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Is It Possible to Forget Your Native Language?


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@Lushlala - Are you close to the people who seem to have forgotten your native tongue? I'm having the impression that you know a few people who have forgotten your native tongue. So, I'm curious if  you've tried asking them personally? I too am curious how they're going to explain their forgetting their mother language?

The only way I could think that 'forgetting' is possible if for some reason the person has had some brain injury that caused the person to affect his memory of his original language.

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  • 2 weeks later...

@Lushlala - Are you close to the people who seem to have forgotten your native tongue? I'm having the impression that you know a few people who have forgotten your native tongue. So, I'm curious if  you've tried asking them personally? I too am curious how they're going to explain their forgetting their mother language?

The only way I could think that 'forgetting' is possible if for some reason the person has had some brain injury that caused the person to affect his memory of his original language.

Hey takibari No, thank God, I'm not friends with any of these people at all! I wouldn't associate with people like that because I have a very strong sense of identity, and I'm very comfortable in my own skin and with who I am.

I agree entirely with you, they'd have to have had a very traumatic experience in which they banged their heads, in order to have "amnesia" of this magnitude! But realistically speaking, how could all these people have gone through such an ordeal?! -and don't let's forget the same types of people Sidney mentioned in her own country, thousands of miles aways from me hehe. I think we'll never solve the mystery to this one, sadly :(

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We'll we can only speculate as to why the people you've described have forgotten their own language. IF they are only 'pretending' to have forgotten their own language, then only they know the reasons for it.

Each of us has a reason for doing the things we do. In some cases, our actions may not be logical or incomprehensible to another person, but to us,  it makes perfect sense. Having and being perfectly comfortable to one's own identity may make sense to you, but to the next person, it can be seen as pointless. This only goes to say that things are truly relative.

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One possible explanation, too, is that if you're used to having complete native fluency of a language, and then your skills get rusty after years away, maybe this can feel like forgetting your native tongue.

If you have memories of being perfect in your first language and suddenly find yourself forgetting words, stumbling over syntax, and so on, I would imagine this feels a lot like "not being able to speak" the language anymore even if in reality you are still very proficient. This hasn't happened to me with languages but it has with other skills!

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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!

I totally understand this whole thread, and I agree with you about it not being possible for people to forget their own language, especially when they leave their native land as full grown adults.  I have a friend who is from Guyana, who has 4 black children but now, since coming to America, only dates white men. 

She is very adamant that from now on only wants kids from white men, and tries to talk like she is some valley girl from California, and brags about how she sounds like a white (an American white) girl (American, British-which is what most "fakers" try to copy, no matter where they are from).  It kind of cracks me up a bit.  I love her dearly, but she is just too much at times.

I personally know some people who go out of their way to preserve their language and their culture once they come here (to America), but I know others who go out of their way to pretend that they are something they are not.  Not all of them do it, but it definitely happens.  It depends on a person's sense of self and how they feel about where they originally come from.

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I totally understand this whole thread, and I agree with you about it not being possible for people to forget their own language, especially when they leave their native land as full grown adults.  I have a friend who is from Guyana, who has 4 black children but now, since coming to America, only dates white men. 

She is very adamant that from now on only wants kids from white men, and tries to talk like she is some valley girl from California, and brags about how she sounds like a white (an American white) girl (American, British-which is what most "fakers" try to copy, no matter where they are from).  It kind of cracks me up a bit.  I love her dearly, but she is just too much at times.

I personally know some people who go out of their way to preserve their language and their culture once they come here (to America), but I know others who go out of their way to pretend that they are something they are not.  Not all of them do it, but it definitely happens.  It depends on a person's sense of self and how they feel about where they originally come from.

That's why America is called a "melting pot" of cultures rather than having everyone be sort of the same-ish like you'd maybe see in Scandinavian countries for example. It's easy for people, especially the younger generation, to want to become Westernized because it's the cool thing now.

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@ VNtomboy, I guess it's also because we were colonized by Spain for 300 years, so the preferred "look" over here are the "mestizo" and "mestiza" looks and features (meaning fair skinned) so even if they don't look like it, at least they try to act like one! Whitening creams and soaps are also popular here since most dark skinned women want to lighten their skin.

@ lushlala, When speaking to such people, why don't you pretend to not understand them and only respond in your native language? For sure they will be forced to speak it, then they will stop trying to impress people who won't buy into their act, lol.

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Wow, that is a very old age for someone to forget their native tongue. I was around 5 when I only spoke English and I did forget Spanish completely. I couldn't imagine forgetting after leaving home at the age of 18 though.

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I totally understand this whole thread, and I agree with you about it not being possible for people to forget their own language, especially when they leave their native land as full grown adults.  I have a friend who is from Guyana, who has 4 black children but now, since coming to America, only dates white men. 

She is very adamant that from now on only wants kids from white men, and tries to talk like she is some valley girl from California, and brags about how she sounds like a white (an American white) girl (American, British-which is what most "fakers" try to copy, no matter where they are from).  It kind of cracks me up a bit.  I love her dearly, but she is just too much at times.

I personally know some people who go out of their way to preserve their language and their culture once they come here (to America), but I know others who go out of their way to pretend that they are something they are not.  Not all of them do it, but it definitely happens.  It depends on a person's sense of self and how they feel about where they originally come from.

I'm glad you came up with this point Melee, because a lot of the time this happens with women who have married a White American/British lol Then they think it's fashionable to have children who don't speak their native language, which I find really sad and tragic. Some of these women have come from humble backgrounds and have parents who don't speak a jot of English, so you can imagine what that does to the relationship between the grandparents and their grandchildren.

Because I come from a mixed background (my step dad is Danish, and I'm married to a white Englishman), and lived in England for 13 years, people often seem shocked that I speak perfect Setswana (my native language) I only returned home in the past 18 months, and I tell them nobody can really forget their language. While I was in England, I never got to speak my language, except sometimes when I called home. If I didn't ever forget a jot of my language, then surely someone who went away as an adult, and stayed say 5 years, cannot forget their language. I think it's ridiculous!

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@ VNtomboy, I guess it's also because we were colonized by Spain for 300 years, so the preferred "look" over here are the "mestizo" and "mestiza" looks and features (meaning fair skinned) so even if they don't look like it, at least they try to act like one! Whitening creams and soaps are also popular here since most dark skinned women want to lighten their skin.

@ lushlala, When speaking to such people, why don't you pretend to not understand them and only respond in your native language? For sure they will be forced to speak it, then they will stop trying to impress people who won't buy into their act, lol.

It's so weird, because here in Vietnam, people also consider light skin as attractive, which I don't see at all. It just means that you spend a lot of time indoor or places without sun. Maybe it's influenced by when the French/Americans tried to invade us. I don't really see how having white skin could be more attractive than tanned skin, but what do I know, lol

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@ lushlala, When speaking to such people, why don't you pretend to not understand them and only respond in your native language? For sure they will be forced to speak it, then they will stop trying to impress people who won't buy into their act, lol.

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You may not forget the basics or how to put it together but your accent and intonation can really be challenged if you haven't been using certain sounds for many years. They speak spanish pronouncing words in English and get negative reactions (like being mistaken for condescension) and embarrassment that they prefer to speak English if they can be understood that way.

I have relatives that come from America and they can never "fix" their language back. They have a broken Spanish-English hybrid. I think as people grow older it is harder to maintain two languages when you only have been using one and you can really get some "holes" in your language memory which because of habit or convenience are not addressed even if they return, especially if they are understood anyway. I guess that is way Spanglish thrives in America.

Like someone said above it makes a big difference too how much you get involved with your mother tongue while you're away and how do you feel about your home country.

Sure, I read and I can speak spanish just fine, but I have notice that now I am more likely to get hanging mid-sentence trying to think in the Spanish for a word than the other way around. I honestly I never imagined I'd see the day. I do have an accent when speaking English and I think my Spanish speaking accent is slipping because sometimes I get surprised on how I sounded differently than what I was expecting.

While I agree it sounds really hard to completely forget your mother tongue I do believe it is possible for it to deteriorate to the point of feeling like a faint, old dream.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I dont think its possible to forget completly your native language, I mean, you can forget a few words but never forget your roots!

Im a spanish native speakerm but I also speaks english and italian, living in Us, and I teach spanish.

I didnt have problems with this before!

:wink:

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Well, all of my thoughts are in English, my native tongue, so it is hard to ever remember not knowing it. I suppose the more time I spend speaking a different language, I may forget some words, but even after 20 years I doubt I could ever completely forget.

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I dont think its possible to forget completly your native language, I mean, you can forget a few words but never forget your roots!

Im a spanish native speakerm but I also speaks english and italian, living in Us, and I teach spanish.

I didnt have problems with this before!

:wink:

I'm of the same opinion as you! I totally forgot to mention that I also have some cousins who are Botswana/British, who never forgot our native language. These are people who come from a predominantly English speaking family, and grew up all over the place (not in Botswana), and they all live in the UK. They haven't forgotten their native language. It may not be polished, but they never claim to have forgotten it. If anything, when they're here visiting, they're always eager to show off they still know how to speak it. It's very interesting LOL

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Well, all of my thoughts are in English, my native tongue, so it is hard to ever remember not knowing it. I suppose the more time I spend speaking a different language, I may forget some words, but even after 20 years I doubt I could ever completely forget.

Exactly! i think some people may have an identity crisis, and see being unable to speak their language as something to be proud of. It just comes across as affected, misguided and pretentious, especially if the very language they claim to be the only one they can speak, is not so polished. Maybe they're just dumb LOL

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:amazed: To me that is pretty cool but hard to believe.  I can see someone forgetting some words but not every word they learned from the time they first spoke.  Being away in another country using a different language and rarely or never using your native language for a long time probably could lead to forgetting your native language.  I guess if I ever did such a thing I would try to practice my English while I could to make sure I didn't lose it. That is very interesting.  I will have to do some more research into that.

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Wow, that is a very old age for someone to forget their native tongue. I was around 5 when I only spoke English and I did forget Spanish completely. I couldn't imagine forgetting after leaving home at the age of 18 though.

sillylucy, I can understand you forgetting at 5; you were just a baby. These people are just being ridiculous, pretentious and shallow. I'm sorry, but there; I've said it. It's just not possible, unless they were all involved in some nasty accidents where they lost their memories LOL A bad case of amnesia hehe

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  • 6 months later...

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?

That's interesting. I haven't heard of that happening, but I suppose it's possible. I know that the less you speak, the less you retain. I grew up with two languages but now that I don't use one of them on a regular basis, I often have difficulty pronouncing words or structuring sentences.

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It does happen of course but it's more like getting buried than forgetting. If you are living in another culture, country and speaking another language your brain just start to associate and work in an other dimension. But if you start to talk in your native lang. its easily coming out once again, maybe a few weeks, months and maybe a little accent but it's there buried deep somewhere.

Just like cycling, you cant forget it.

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My sister moved to Japan a few months ago and took both of her children with her.
She uses mainly English and Japanese at home there and as a result, the oldest child is slowly forgetting her native language.
The younger one doesn't, but that's because he just started picking up any language at all.

So native languages can be forgotten if not used for a long period of time, especially when one doesn't have much experience with their native language (like a 4 year old for example).

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My sister moved to Japan a few months ago and took both of her children with her.
She uses mainly English and Japanese at home there and as a result, the oldest child is slowly forgetting her native language.
The younger one doesn't, but that's because he just started picking up any language at all.

So native languages can be forgotten if not used for a long period of time, especially when one doesn't have much experience with their native language (like a 4 year old for example).

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. 

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That's interesting. I haven't heard of that happening, but I suppose it's possible. I know that the less you speak, the less you retain. I grew up with two languages but now that I don't use one of them on a regular basis, I often have difficulty pronouncing words or structuring sentences.

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.

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I don't think you would all together forget the language.  But I can see, after years of not using it, that it could be harder to speak.  After all, you haven't used it, so you will have to reprogram yourself for it.  I don't see how it would be possible to totally forget the language completely, though.

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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.

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