Everyone has a native language, and some people even have two; but what lingo is native to you? There are several opinions on that. Some people believe that a native language is the one they like the most, or it is the idiom that you use for swearing, but these thoughts are wrong.
What Language Is Your Native?
Two most common opinions are the following. A native language is the one you use every day when you think and talk to yourself. It is close to the truth, but the skills of thinking using a specific vocabulary can easily be developed, and it doesn’t always mean that your native language changes.
Some people also say that a native dialect is the one you know since childhood because your family uses it. The other way to call it is a ‘mother tongue’ and the ‘first lingo’. This opinion is also logical, but children under 5 can learn and forget up to 10 languages, and far not all of those languages become native.
Taking all definitions into account, we can say that a native language is the one that you know since your childhood, use for thinking, and the one that you like.
Can You Forget Your Native Language?
If we consider the definition of a native language, it becomes obvious that you can replace it with the other tongue. For example, when you move to another country, you start using another language every day in speaking and thinking. Can you forget your native language in this situation?
As in any other issue, there are two opinions on this: you can and you cannot forget it. In this article, we go through the arguments of both sides, so read on!
Yes, You Can Forget
The majority of linguists support the position that it is possible to forget your first tongue, and here are their arguments.
You Don’t Use It for Thinking
When we dive into a community that speaks another language, we start using this new tongue in all ways as well. It means that sooner or later we begin to use a new dialect for thinking.
Since the usage of a language for thinking is one of the most important criteria that makes it native, your brain initiates the process of forgetting one tongue and replacing it with the other one.
You Don’t Use It for Talking
The best way to learn a language is to practice it in talking. When you speak in a new language, you push your mother tongue aside, and the knowledge gets lost. You forget the phrases you can use in different situations and you cannot express your thoughts and emotions with the help of your first lingo. As a result, you forget it.
The sounds of a vocabulary are important in being fluent because each language has a different phonetic system. When you get used to one sound system, it is more difficult to speak and understand another one.
When you start speaking a new dialect, your articulatory apparatus adjusts to it, and you forget your native language phonetics. So, it will be more challenging to start using it again.
Mental Patterns Change
Your mother tongue and your mental thinking patterns are connected. For example, in French, you say “Tu me manques”, which means literally “there is not enough of you for me”, while in English we say “I miss you”. The focus is on distinct people in these phrases, so the way of thinking of people speaking French and English is also different.
When you start using a new tongue every day, your mental thinking patterns also change, so your first lingo becomes strange for you, and you forget it.
It Depends on the Age
The younger you are, the easier it is to forget your mother tongue. There is a study which shows that children under 5 will definitely forget their first tongue if you separate them from its environment; in the age of 5-10, children forget a native tongue in 75% of cases.
For teenagers and adults, everything is not so clear because some of them forget their native dialect, while others do not.
No, You Cannot Forget
There is the other side of this issue, according to which the answer to the question “Can you forget your native language?” is ‘no.’ Here are the arguments.
Your Skills Are Developed in the Childhood
If a child moves to another country, he or she will definitely leave a native vocabulary behind, but if it comes to adults, it is impossible. The skills we have from childhood cannot be forgotten like you will always know how to walk, eat, and brush your teeth.
Yes, you may not speak your native tongue for a while, but it is impossible to completely leave it behind.
As the opposition to the argument about mental patterns changes, there is a statement that your brain becomes more flexible, which is in fact a good thing. The more languages you know, the better your brain works.
However, there is a condition for this statement to be true: you need to practice your native dialect once in a while.
First Tongue Moves to the Side
People who believe in the unlimited power of our memory say that you never forget anything – it just moves to the side of your brain. When you need it, the vocabulary and grammar rules will pop up.
How to Preserve the Knowledge?
There are some tips that can help you preserve the knowledge of your mother tongue.
You must have left friends or family members in your country, so keep in touch. It is not difficult, but you need to communicate at least once a week.
Bring your favorite books with you and read them from time to time. You can also expand your library and a hobby will help you preserve the knowledge.
Films and series are a perfect way out of the situation because everyone likes watching movies.
Find a podcast you like and listen to it when you are commuting or doing the cleaning.
5. Be Interested
Check the news from your country on the national news services. It will help you to be updated on the situation there as well as remember the language.
So, can you forget your native language? Well, in some cases, you can; but it is mostly impossible. The level of your knowledge may drop, but it is okay even for native speakers. If you want to make sure that you don’t forget everything, you just need to practice.