Keeping your second language once going back to your native country

Discussion in 'Community Discussion' started by YS2003, Jul 30, 2009.

  1. YS2003 macrumors 68020

    YS2003

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    #1
    Is it normal for a person to forget his / her second language learned during his / her early adulthood?

    For example, if you have learned French, German, Spanish, Japanese, or English (just list a few) since high school and used it as a primary language during your 20s and early 30s, do you forget that language once you go back to your native country (where your second language is not spoken)?

    I am curious to know the language and speech retention of a person's brain.

    Do people retain a language after using it as a primary one for more than 10 years?
     
  2. puma1552 macrumors 601

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    #2
    After that long, retention >80% should be no problem.
     
  3. jackiecanev2 macrumors 65816

    jackiecanev2

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    #3
    Wirelessly posted (BB 8900: BlackBerry8900/4.6.1.250 Profile/MIDP-2.0 Configuration/CLDC-1.1 VendorID/301)

    Agreed. Retention, after such extended use, seems highly likely. But I suppose it depends on your overall level of fluency...
     
  4. OutThere macrumors 603

    OutThere

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    #4
    You'll always be rusty for a while after a transition, but you'd be surprised how well you retain the language, even if it's slow coming back. My father is Swiss and my mother is American, I speak French and English. I grew up in America, spending some time in Europe every year. I studied in France last year, and coming back from 4 months abroad I had some trouble speaking English, my first and easily strongest language.

    The customs lady at JFK asked me (after I'd been traveling for about 16 hours) "coming home for the holidays?", to which I replied "oui, je fjeruhurgiehsguries...I'm sorry, I can't speak English anymore." :p
     
  5. Signal-11 macrumors 65816

    Signal-11

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    #5
    If you learned as an adult and spoke the language for 10 years? You'll retain it just fine for a long time. If anything, you're going to have a rough time with your native language for a while if you haven't been speaking it at all. Whenever I come back to the states after an extended period abroad speaking another language exclusively, my tongue feels like it's a half step behind and I screw up articles or conjugations, depending on the language.

    How well you retain it into old age, I think, is another matter. I've seen my older relatives lose languages as they get older with no real pattern.
     
  6. dllavaneras macrumors 68000

    dllavaneras

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    #6
    I lived in the US for 3 years, 2nd to 4th grade. Here I am, 15 years later and I still retain pretty much all the english I learned, even though I haven't spoken it with anyone in over a decade. Reading, writing and listening, I'm good. I still run into a few issues while speaking, but nothing that a week or two speaking english wouldn't fix =)

    (Spanish is my main language, btw)
     
  7. UltraNEO* macrumors 601

    UltraNEO*

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    #7
    Umm... Well.. I think the OP is really fortunate because he/she only has to deal with a second language. I however have to juggle a couple more!!

    I would call English as my first language because I did all my schooling in English but Cantonese and Hakka would consider as my native tongue as that's what I use when I'm at home (is that correct?) However, for the last few of years I've been studying Japanese, whist living and working in Japan and over the course of this period I have come to realise my English has become somewhat rusty, on occasions I'll be rusty when it comes to spell certain words but it's not forgotten.. just out of practice and in my Chinese? I've forgotten most of it, no biggie IMO however it comes back to me once i start using it.
     
  8. dbo789 macrumors member

    dbo789

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    Canada
    #8
    Language needs to be practiced. While you might not forget everything, after a few years of not speaking it, you'll find it definitely takes more work to put a sentence together, and your vocabulary will have decreased.

    I recommend finding an organization where you can practice the language on a regular basis. For example, if your second language is French, look for a local office of the Alliance Française. They have offices all over the world, and hold classes, events, and meetings for both native and non-native speakers alike to speak french together. I've found its been an amazing help in keeping my french fresh, as living in Alberta doesn't offer a lot of opportunities to speak it. (And I'm too poor to fly to Montréal every few months! :p)
     
  9. YS2003 thread starter macrumors 68020

    YS2003

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    #9
    Good to hear that retaining a language is fairly easy for a person who has been using that language for more than 10 years.
    As others posted, it is true that mixing up the primary and secondary languages could happen during the transition period.
     
  10. Signal-11 macrumors 65816

    Signal-11

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    #10
    My biggest problems in transitioning between languages are negation placements and negative questions. I regularly switch between 3-5 languages and I get so confused with the negative questions, I've given up on which one's which.

    Example: I'm sitting with a friend at a cafe. An acquaintance walks by. My friend asks, "That's Bob from the office, isn't it?" or "Isn't that Bob?"

    Depending on the language, to affirm that is Bob, I could say Yes or No. I never know which one's which, including my so called native languages.
     
  11. yg17 macrumors G5

    yg17

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    St. Louis, MO
    #11
    I think it would be like riding a bike, you never really forget, you might just be a bit rusty at first.

    Just out of curiosity, for those that know multiple languages, which one do you think in? I only speak English, so if I'm thinking about something, trying to work something out in my head, it's of course in English. But which one is it for those who are fluent in more than one?
     
  12. Signal-11 macrumors 65816

    Signal-11

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    #12
    I think that "thinking in a language" for day-to-day simple tasks is most often post hoc attribution rather than anything real specific modal thought process. This isn't to say that people don't form complex sentences in a specific language in their head, which is almost a prerequisite for complex thought. Just for simple things, I don't believe people "think" nearly as much as they believe they do.

    If I asked you what language you were thinking in while you were doing your laundry, you'd say English, because that's the only language to which you can ascribe your thoughts. If you asked me what language I was thinking in while I was loading the laundry, I would really have to think about it and probably couldn't answer you with any degree of certainty. Probably the last language I was speaking or whatever language is on the controls of the machine.

    Complex thoughts, probably whatever language is most appropriate.
     

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