Is it possible to forget your native language?

Guest   Tue Jan 08, 2008 3:41 pm GMT
Just think about somebody who learns a second language and lives immersed in an environment where he or she uses that language constantly in detriment of his or her native language, which never uses at all, not even with family because all their members died or live far away. I guess that forgetting one's native language is possible but there must be a certain age at which this thing can no longer happen because someone's brain irreversibly became too much used to process thoughts in terms of the native language and to forget it completely would require too much flexibility that only children's minds have. What do you think about this subject? Have you ever met somebody who forgot his or her native tongue? If so, do you think that if that person starts learning his native language again, it will be easier for him or her, or would it be just as hard as for everyone else who never spoke that language?
Koreasparkling   Tue Jan 08, 2008 6:19 pm GMT
Yes. It's definitely possible.

There was a TV show that helps overseas Korean adoptees to find their birthmoms or real families.
I saw a girl who had been adopted to the US family at the age of 7 or 8.
When she'd got there, she'd kept her diary in Korean for the first 6 months or so.
Now that she's in her 20s, she doesn't even understand an easy Korean sentence like "Do you remember any Korean words?".
When the translator asked the same question in English, she replied "mom", "dad" and "hungry" in Korean but she wasn't able to make a full sentence.

Another case was a girl who had been adopted to Belgium at the age of 13.
She understood Korean better than the one who'd been adopted at the age of 7, but still she hardly spoke Korean on the TV.
The TV show host asked her "How do you feel" in Korean, and she responded fragment sentence "I happy that I see my mom." in Korean with an awkward accent.

So, forgetting your first language is possible.
Yop   Tue Jan 08, 2008 7:02 pm GMT
That seems less likely if you leave your country later though. I know a Spanish woman who moved to France at 17 (she's in her 50's now). She never went back to Spain until a few years ago and yet you definitely can tell she's a Spaniard.

Her French is heavily Hispanized:
"Je vais *à* manger" instead of "Je vais manger" from Spanish "Voy *a* comer";
"éspatule" instead of "spatule";
"à moi me semble que" instead of "il me semble que" from Spanish "a mí me parece que";
"*jo* prends un *por* toi" instead of "j'en prends un pour toi" (Spanish: "yo", "por", no equivalent for French "en"), …

Her Spanish I can't judge, being only a beginner. She did confess having troubles to remember some words when speaking to her family in Spain. But although that's enough for her to think that "she can't speak Spanish anymore" I have to disagree, given that her children are bilingual in French and Spanish thanks to her.
Guest   Tue Jan 08, 2008 8:16 pm GMT
Interesting, so she may had forgotten Spanish but her French remained hispanized. Probaby her age was high enough to not forgetting Spanish completely.
Guest   Tue Jan 08, 2008 9:48 pm GMT
She probably didn't forget Spanish because Spain and France are neighbours and the languages are similar.

Btw, there was recently a case of a Japanese man who was in his young 20s during the war in Manchuria, and ended up in Russia. There was a story of his returing to Japan for the first time since the war and he could only understand basic sentences.
Guest   Wed Jan 09, 2008 11:46 am GMT
It happens if you get isolated. You do not hear on tv, radio or you do not have a family member or friend that speaks your language.

You can forget most of your mother language in a few years. If you do not use it you loose it. If you isolate a person even if she is 20, she will forget her native language. But if she speaks even a few words once in a while she may remember much. So, cut off all contact if you want to forget your language.
Guest   Wed Jan 09, 2008 12:38 pm GMT
I dont' think that if a person gets isolated he loses his native language. Suppose somebody who lives in a island alone , if he loses his native language, after 20 years he could not speak at all.
Guest   Wed Jan 09, 2008 12:39 pm GMT
ou can forget most of your mother language in a few years. If you do not use it you loose it. If you isolate a person even if she is 20, she will forget her native language. But if she speaks even a few words once in a while she may remember much. So, cut off all contact if you want to forget your language.

Are you all serious or are you just writing idiocies????
A person NEVER forgets his own native language, it's imprinted deeply in the brain, it's impossible to erase it completely
Guest   Wed Jan 09, 2008 1:02 pm GMT
Your native language can be forgotten if it is REPLACED by another one, but if you live isolated in a island you can't forget your mother tongue. Even in the first situation there is a age limitation at which this process can take place.
Dawie   Wed Jan 09, 2008 2:32 pm GMT
Guest   Wed Jan 09, 2008 4:54 pm GMT
Not only if you replace it. In that case you will have a limited vocabulary. You will remember only the words you use every day for thinking or to speak with your basketball friend. There is no age limitation. your brain needs to be active, if you do not use your native language even for thinking basic stuff you forget it as you forget a second language you learned, if you do not practice. The same way you can forget how to write.

guest i do not know why you call it idiocies. it is well documented but little studied. I know several people who after many years living in another country forgot their native language.
Another article that says the same as the one above:
Meesh   Wed Jan 09, 2008 7:15 pm GMT
I grew up in a Vietnamese family in the United States. Vietnamese is my first language, but as I went to school, watched TV, and got exposed to more and more English, it started to become easier to communicate in English. I can't say that I've forgotten my native tongue, but I definitely do not speak it as well as I speak English.

By the way, how do distinguish between "native tongue" and "mother tongue?"In my case, Vietnamese would be my first language, but English would be the language that I speak best.
Guest   Wed Jan 09, 2008 9:53 pm GMT
Once you speak English better than Vietnamese your native language, first language or mother tongue is English indeed, assuming you achieved a native-like command of English before forgetting Vietnamese total or partially. Even if that wasn't the case English woud be your native tongue, but your situation would be certainly weird. When people talk about mother tongues they always suppose that they were the first languages learnt by somebody (hence the term mother tongue or first language) but there are rare exceptions like you yourself. My mother tongue is Spanish and despite I have never experienced an immersive environment which forced me to use a different language at all I detected that when I spend a considerable amount of time using English like in this forum I feel something strange when turning back to writing in Spanish, it's as if English took profit of that lapse of time opportunistically and attempted to monopolize my mind in vain. I hope that I don't wake up some day and realize that I forgot Spanish.
About languages being forgotten merely because of lack of usage, I keep skeptical. I think that the main factor involved in forgetting one's first language is the substitution of that one by another one. Speaking and writing are like riding a bicycle, you don't forget to do it only because you don't practize very much.
Xie   Thu Jan 10, 2008 3:50 am GMT
I also pay attention to something else - the cultural part. I "have been learning" English for 10+ years, with recent years only effectively spent, but since I've never in a pure Anglophone environment, the English I know is extremely limited. I guess my written command (here) is *understandable*, but I do speak with lots of pauses with real people - when I rarely interact in this fashion - to improve my spoken command. The English I speak and write is simply a "regional", international version with a heavy dose of my own native language(s).

On the other hand, I know some people of my age who left the native environment some ten years ago and, naturally, they lost much of their native language. One recently arrived friend of mine, for example, while not having lost her language owing to frequent use at home, simply doesn't know what is going on in the native environment. Even with a perfect/native accent, a serious lack of cultural knowledge would compromise the "native" command.

Of because, if you think native knowledge is simply a perfect command, both written and spoken, and the ability to understand (to communicate with the language), then my friend certainly hasn't lost any language and stays perfectly bilingual.
Guest   Thu Jan 10, 2008 4:28 am GMT
Yes, that's true. I knew a youg man who moved back to his home country after growing up overseas, and though he knew well the language, he hadnt a clue of slang, and 'modern' young people talk as he had only read and talked to parents. It didn't take long to adjust though, but I think he still felt awkward talking like that. He also had difficult learning tecnhincal jargon related to his profession, because of studying in other languages.