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If you don't use it you lose it


Guest sthrngypsy

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I started studying the Korean language about three years ago. However, when I resigned for the Korean company I used to work at, I also stopped attending my classes. I didn't speak or write in Korean anymore because I got hired in an American company. After just a few months of not using it, I couldn't understand the language anymore. So, now, I am studying again. :P

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Yes, I tend to get further and further behind if I don't use the language that I am learning.

The problem is that it is so easy to forget the proper pronunciation of things or what phrases have what meaning.

As an example, I was forgetting the phrases for "Who are you" and "How are you". They are simple enough to learn and use but if I don't practice them, I forget them. I wasn't happy either because then I had to go back and refresh myself and I felt that I had wasted time that should have been used to learn something new!

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I've noticed this too. I took many years of French and a year of Italian and can barely string a sentence together for each language. I'd recommend that you go back to the basics and hopefully some of the fundamentals will come back to you.

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"Use it, or lose it." I think this is spot on. I've recently felt more determined. I've studied a few languages: French (high school level for 5 years; college level for 1); Spanish (1 year at high school level); Italian (2 years at college level); Attic Greek (2 years at college level). I finally ended up with a degree in German. German was my favorite language, and I dove into it with a passion. I spent a month in Berlin, and have since visited twice.

But since then, I've married, had a child, and realize that when I hear German news reports, my language skills have been severely impacted. I'm finding hope using Duolingo. I am revisiting my German-language novels, especially collections of short stories. Reading material that I became comfortable with while studying in college (specifically, Kafka) has been especially helpful because I am so familiar with it.

Short of going back to Germany, what other things have you tried?

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Well, naturally you lose a skill you've once obtained if you don't exercise it. If you haven't brushed up your Spanish skills in a while, you won't be able to recall the memorized words and patterns either as easily as you were before or, unfortunately, at all. I am also rapidly losing all my acquired knowledge of German, which I had been taking for 4 years.

I suggest you find a job or volunteer in Spain. If you don't recall it right now, it doesn't mean it's LOST forever. Once there, you'll immerse yourself in Spanish and bits and words you forgot even existed will start coming back. Plus it'll be fun to do something different for a month or so!

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Try going to a country that only speaks Spanish for vacation, try to avoid speaking in your native language at all costs, even if it may seem like an emergency. I'm sure that one month talking Spanish only will help you tremendously.

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To an extent that it is true that if you do not use a language for a time it feels awkward when you use it again. When I moved back to live with my parents for a few months, I stopped using Swahili which is our national language. After seven months when I moved back to the city, I felt so ill at ease speaking the language. I believe that the more you use a language, the better you get at it.

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It is definitely true that if you completely stop using a language for a while you start to lose proficiency in it, even if it is your native language.

one way I have found to counter this is to read, watch tv and listen to music in that particular language. This will help you retain proficiency even if you're not actively speaking the language all the time.

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For me, this is very true.  I spoke German pretty well (couldn't read or write it to save my life) when I lived in Germany.  I was able to get around well enough.  However, it has been about 7 (maybe 8?) years since I was immersed in German culture and now I can only count to ten.  :/  I couldn't ask for directions or order a meal to save my life.  It's sad.

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I think you need to practice speaking and writing the language again. Start from scratch to refresh your memory. In your case, since you already have learned Spanish, I think you can just simply watch Spanish movies either subtitled or in audio, so that you can remember the language easily.

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  • 2 weeks later...

This is so true. I know that in Canada if you get an extended French certificate after high school, you have to take a test every two years to keep using it on your resumes and whatnot. If you don't use the language you'll forget everything in no time.

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I have found this to be so true.  I have always loved studying languages.  I took both Latin and Spanish in high school - 4 years of Spanish and 3 of Latin.  I majored in English and Spanish in college; however I have almost completely forgotten all Spanish (I graduated in 1993).  Can someone give me some tips as to how to get my Spanish knowledge back quickly?  I was always better at reading and writing than speaking.  I'd like this to change as well.

I agree with your title. Based on my experience, not practicing a language can make you"lose it", so to speak. That's what happened with my French. I didn't practice it and now I can hardly speak the language. I guess a good way to get it back would be to listen to people talking in Spanish because it might jog your memory.  :smile:

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I think once you learn something it's really difficult to "unlearn" it. You've just temporarily forgotten. I find this happens to me often with Japanese. Living in Florida for much of my adult life, I don't have many opportunities to use it outside of school. Now that I've been out of university for about 2 years, I haven't used it at all, so if you were to drop me smack-dab in the middle of Osaka I'd be clueless for a while.

BUT I think that once you've studied and learned something once, that process of relearning should be much easier than the second/third time. I first really began studying Japanese in High School (though honestly I wasn't very into it back then). After High School, I just kind of forgot it until I had the chance to take it again in college, and wow did I pick it up quicker. I think it's because I already knew the material and it just really jogged my memory and solidified it in my mind.

Right now, I think what I've "lost" most of is kanji memorization. If I see it, I can read it but if I have to remember off the top of my head and scribble it on paper I definitely can't.

As for the best method of relearning the material.... I think that depends on what your learning patterns are. I find reading/writing to be the best refreshers. For getting better at speaking the language, I'd say hands-down you need to regularly converse in Spanish with a fluent Spanish speaker (or multiple if possible). This is another thing I struggled with learning Japanese because I had no one to verbally practice with.  :sad:

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I took five years of French in school, but I can't hold a conversation even if my life depended on it. Oddly enough, I am able to understand a lot of it if I'm just reading it. But the words simply do not come to me when I'm trying to talk. Not sure what to do about it, since I haven't been able to find anything that will hold my interest in French

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Unfortunately I've found this to be the case a lot of the time, as well. I'd say just go about it the same way you went about learning it initially, plus deliberately make time to converse and write in the language regularly. You might find that more of it "comes back" to you than you would expect.

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I don't think one can forget every single word in a foreign language one has had a good command of. The quality of my English has deteriorated drastically since I moved to Germany last year, but can't believe I wouldn't be able to speak any English in 10 years, even if I stopped using it starting today.

On a slightly unrelated side note: I was shocked when a German patient with dementia who couldn't even recognize his closest relatives suddenly started talking to me in French. It's a mystery what the mind remembers and what not.

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I can feel ypu, this happened to me as well. When I was in college, I got to learn some basic Latin since it was a requirement for our subject Legal Terminologies. Now, I can't even recall a single word --  because I wasn't using it in practice.  What I can suggest is that you expose yourself to the language again -- read, listen, write, and speak -- and make sure that you do this constantly.  I'm sure it will get you back in place.

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I think it's important to stay well practiced when you're learning a new language. If you don't really practice it every day it is very easy to forget material you just learned. You need to continually go over it. So yes, if you don't use it you probably will lose it. Unless you have an excellent memory and learn a lot easier than a lot of folks do.

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