Ex-native speakers and natives by default

This is the title of peter’s latest blog post http://languagelearningjournal.blogspot.com/2011/05/ex-native-speakers-and-natives-by.html

I agree with Peter. I suppose any linguist/polyglot will have to do some sort of maintenance work. What is your regime? Here is what I have to do.

I have lived longer in England than in Germany andI have to put in a considerable amount of German maintenance work. I used to spend a fortune on phone calls; now I use Skype to chat to friends in Germany. There are some interesting links on Twitter, too. While I enjoy my daily dose of literature (actually I make sure I read some serious brain food at least once a day), watching certain German tv channels can be a bit brain-numbing. I bravely stick to it, though, in order to keep up with the language as spoken by the younger generations (or what scriptwriters think the younger generations should sound like). After a few attempts, however, I stopped watching game or reality shows.There I not only have to shudder at how the language is used, but also at the astonishing ignorance dispayed - I am not talking nerves here, I mean blissful ignorance of the basics of German society. I also travel to Germany regularly (at times too often for my taste).

I hate my typos (and sometimes I wish I could delete my own comments): " … and I have to put in " …
" astonishing ignorance displayed - "

I really ought not to comment on other people’s ignorance (sigh).


I do wonder… Even if you put a lot of effort in forgetting your native language would you ever really be able to forget it? (assuming you had spoken the language up until you were at least a teenager)

For languages other than my own, reading and listening, audio books and books, and content on the web. Occasional visit to the country.

I have to agree with Bobafruit here.

I am very sceptical they anyone who has learned a language natively and spoken it every day up to the age of 18 could ever lose that language. (Perhaps I’m wrong, but I really can’t imagine how this would be possible…)

All I’m saying is that it’s possible to go to a new country as an adult, assimilate well, and hardly use your previous language at all for the next 10-20 years for example. No you wouldn’t lose it, but it would not be at the same level as someone from your generation who has stayed in the previous country all this time (unless you maintained it well).

Yes, you can loose your own native language, you will never loose it completely, but it will be very rusty. I can see my own uncle who moved from the Netherlands to Australia, may be when he was 30 years old. Overthere he never spoke Dutch anymore at home, and when my parents recently visited him (40 years later), he had many difficulties speaking Dutch.

I am with Peter on this: I came to Britain when I was in my late twenties. Ten years later I noticed a certain atrophy in my native language. It was only when I started commuting to Germany on a regular basis for work in the early 1990s that my ‘Sprachgefühl’ came back. When the job finished after two-three years I had learnt my lesson: in order to keep reasonably fluent I need a maintenance programme.

I see a very big difference between going rusty and really truly forgetting.

What I have always understood (including from some of the above comments) is that natives can indeed get out of the habit of speaking their native tongue; yet if they are ever re-immersed in the language it all comes flooding back very quickly.

(Up to a point this is true of our foreign languages too. In my 20s I used to be able to carry on a fairly decent conversation in Italian. I can’t do it anymore - but I am quite certain that a month or so in Italy would get me right back to where I was…)

I have never really truly forgotten my language (or tried to do so). I don’t know if a true return to zero has ever happened to anyone.

@JayB - I don’t think anyone is suggesting that you would truly forget it. I don’t even think I will ever ‘truly’ forget the French I have learnt over the last few years.

But I think it also ties in with identity. For example, if you move to a new country, make a life there, start a family there and don’t keep in touch with the language and culture of the previous one, this would eventually happen (severe deterioration in your native language, not permanent loss).

Silviad’s story is interesting. On the other hand, I know people who have lived here for 20 and 30 years but still speak English very poorly. I know one person, who shall remain nameless, who has lived here for ten years but remains unilingual Finnish. (Beginner 1 in English, seriously).

It all depends on the individual.

I apologize for any mistakes, my English not so good that I want. But I want to tell you that I agree with a majority written above. I will never trust that it’s really possible to forget native language. It’s impossible I’m sure!