Native Memory Loss

At a loss for words. This is a phenomenon sometimes experienced by native speakers after they have lived in a country where a different language is spoken for a considerable period of time. Especially those who are not working in the language industry. By and by, they simply forget the language they used to speak as a child or younger adult, because they usually try to communicate in the language of the country they live in.

I had a colleague once, a US lady, who at that time had been living in Austria for roughly ten years. She worked in marketing and had never had a dedicated linguistic education other than the usual language classes in school. Whenever she had to write an official text in English, her native tongue, she used to come to us translators in the documentation department to have it checked. She once said: “It is strange, but sometimes I am not sure whether what I think is English or German. It gets harder and harder to keep the words apart!”

My father was born in another country. He came to Austria as a teenage boy. Now, after having been living in this country for over 60 years, he says that he could barely say a straight sentence in his native language. Lack of practice and the constant presence of another language and culture made him forget all but the most basic vocabulary.

Language skills need permanent practice to remain eloquent. Growing up with a language doesn’t mean you will be good at it for the rest of your life. If you don’t hone your language skills, they will get dull. People working in the language industry practice their languages at all times. They cannot forget their languages, because they permanently work in both (or all) of them.

…another reason for having translations done by professional translators.

Reliable quality comes from permanent practice


2 Responses to “Native Memory Loss”

  1. Elli Strauss Says:

    Hi Karoline

    Absolutely agree. I have lived on both sides of the Atlantic and native in both German (+ Swiss German) and English. Now that I’m back in the US, the native English is dominant, but in the past I’ve often wondered if I’m not using German sentence structure in my English…Now that I’m working as a full time translator/interpreter and editor I’m more conscious of the differences. Good luck on your blog…had not heard of it previously.
    I have been so busy that I have not had a chance to actually put up the website for my translation services that I’ve been planning for almost a year.

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