at least Chinese, Korean and Japanese, I haven't really looked into the rest yet).

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Certainly! This usually happens due to infrequent use. Although I think it's more believable to say that you've lost the capability to speak fluently since understanding a language, even if you don't know the words exactly, is a bit harder to "forget". A funny, slightly unrelated thing that could happen is forgetting what a word is in your native language when you've been using other languages most of the time. One time I forgot what mango is in my language and a split second later remembering it was mangga... just a couple letters off :tongue:

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I think you can't forget the whole thing, but your brain wires itself to think faster in the language you're using the most every single day. I lived in Mexico for about 2 years (I'm Venezuelan), and even though both countries speak Spanish, I was losing my coloqualisms without noticing. Furthermore, I lived in the USA for 4 months and the switching from English  to Spanish was becoming a bit of a harder transition after a while, honestly. If you live enough time in a different environment, you'll forget your own a bit!

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I think you can't forget the whole thing, but your brain wires itself to think faster in the language you're using the most every single day. I lived in Mexico for about 2 years (I'm Venezuelan), and even though both countries speak Spanish, I was losing my coloqualisms without noticing. Furthermore, I lived in the USA for 4 months and the switching from English  to Spanish was becoming a bit of a harder transition after a while, honestly. If you live enough time in a different environment, you'll forget your own a bit!

I agree you'll forget a few expressions and words, but forgetting to the point where you can't communicate in your own language LOL?! Would you say you totally forgot your own language and couldn't converse with your non-english speaking friends and relatives? -and how's about something extra to stew you noodle....what of those people who claim to have forgotten their own language, claiming they can only speak English, yet don't even have a very good grasp of the language that they claim is the only one they can now speak? Very curious indeed.

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I think they will still remember their native language no matter what. They are 18 and or 21, we are not talking about children below 5 who will really forget about their native tongue should they migrate to a foreign country and live there. In my case, I moved to another place in my country and the people have a different dialect. There is no opportunity for me to use my own language for ten years but that did not make me forget about it. I still process my thoughts using my native language that is. 

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I'd say it's impossible. It's the language you grew up in and used for some if not most of your life; you're bound to remember it forever. You'll lose your fluency, you'll forget a few words, you'll forget what some words meant and you'll mess up the accent - but you will never forget the language completely. 

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