Is it so easy to forget a language?

I’ve been learning a language at my leisure for a few years now. At my leisure meaning that I can go without studying for months at a time. Some people act like if you go without studying for a week you’ll forget everything you ever learned. I suppose it is because I am me and they are them, but I don’t know. Is that really so common? My skill never seems to get drastically worse. I may have a tough time trying to think of a word here or there, but I don’t forget things over and over again and I can certainly still understand them. I am not at a particularly high skill level, but still… Thoughts?

From my experience, I automatically forget most of grammar rules learnt by heart after some weeks.
However, I don’t forget the English learnt by exposure (listening and reading). Maybe some non-fresh parts it’s harder for me to remember, but it’s totally a different experience than learning by heart.

I think it depends largely on where you are in the language. If you’re a beginner/low intermediate, you’re likely to forget a fair amount pretty quickly, whereas the more proficient you are, the more exposure you’ve had to it so it’s likely to stick with you longer. Similarly, if you’re surrounded by the language, or have enough exposure to it, you’re unlikely to lose much even if you do not actively use it yourself.

What Oscar says is very interesting. If I recall correctly, Steve said basically the same thing in one of his videos - that what we consciously try to learn (i.e. grammar) goes quickly, whereas what we learn ‘naturally’ or through mass exposure, like one would as a baby, stays with us for much longer. I find this in my studies at University too (which is not language related). What I learn and constantly use throughout the year sinks in whereas if I cram something for an exam I instantly forget it afterwards because I haven‘t really learnt it, just memorised it.

I’m pretty sure that I’ll never forget English, even if I would move to another planet and speak nothing but another language, especially since I’ve been exposed to English for 30 years. Ask me about Ancient Greek and I’m only able to conjugate a few verbs… now, I haven’t “used” Greek since 93/94…

Don’t be so sure, Jeff! I remember once reading a news article about Australia having to hire nurses from Holland because some of the aged immigrants who had lived in Australia for a long time and having been speaking English for years suddenly – perhaps in fact gradually – forgot the language and could only speak their mother tongue Dutch and so had to be taken care of by Dutch nurses. So if you move to Mars there is the chance that a certain number of years later we might have to beam some Swedish speaking nurses up there to look after you!

Something to look forward to.

I can only speak from experience. In my childhood I spoke fluent greek. However, after 4th grade my and my parents moved back to my home country and I suddenly had zero or very little practice, now, at 21 I’m re-learning greek by watching japanese anime with greek subtitles. When I don’t understand a word I copy it from the subs file and paste it into an online dictionary. At first it was hard and I could only speak very broken greek, but now I seem to be getting better- though I already see an improvement and using this way of learning it’s basically impossible for me not to re-learn greek if I continue doing what I’m doing.

I have seen the same thing. I know of quite a few missionary families who spend several years in another country. The parents struggle to learn the language, but say that their children are much more fluent. Then the families return home and the children lose the language they had. My guess is that the children weren’t as fluent as they were reported to be…but I’m also wondering if it has something to do with literacy. The children I’m thinking of aren’t learning to read and write in the new language. Maybe that’s why it disappears so easily.

I didn’t speak French for 15 years and it didn’t seem to hurt my understanding or my speaking any. Spelling maybe. But they’ve invented spellcheckers now :wink:

I’ve already forgotten all my British English… an English friend called me ‘mate’ the other day on facebook and I told him “no thanks”…

budda bum ching…

blindside, you obviously lost that game of chess and were just trying to cover up… boo yeah…