I Feel Like I Forget My Second Language Every Year!

When you read it, some of you may think that it's a joke, but I feel like I forget English non-stop. It is my second language which I learned in my late teens and in the very beginning of my learning experience things were going very well, and I thought that something I am experiencing today would never happen. When I started learning English, I had to start from scratch since I didn't have any background in it. As time went on, however, I realized that I was making some impressive progress and things were beginning to look pretty good. Now they look kind of bleak to me, but I will get to it later in the story. I learned the language in an ELS program which heavily concentrated on the grammar, and I really enjoyed studying English Grammar since it was so different from my native language. But there was a big problem with all this, and it has always accompanied me. You'll have to forgive me if I am being a little too verbose. But the problem that I've had since day one is that the quality of my English and my ability to speak it effectively is directly proportional to how often I communicate with others. I've noticed that reading, listening to radio and watching tv are no substitute for live conversations. And when I don't engage regularly in these conversations for extended periods of time, even my ability to read deteriorates, and I have no explanation for it. You don't just forget it right away, but it literally erodes, withers or fades away little by little. Do I say it using "will" or without it? Do I need to use "to" preposition here? Don't even get me started with the progressive verb tenses. All these little, unnoticeable thins can't be learned from books alone. They are picked up by listening to others speak, and that is how you transition from forming thoughts in your own language to forming them in English. And when you don't use the words, you kind of know them but they kind of stop having meanings. 

I've been in the U.S. for nearly 10 years now, and back when I was making my baby steps with the language, I thought that by now I would have figured it all out and would have made it a permanent part of me. One thing that I did discovered later on was that it was possible to live in the U.S., go to college, have some friends there but still have very little contact with monolingual Americans, and have quite a bit of trouble communicating with them; because when you learn an language the way I did, you feel like you know it because you can talk to others like you, and people give you compliments on near absence of  an accent. You're even good to pass all the writing requirements in college. But then reality hits you when you're trying to have a conversation with someone who grew up speaking the language. You realize that your vocabulary isn't nearly where it should be for you to have a meaningful conversation, since all this time you've been talking to others like you, mainly discussing your life experiences and sharing your life stories, and you never really went past that point so as not to leave your comfort zone, because you feel so comfortable shuffling some 100 words you've acquired, and it is so easy to say, "forget it . I don't know how to say it. " and shrug it away with a smile, while you're talking to your kind. Monolinguals aren't that patient, or understanding at times because they don't exactly know what the feeling of not having the word you want in your mind is, and when you screw up they typically dismiss it without correcting you, either not wanting to offend your or not caring. And that is very painful at times, because I want to improve and be better, but I can't do it on my own since I obviously am not sure how to do things right all the time, otherwise I'd be just like them. So here I am. I've come to the point where I can write this little essay, but I probably would have difficulties having a conversation more involved than a mundane one over a bbq table at monolinguals' party. 

Maybe I am freaking out excessively, but the prospect of saying, "I used to know it but I don't anymore" doesn't seem particularly appealing. Some things in here may seem unbelievable since they may appear to be well written. I felt like throwing this experience out there. Another chance to shuffle my 100 words. 

I hope you stayed interested reading it. 

itdoeshappen itdoeshappen
3 Responses Feb 16, 2010

I'm also in the same shoes man. In the beginning I was improving English so well and now I barely speak up. :(

Hello itdoeshappen, I wish I found your post way earlier. I have been scared to death that I'd had a language impairment due to a brain tumor or dementia. I have been in the USA for about 8 years, and I have noticed recently that my English is getting poorer. Our experiences are similar, I do interact mostly with other international students like me, so for them, especially the newer students, they think my English is so great. But if I interact with native speakers, I realize that my vocabulary is very poor. I prefer texting to talking face to face to a person because when you text you have time to think about what to say. In face to face conversation you can't. I also realized that I think too much in my native language (French) and I tend to invent new words when I can't retrieve the word I want in English, or use another word that it's not completely precise/accurate. I recently decided I'd need to re-learn English and improve my vocabulary to avoid using only the "100 words" I learn in school.

That is the same thing that happened to me, I am a Vietnamese but from 6 to 10 years old, i have been studying in Russia and in that time i forgot how to actually speak Vietnamese but after that i came back to Vietnam and started to study Vietnamese and English. Now it's been 7 years since I last speak Russian and i nearly forget it now. I've recently got IELTS 7.5, and i can speak English and Vietnamese but hardly Russian( i only can read out loud with a little understanding in Russian now). How can i even forget a whole language like that.