Can You Forget Your Native Language? Let’s Explore

Can you forget your native language? It became a big debate among language researchers. As there is no exception that everyone has a native or first language, and some even have two. But the crucial question to ask is what language is native to you?


There are more than a few opinions on that. Some people believe that a native language is the one they like the most, or it is the idiom you use for swearing. But these thoughts are not correct at all. Check out this present post to explorer more on this exciting topic.

Can You Forget Your Native Language? Let’s demystify the debate:

Here we’ve discussed the native language, the possibility of forgetting your native language, various arguments with examples, how we can preserve your native language, and so on. Let’s demystify the above topic in the following sections. So, keep reading to the end.

What Language Is Your Native?

We find the two most common opinions are as the following. A native language is the one people use there every day when they think and talk to themselves. It is close to the truth; however, the skills of thinking using a specific vocabulary can quickly develop naturally, and it doesn’t always mean that your native language changes over time.

What Language Is Your Native?

Many people also say that a native dialect is the one you know since your childhood because your family uses it. The other way to name it is a ‘mother tongue’ and the ‘first language.’ It is also logical to accept this opinion. However, children under five years can learn and forget up to 10 languages, and far not all of those languages become native.

Taking all the definitions into account, we can conclude that a native language is the one you know since your childhood, use for thinking, and the one you like.

Can You Forget Your Native Language?

Can you forget your native language? It’s is a vital question when you analyze the native language learning process. Moreover, if we again consider the definition of a native language, it becomes pretty clear that you can replace it with another language.

Can You Forget Your Native Language?

For instance, when someone moves to another country, they start using another language daily to speak and think. Is it possible to forget your native language? Likewise, we can ask that, can you forget your native language in the said situation?

Like any other issue, there are two opinions on this: you can, and you cannot forget. In this part of the blog post, we’ve gone through the arguments of both sides of this burning issue. So, keep reading until the end.

Yes, You Can Forget Your Native Language:

Most linguists agree with the opinion that it is possible to forget your first tongue. Check out their arguments in the following sections.

1. You Don’t Use Native Language for Thinking:

Generally, we start using this new tongue in all ways when we dive into a community that speaks another language. Got it? That means sooner or later, and we begin to use a new dialect for thinking in our daily life habitual thinking.

You Don’t Use Native Language for Thinking.

Since one of the most important criteria that makes a language native is using a language for thinking. Moreover, your brain initiates the process of forgetting one tongue and replace it with the other one.

2. You Don’t Use it for Talking:

As we all know, the best way to learn a language is to practice it in talking for daily life conversations. Likewise, when you speak in a new language, you push your mother tongue aside, and the knowledge gets lost.

You Don’t Use it for Talking.

As a result, you forget the phrases you can use in different situations, and you can not express your thoughts and emotions with the help of your native language. Consequently, you forget your first language. Doesn’t it sound more logical?

3. Language Phonetics Change:

The sounds of a vocabulary known as pronunciation are essential to being fluent because each language has a different phonetic system. When you become habituate to one sound system, it is more difficult to speak and understand another one from a foreign language.

Language Phonetics Change.

When anyone starts to speak a new dialect, their articulatory apparatus adjusts to it. As a result, you forget your native language phonetics. Therefore, it would be more challenging to start using it again.

4. Mental Patterns Change:

Our mother tongue and our mental thinking patterns are connected as we think most of the time in our mother tongue. For instance, in French, you say, “Tu me manques,” which means literally “there is not enough of you for me.” In contrast, in English, we say, “I miss you.” The focus is on distinct people in the phrases.

Mental Patterns Change.

Therefore, the way of thinking of people speaking French and English is also different. Moreover, when we start using a new language in our everyday lives, our mental thinking patterns also change. So, the native language becomes strange for you, and you forget it.

5. It Depends on the Age:

The younger we are, the easier it is for us to forget our mother tongue. Studies show that children under five will typically forget their first tongue if they separate them from their environment. Similarly, in the age of 5-10, children forget a native language in 75 % of the cases.

It Depends on Age.

However, it is not so clear for teenagers and adults because some forget their native dialect, while others can remember it clearly.

No, You Cannot Forget Your Native Language:

The previous discussion is not the final one. Moreover, there is the other side to this issue. The answer to the question, “Can you forget your native language?” is ‘no.’ Here we go for the arguments.

1. You Develop Language Skills in the Childhood:

If a child moves to another foreign country, they will forget a native vocabulary behind. However, when it comes to adults, it is quite impossible to forget native words. Similarly, we have developed language skills from our childhood, and we can’t overlook it, as we will always know how to walk, eat, and brush our teeth. Right?

You Develop Language Skills in the Childhood.

Yes, we might not speak our native tongue 100 % accurately and fluently, but it is impossible to forget it behind completely.

2. Brain Adapts Your Native Language:

As we know the opposition to the argument about mental patterns changes, there is a statement that your brain becomes more flexible, which is, in fact, a good thing for us. The more languages you know, the better your brain works.

Brain Adapts Your Native Language.

However, there is a condition for this statement to be accurate. So, it would be best if you practiced your native dialect once in a while; otherwise, you will forget.

3. Native Tongue Moves to the Side:

People who believe in the unlimited power of our memory say that you never forget anything. However, the truth is it moves to the side of your brain.

Native Tongue Moves to the Side.

When you need to recall it, the vocabulary and grammar rules pop up. So, it is not a big deal for the native speakers but foreigners, it is tough to do so.

How to Preserve your native language?

Here we’ve discussed some tips to help you preserve your native language even though you’ve moved to a foreign country.

1.   Talk with your native speakers:

Indeed you have left your family members and friends in your home country. So, keep in touch with them whenever you get a chance to do so in your continent time. If you want to do so, it would not be challenging to speak in your native language.

Talk with your native speakers.

Hence, it would help if you communicated at least once a week to enjoy speaking in your mother tongue.

2.   Read in the first language:

Reading an excellent habit to enrich your knowledge. So, you can bring your favorite books in your native language with you and read them whenever you manage some time. Similarly, you can also organize a personal library with your native language book collection.

Read in the first language.

This hobby will help you to preserve the knowledge in your native language.

3.   Watch the native video content:

If you spent your leisure time watching TV or movies online, then you can go for the collection in your native language. It is another better idea to find films and series that you enjoy a lot while practicing and don’t forget your native language.

Watch the native video content.

Moreover, it is a perfect way to keep watching and listening because everyone likes watching movies for their entertainment.

4.   Listen in your native language:

Now a day’s podcast in verities of topics are available on your smartphone, and you can enjoy your favorite topic on the go. So, find a podcast in your native language that you like and enjoy listening to.

Listen in your native language.

You can do this even when you are commuting to your workplace or doing daily household cleaning or cooking.

5.   Be Interested in the first language:

It is a better idea to check the news from your home country on national news services using print media or electronic media. You can do this even when you are commuting to any place on your smartphone news apps. Additionally, it will help you be updated on the situation out there and remember your native language.

Be Interested in the first language.

Therefore, can you forget your native language? Well, in some instances, you can. However, it is mostly not possible. Your knowledge level can drop for a while, or you may be forgotten some of the vocabulary.

But it is not uncommon even for native speakers. If you want to make sure that you don’t forget everything or your mother tongue’s critical aspects, you need to practice.

Can you completely forget your Native Language?

A great deal of debate among researchers regarding the above question is going on. Language attrition is the outcome of change in the environment and can happen from psychological effects. It is quite normal that children might still remember bits and pieces of their native language, even though they haven’t been exposed to it for a long time.

Can you completely forget your Native Language?

On the other hand, there might be no recollection whatsoever. A famous study conducted by Christophe Pallier explained whether the critical period of a child’s life plays an essential role in language attrition. The researchers from Paris tested adults who had been born in Korea and moved to French families at a very young age.

Here adults claimed that they have entirely forgotten their native language and can speak flawless French with no foreign accent. In the experiment, adults were exposed to 3 specific tasks to determine whether they could recollect their native language.

The experiment’s results were quite surprising, as none of the adopted Koreans could distinguish Korean sentences among the other sentences from different languages. The researchers concluded that adopted individuals had forgotten their native Korean language entirely.

Thus, is it okay to say that you can completely forget your native language? The answer is, it depends on whether you were exposed to your native language for only a brief time of your life before the attrition began.

Can a traumatic incident affect your native language?

Typically, one’s first language is not lost completely, except in specific extreme cases. Likewise, a native language can mainly lose due to some psychological factor attached to it—for instance, extreme mental or physical trauma. This was the case for some elderly Germans who were German-Jewish wartime refugees and are now settled in the USA or UK.

Can a traumatic incident affect your native language?

They were likely to have lost the ability to speak German despite having lived in Germany for the maximum time of their adult life. In these cases, their native language’s loss had nothing to do with their age or other common factors. However, this is the result of the painful memories they had experienced during the war.

Some of the survivors forgot their first language as they wanted to forget their native German language. It is a brutal reality. Even though Germany was their homeland before, it had become a land filled with the worst memories. Consequently, these sad memories resulted in their loss of the native language.

In contrast, those survivors who left Germany earlier were able to speak better German than those who left after sufferings in the war. Thus, this type of language attrition being caused by the psychological effects of trauma is uncommon.


Language is one of the most fundamental forms of communication, and it is deeply integrated into our brains. So, can you forget your native language? The answer seems almost impossible. However, the reality is quite different as we see many cases out there. Likewise, how language attrition affects different persons depends on their personal experiences.

Moreover, language attrition is a natural process that we may go through overtime. It’s not easy to say whether it’s terrible, just as a result of the ever-evolving world around us. Thus, can you remember, when was the last time you spoke perfectly in your native language? In many instances, for the immigrant in a foreign country, it has been a while.

As we mentioned earlier, a child is born capable of understanding language. However, the only things that might affect this ability are the environment and experiences over his lifetime. Similarly, these may help him master two languages at the same level of proficiency. Alternatively, he may remember the first one with perfect accuracy, while the second one slowly fades away!

Call The Language Doctors team for all your queries regarding Translation and Interpretation Services for Business Globally. Our experts and experienced linguists from various sectors and industries will be happy to help you meet up with all language service demand types.


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