Forgetting and Remembering Languages

Olga Khazan recently published an interesting piece on learning and forgetting languages in The Atlantic,  you can read it here.

This is definitely something I have experienced:

“People who are in an extended process of forgetting a language avoid using it because they no longer feel sure about it and they do not want to make too many mistakes,” Grosjeanwrote recently. “If they do have to use it, they may cut short a conversation so as not to have to show openly how far the attrition has progressed.”

I feel this horrible embarrassment anytime I meet an old friend I used to converse in Spanish with. They all also speak either English, German, or both, so it’s not a problem. But the initial embarrassment of not being able to speak Spanish anymore is followed by the embarrassment of speaking a language we didn’t use to use with each other — when we first switch, it feels fake and not at all authentic. Fortunately, we have known each other for more than half our lives at this stage and love each other to bits, so we persist!

I’m also pleased to read that

If someone came up and told you your childhood address again, “you would have the feeling that that information was somewhere in the recesses of your memory, and in fact, you would be likely to relearn it very quickly,” writes the lab of the UCLA cognitive psychologist Robert Bjork.

And indeed, some researchers think that forgetting information and later relearning it can actually be useful—the knowledge comes back in stronger the second time around.

If the same thing really does hold true for languages, as well, there may yet be some hope of me re-learning French, which I spoke until I was about four.

Anyone else forgetting or re-learning languages?

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