Can we lose our first language?

In our young globalized world, it has become so much easier for us to travel and move to another country. Nowadays air travel is widespread and it has become even easier for individuals to settle in countries on the other side of the world without ever returning. This means facing the consequences of being confronted with a whole new culture and language.

So, let’s start at the very beginning of learning a new language.

At first, we can experience that the basic elements of your mother tongue can influence the process of learning a foreign language, e.g. with little things like the strong accent of some learners; or as we all know as native speakers trying to get the vocabulary for something that doesn’t specifically exist in the foreign language (untranslatable words). By comparing the grammatical features every language has, it can cause a lot of confusion, like the grammatical genders of Romance languages, or the complex case systems of the Slavonic languages. After some time of hard work, integrating and adopting your new lifestyle you will get to learn all the important language skills you need in your second language.


You might think that language learning can be compared to learning how to ride a bike. Learning a language involves continually taking care of your new skills. As we all know, we can’t just leave a bike standing in the rain for a long time or it will end up covered in rust.


Just as we can lose our new appropriated language, there is evidence that we can also lose our first language. After spending a long time abroad in another country, exclusively speaking and concentrating on a new language, you will get that same feeling of grammatical rust in your first language.

Due to learning new genders, verbs, and declensions, you can easily lose your mother tongue fluidity if you stop using it for a long time. This phenomenon is known as Language Attrition. First Language Attrition can vary, depending on the circumstances, as it could also only affect elements like your accent or mannerisms.

What can I do?

To sum up, while spending a long time in a foreign country, we should strive to keep our native language ticking over. Finally, I would like to give you three recommendations on how to keep on using your first language and avoid language attrition:

1) You can read a book from home, keep a diary in your mother tongue and listen to music in your native language. Small and daily input will help to constantly improve your vocabulary in both languages.

2) You can call home regularly. If you’re living abroad, even half an hour every week spent talking to family and friends at home can help you.

3) Use the possibility of language Meet-Ups. In big cities, you will easily find other speakers of your language. Meet up with them and make sure you don’t lose your fluent first language skills and make same new friendships.


P.S. or you can just work as a translator and make sure you speak, write and read both, your mother tongue and your second language daily! ;)





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