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Is it possible to forget my first language?

  1. Jan 6, 2016 #1
    Because it happened. My parents always say that i was proficient in language A. But i have no memory of language A. I have the memory of language B and C, which my parents say i learnt afterwards.
    Is this even possible? How could i have known my first language (when i was 4-6 years old), and forgotten it(COMPLETELY - stress on this) by the time i was 7?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 6, 2016 #2


    Staff: Mentor

  4. Jan 6, 2016 #3
    I have read accounts of this happening to kids who get shunted into a different culture with a different language at an early enough age. The mechanism by which you forget the original language is simply through disuse of it, coupled with exclusive practice of the new language.

    It is amazing what basic things we can lose through disuse. Oliver Sacks broke his leg very badly in early middle age and it was in a cast for months. By the time the cast came off, he had completely forgotten how to use that leg, and the whole notion that he'd ever used it to stand on or walk with was extremely alien to him.

    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
  5. Jan 6, 2016 #4
  6. Jan 6, 2016 #5
    Thanks for the insight. I hate how delicate the pre-puberty ages can be.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
  7. Jan 6, 2016 #6
    Note that this happened to Sacks in early middle age. The implication is that our abilities depend on constant maintenance throughout life.
  8. Jan 6, 2016 #7


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    I know a woman who came to the USA from Germany at age 12 as an adoptee, she didn't completely lose her German but she is not fluent (according to my German friend who talked to her)
  9. Jan 6, 2016 #8


    Staff: Mentor

    Another issue is grade level limited vocabulary. Kids emigrating from China at age 8 will have a more limited vocabulary appropriate to the age and it won't progress unless their parents speak it at home? Interestingly, younger children also lose any sense of accent from their first language and learn to speak the new language like a native.
  10. Jan 6, 2016 #9
    Different people learn languages differently. Those who learn by sound do so quickly, but also lose the language easily. I learn languages slowly and from writing, but remember much of the German I learned at age 8. I have used it rarely.

    A Balinese prince went to medical school in Holland. By the time he returned he had difficulty speaking Balinese.
  11. Jan 7, 2016 #10


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    How did you lose contact with your first language? Was it the one your parents originally spoke, and then they switched to using another language? Or did you move to live with other people who spoke another language?

    My mother's parents were Finnish immigrants in the US. When she was small, they lived in a neighborhood where mostly Finnish speakers lived. At first she spoke only Finnish. She didn't start to learn English until she started school at age 6. At that point her parents also started speaking English at home as much as possible, but I remember that my grandmother didn't know much English, so I'm sure my mother was still exposed to some Finnish at home and in the neighborhood.

    By the time I was a child she had gone to school, worked and lived among mostly English speakers for many years, but she still had contact with older Finnish speakers. She managed to remember enough Finnish to be able to use it when we visited Finland (her only trip there) when she was 60 years old.
  12. Jan 8, 2016 #11


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    I have some Russian friends who lived in Sweden for many years and their daughter was born and went to nursery there. They moved to the UK when she was 6 (I think, she might have been 5) and although she did not speak any English when moving she was fluent after about 18 months (they mostly speak Russian at home but all her friends are English) and by the time she was about 9 she had completely forgotten all her Swedish.
  13. Jan 8, 2016 #12
    I think a sound can be transformed into its "neighboring" sound under some environmental or social factors (e.g one listening to the latter repeatedly).
    It is not strange at all to see an adult who has been living abroad and rarely used his native language for a long time can properly make all smooth statements in his natural speech or daily conversation. It's not all his faults. The jerkings are created automatically with the insertions of the words from the language he mostly uses during his speech, unintentionally. But if he is back to his home for a couple of years, things will be back to normal, perfectly :woot:.
    Some people do so (pretend to be of higher classes, foreigner-like who don't know or already forgot their mother tongues) just on purpose even after years living in their own homeland to differentiate themselves from their own community, but to me theirs (thoughts and pronunciations) sound like a fun to laugh that to shame them I think isn't as worth of my input energy at all. :DD
  14. Jan 18, 2016 #13
    i think if you don't use a Language for a very long time, this could happen anytime.
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