Is it necessary to maintain languages?

I have heard some polyglots, Steve included, say that they can reactivate a language if they get to it for a few weeks. Then what’s the point of deliberately maintaining these languages? Do you guys believe that we should try to maintain our languages? If someone could talk about their personal experience it would be great too!

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I used to study spanish and I had to stop for a long time so I forgot many things. I think is easier if I decide to study spanish again than was when I started, but would be better if I had keep the language.

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It’s true that you can reactivate a language you’ve once spent time studying, and some people need to do that when they’ve studied more languages than they can maintain. But on the other hand, it’s not hard to maintain multiple languages in your daily life nowadays with reading, listening, and watching streaming media.

For me it’s not about “should I maintain a language,” it’s about “how do I incorporate this language into my daily life.” And really, the question to ask prior to picking up a language is this “will I want to / can I incorporate this into my daily life with podcasts, audiobooks, or Netflix shows, etc.” If the answer is yes, then maintenance in not a chore, it’s just something you do.

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So, this is complicated:

  1. For languages you know at the C2 level and use every day: my situation is that I use my native language every day, doing the same with English. So, these don’t go away, luckily. But I am surprised that even after many years I feel like my vocabulary increases if I am reading fiction in either of the two. So, C2 with daily use won’t go away, but can get better with the appropriate stimuli.
  2. For language you don’t know as well: so, I can talk and read fiction novels in two other languages, but they are nowhere near my English, and I only use them in spurs: when I go on a trip where the languages are spoken, if I have a project where I have conference calls with native speakers. But in between they are just laying there somewhere in my brain, I guess. When I try to take them back to practice I think there is a certain inertia at first, but they come back pretty quickly. All of a sudden I catch myself saying all kinds of things, often things that I didn’t remember that I knew.
  3. For languages where I am just getting started: if I study for a short period of time, say a couple of months, stop for another couple of months, and then come back, of course I will have forgotten a bunch of things. With that being said, it is fascinating how quickly they come back
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In any case, maintaining is a good thing.
If you know only several languages, it’s not difficult to read and to listen to some podcasts or to watch something in all your languages.
If you studied more than 10 languages, it’s more complicated to maintain at the same time all of them. Then you have to choose what languages are more important for you.
For example, from my experience: I could speak fluently Polish when I was a child, but then I had a break about 20 years. I can still understand 80% of Polish films but I can’t speak Polish or I speak with a lot of mistakes because the most of the words I know passively without practicing for such a long time.
The same with French - I can read French novels, but it’s more dfifficult for me listening and speaking if I don’t deal with French more than a month.

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