As a polyglot, I’ve come to speak or read on a daily basis a multitude of languages.
I sometimes wake up speaking English, switch to Japanese for work, read an article in Korean before meeting up with French friends. Sounds great but there’s a problem with that too.
I’ve come to “forget” words I knew.
Or, to be more precise, they are stuck on the tip of my tongue.
For non-language learners, this is laughable. But for anybody learning a foreign language for long enough, this feels like a real problem.
Could you forget your native language?
If you live in your native country, the risk of forgetting it altogether is rather low. But the probability of forgetting common words stays really high.
“I… 기억한다… 覚えてる…记得… me souviens… ah right! I remember!”
In reality, unless you have some kind of brain damage or grow old and get unlucky with your memory, you do not forget words.
Words not used slowly go from your active skill basket to your passive skill one.
You’ll slowly but surely “forget” words in the sense that you won’t be able to recall them in an instant.
Words are associations
Every single word we use is somehow linked to an experience, a memory, and that’s why we can bring them up at the right time in a conversation.
However, the more you study a language (and the more languages you speak), the more connections are created with each word.
A word which originally held one single meaning to you slowly gets two, then three, then four, and so on, as you learn more and more languages.
Being Fluent is to think in your target language
When you first start practicing a language, you will subconsciously be translating from or to your native language whatever you say or hear.
At that stage, the connection between a new word and your native one is strong and you cannot think of that new word without going through your native language.
However, as you grow to speak well that new language, it becomes its own entity and the links to your native words become implied. They are there but it takes longer to pull towards you the rope to them.
In the end, learning a new language consists of spreading connections for a whole lot of words and then letting that connection become just a background scene so you can use your new language naturally.
If you believe you’re “forgetting” your language, you’re only making your brain take more time to remember words…and also it means your new language is becoming natural!
And you know what?
Nobody cares if you’re taking time remembering the word “sofa”.