The 6 Stages of Forgetting Your Native Language

Anyone who has ever spent a significant amount of time trying to get into another language knows that at some point, you will start forgetting your native tongue. Really.

If it hasn’t happened to you, it because it hasn’t happened to you yet.

It’s an inevitable side-effect of trying to adapt to different syntax, unfamiliar grammar and new idioms.

Don’t worry, it’s part of the game, and if it’s a game you have played the following stages might seem familiar to you.

1. The “It’s my native language and I won’t ever forget it” stage

Also known as “denial”.

Part of seemingly every process ever.

You start out thinking that the fact that you have spent your entire childhood and maybe even adulthood speaking this one language somehow means you won’t ever forget it, especially not the easy things.

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2. The “I heard that” stage

As the words are coming out of your mouth, you know it’s not right.

You quickly apologize to your native conversation partners and remind them of the fact you also speak other languages.

But secretly you are wondering “Is this really happening to me?”

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3. The “Did I just make up that word?” Stage

While you are talking away in your native language you will find yourself saying words without even realizing it, but once you’ve said them leave you uncertain about whether they actually exist.

Is it “unpredictable”? Or “non-predictable”?

They sound like they could be wrong, but also like they could be right. Sometimes they are such a literal translation of the language you are learning so you conclude it was a mistake, only you can’t think of the actual word only to realize that the word you used was actually not wrong to begin with.

Even though you have a gut feeling of what might be right and what might be wrong, speaking a different language for a long period of time has deeply affected your ability to say things with 100% certainty.

And then sometimes you will say things like “for what” instead of “why” and

4. The “What’s that word for *insert blank*” stage

“It’s very.. you know.. diferente

“You mean different?”

“Yeah exactly”

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A sub-stage of this might be you silently Google Translating words back into your native tongue.

5. The “Why is everybody asking me where I’m from” stage

When you start a conversation people start dropping weird comments like “Your *native language* is so good!” or  “Oh you have such a cool accent, where are you from originally?”

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6. The “Fuck it” stage

At this point you know you’ve lost it. You say things you know are wrong, but you are too mentally exhausted to care enough to think about a sentence that is grammatically correct.

Some sentences might be structured after another language you are learning, others are just a complete mess that can’t be blamed on anything other than your own imperfect mind.

Part of being bilingual

Note – if you see any mistakes in this article, please note that this is the stage I am currently in. 

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