Forgetting One's Native Tongue

Forgetting One's Native Tongue

It’s also not just immigrant who are affected, but to some extent anyone who learns a second language.

Can you ever forget your first language? Yes, it’s possible to forget your first language, even as an adult, according to a BBC story. But how, and why, this happens are complex and counter-intuitive.

"Most long-term migrants know what it’s like to be a slightly rusty native speaker. The process seems obvious: the longer you are away, the more your language suffers. But it’s not quite so straightforward.

"In fact, the science of why, when and how we lose our own language is complex and often counter-intuitive. It turns out that how long you’ve been away doesn’t always matter. Socialising with other native speakers abroad can worsen your own native skills. And emotional factors like trauma can be the biggest factor of all," according to the story.

It’s also not just immgrants who are affected, but to some extent anyone who learns a second language.

“The minute you start learning another language, the two systems start to compete with each other,” says Monika Schmid, a linguist at the University of Essex.

Schmid is a leading researcher of "language attrition," a growing field of research that looks at what makes us lose our mother tongue. In children, the phenomenon is somewhat easier to explain since their brains are generally more flexible and adaptable. Until the age of about 12, a person’s language skills are relatively vulnerable to change. Studies on international adoptees have found that even nine-year-olds can almost completely forget their first language when they are removed from their country of birth.

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