It might sound weird, but after spending a year and a half in England, I find it easier to speak English than Dutch. Sometimes, when I’m talking to friends and family back home, I start a sentence in Dutch and end it in English. Because I can’t always remember the word in my own language.
When you grow up, you never really think about all the different rules that come with a language. But speaking languages other than your native language, confuses your brain. Especially if you speak more than one other language. Sometimes, I’m writing something in Dutch and wonder if there should really be a comma between those two words.
There are moments where want to say something, forget a word and just describe it. Sometimes I even switch language and hope that the other person understands. I understand that it can be really annoying for the other person. But it’s also really annoying for me to be able to talk about certain topics better in English than in Dutch, simply because I can’t remember the Dutch words.
How is it possible to forget your native language?
It’s a weird feeling when you start to forget words from your native language. Because it’s the language you’ve been speaking your entire life. And even though you live in a different country, you still talk to your parents and friends.
This phenomenon is called language attrition. It describes the loss of knowledge of the mother tongue due to lack of use. And it’s not the same as throwing words of a different language into a sentence. Language attrition means that you know exactly what you want to say, but you just can’t recall the word. You can sit there and ask “What’s that thing you put coffee in called again?”
Can you prevent language attrition?
Every person is different, and some people can live in a different country for years without noticing any language attrition. It really depends on the individual. Here is some advice on how to prevent the loss of your native language:
- Start reading a book in your native language every month
- Start writing in your native language
Even if it’s just a diary – it’s the small things that you forget first
- Watch movies with subtitles in your own language
When you’ve just moved to a different country, I recommend changing the subtitles to that language to learn it faster. But after a few months, you should turn them back to your native language. Even though you don’t really need the subtitles, subconsciously you will be reading them.
- Talk to people!
Call friends and family to keep up your vocabulary.