Forgetting a language: Why it happens and how to avoid it

Forgotten languages, and understanding why

In my travels and lifestyle, the reason I learn a language is simple: to immediately use it with locals and enhance my cultural experiences. This is not quite the same as many people, who choose their one language to learn based on a long-term investment. A polyglot has many languages to deal with, and this changes things significantly compared to someone with a one-language priority.

What this means is at the end of my two- to three-month projects to intensively learn a language for an upcoming trip, I face a crossroad: Should I maintain this language or not? Some people may take a “not” choice completely out of context and feel like the whole experience was worthless.

Every language I have learned has enhanced my travels in ways I can’t begin to express. Saying that any one of them was a waste of time ignores the cultural experience that was my priority all along. I’m not passionate about languages, I’m passionate about using them.

Maintaining them as described below is so much work that if that passion doesn’t spark a lifelong interest in the language, then I simply will not prioritise it — as a polyglot, I have quite a lot of languages to juggle! This is obviously not the same situation for someone who has learned one foreign language over an extended period of study.

A consequence of this is that as much experience as I have in learning and speaking languages — seven of which I can now say I speak fluently — I have plenty of experience too in forgetting languages.

I have learned Hungarian, Czech, Catalan, and Tagalog and could converse and socialise in all of them at various levels. But now I can’t. Nowadays, I’d never even list them as languages I can get by in to be honest. But I don’t apologise for this or lose sleep over it. I knew it was going to happen.

So what did I do differently with my successfully maintained seven languages compared to those listed above?

Consistent practice

The “secret” (no surprise) is simply consistently using the language so it is always fresh in your mind.

Of course you can come up with lazy excuses why this is not possible, but the truth is you can always find ways to use those languages. Find natives to meet in person via social networks, use certain sites to find people to talk to by Skype, be friendlier with tourists, join clubs and actively monitor your social circle and environment for opportunities to use the language. All of these are ways you can speak your language immediately.

To maintain other aspects (reading, writing, listening, etc.), the best way is by doing them. Listen to podcasts in the target language, read blogs or online news or an entire book in that language, keep in touch with your foreign friends by chatting to them on Facebook or writing them emails; but do this every day.

The language will deteriorate in your mind if you don’t keep it active. Having learned it “once” does not mean you now own it forever; use it or lose it!

Speed of learning

As far as I can tell, there’s only one major disadvantage to my rapid learning strategy: The quicker you learn it, the quicker you’ll forget it. This may sound bad, but it’s way better than the alternative of learning so slowly you have nothing to show for it, ever.

If you dive intensively into your language learning project, and reach high conversational level or fluency after a few months, you have to be sure you’re consistently maintaining it until it is a permanent part of you. I found with the languages listed above that within just a few months, I lost the vast majority of my ability to communicate in them — I forgot as quickly as I learned.

So if you learned your language over years (actually using it, not simply being present in a classroom for something that could only laughably be called “years”), you’ll be much less likely to forget it as quickly. Spanish is the language I’ve put the most time into, for example, and I’m confident that I could cut myself off from the language entirely for a year and get back into it no problem. I’ve spoken and lived through Spanish so much that it’s burned into me.

But the point is I wouldn’t cut myself off from Spanish. Why would I do that? If you genuinely want to speak a language for life, it will always be there for you to use. Even with seven or more languages competing for time with me, I will always give the important ones the time they deserve (what makes a language important depends on you, not some economic, etc., criteria or what someone else says).

Even though I’m certainly aware of the danger of forgetting a language quicker due to learning it quicker, I still think this hardly counts as a “disadvantage.” You’ll only forget it if you aren’t using it. This is true whether you learned it quickly or slowly, only the speed of deterioration is different. After I had learned the other languages on my list quickly and intensively, I kept up the good work of consistently using them and will never forget them because of that.

Passion and the why

The main reason I’ll never forget my current languages and certain future ones I take on, while I will forget others, is because I’m passionate about the former beyond a fixed point in time when they served the purpose of cultural immersion. That one thing, the why that sparked a flame inside me during my experience in the country, means I will never let it go.

If you don’t want to ever forget a given language, don’t ever let it go. Make it an important part of your life; reading books and keeping in touch with friends is never a chore, but something that would leave a huge hole in your life if taken away.

This article originally appeared on Fluent in 3 Months and is reprinted here with permission.

10 EXTRAORDINARILY USEFUL JAPANESE PHRASES FOR TRAVELERS (From Matador Network)

10 extraordinarily useful Japanese phrases for travelers

Going to Japan? Here are some Japanese phrases to memorize on the plane.

SOME OF THESE JAPANESE PHRASES are practical. Some of them are funny. All 10 will greatly enhance your trip to Japan.

Note that all of the phrases are pretty informal, especially the one about crapping your pants. Also, I spell the phrases phonetically in the header, but spell them with the most common romanization of the Japanese characters when explaining a point.

Confused already? Don’t worry about it.

1. “Yo-ro-sh-ku o-neh-gai-shi-mus.”

This phrase is absolute magic. Say “yoroshiku” to any Japanese person in any situation and they will help you with anything and everything you need. It’s impossible to translate literally, but means something to the effect of, “Please do your best and treat me well.”

If you memorize nothing else before going to Japan, remember “yoroshiku” and you’re totally set. “Onegaishimasu” is a common word that means something similar to “please.”

2. “Yosh. Gahn-bah-di-mus.”

This phrase means something like, “OK, I’m going for it,” or “I’ll do my best.” A Japanese would say “Ganbarimasu” before taking a test or leaving the house for a job interview.

Japanese people will crack up if you say it before walking outside, eating noodles, or using a vending machine. Try saying it before using phrase #8.

3. “Ara! Onara suru tsu-mori datta keh-do, un-chi ga de-chatta.”

The literal translation of this useful phrase is, “Oops! I meant to fart but poop came out.”

Saying this never gets old, especially in public places, especially on a first date, and most especially if it’s clearly one of only 10 Japanese phrases that you’ve memorized.

When in Southeast Asia, I especially enjoy muttering in Japanese about crapping my pants while walking past Japanese tourists. The reactions are priceless.

4. “Mo da-meh. Yoh-para-chatta. Go-men.”

At some point during your stay, Japanese people will probably try to make you drink past your limit. That’s when this phrase comes in handy. It means something like, “No more, I’m already drunk, sorry.”

5. “Ko-ko wa do-ko? Wa-ta-shi wa da-reh? Na-ni mo wah-kah-nai.”

Where is this? Who am I? I don’t understand anything. This is what you say after failing to use phrase #4 in time.

6. “Ee-show ni kah-rah-o-keh ni ee-koh ka?”

Shall we go to karaoke together? This is a good line to use if trying to pick someone up from the bar. Think of karaoke as a transition point between the bar and the love hotel.

Note: Please don’t pronounce “karaoke” with lots of EEE sounds. It should sound like “kah-rah-o-keh,” not “carry-oh-key.”

7. “Hon-toe ni oh-ee-shee des yo!”

Use this one when eating. It means something like, “For real, it’s delicious!”

“Hontou ni” means “for real” or “really” or “I’m not kidding.” Japanese people are always telling sweet little white lies, so dropping a “hontou ni” from time to time is very much appreciated.

8. “Ah-nah-tah wa ha-ruh no ee-chee ban no sah-ku-rah yo-ree u-tsu-ku-shee.”

This classic Japanese pickup line means, “You’re more beautiful than the first cherry blossom of spring.”

9. “Ni-hon dai-skee.”

Japan is the best. I love Japan. When in doubt, just smile, nod, and repeat.

10. “Koh-nah ni kee-ray na to-ko-ro wa hah-jee-meh-teh mee-tah!”

Japanese people love it when you gush about their country. This phrase means, “I’ve never seen a place so beautiful before.” Bust it out at famous attractions and you’ll meet with instant approval. 

This post was originally published on May 25, 2009.

Remembering the Civil Rights Revolution: The Right to Vote and Quality Education 50 Years after Freedom Summer

 

 

A panel discussion featuring Freedom Summer participants, civil rights activists, and historians.

Thursday, February 26 at 6pm in the Addlestone Library, room 227

Free & open to the public.  Panelists will have books available for sale after the event.
AAST_PanelDiscussion-FreedomSummer

Black History Month: One of Time Magazine’s 40 Under 40 to Speak on Campus

black history monthIn keeping with the College of Charleston’s commitment to diversity on its campus, and in celebration of 2015-Black History Month, the Office of Institutional Diversity (OID) will host Rep.

ATTEND: See more events hosted by the Office of Institutional Diversity.Bakari Sellers, Esq., as the keynote speaker for its “Signature Speaker Series.” Rep. Sellers will speak on Thursday, February 5, 2015, at 5:00 p.m., in the Stern Center Ballroom, located on the College of Charleston campus (71 George St.). The event is free and open to the public. Rep. Sellers will present “How far have we come and where do we go from here?: A Journey to excellence….

Elected in 2006 to the South Carolina House of Representatives at the age of 22, Bakari Sellers is an attorney, one of the youngest State Representatives, and the youngest black elected official in the United States. Viewing himself, not as a politician, but as a public servant, Sellers is a passionate keynote speaker on civil rights, equality, education, and faith.

READ: Rep. Sellars was recognized as one of the top 40 under 40 by Time Magazine.

Education has always been a top priority for Sellers. He graduated from the South Carolina public school system and then proceeded to Morehouse College, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree. While at Morehouse college, Sellers was elected Student Government Association President and, by virtue of his position, served on the College’s Board of Trustees. He earned his juris doctorate from the University of South Carolina School of Law and soon entered politics, working for United States Congressman James Clyburn, Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, and the Southeastern Regional Director of the NAACP.

With the strong moral and ethical grounding of his parents and grandparents, the never-ending thirst for education of his mother, and the undying passion for equal opportunity of his father, Sellers has returned to South Carolina. He hopes to continue the Sellers’ legacy of walking in faith, while creating change that benefits all persons—no matter the race, color, or creed.

According to Dr. John Bello-Ogunu, Sr., associate vice president and chief diversity officer at the College of Charleston, “We are very fortunate to have Rep. Sellers as our 2015-Black History Month keynote speaker. The rich and enviable history of his personal and professional accomplishments is a significant connectingbridge between the painful history of yesterday’s struggles of Blacks in America and the hope-filled stories of their present day victories and successes.”

OID’s Signature Speaker Series was created to promote community dialogue on diversity and social justice issues through presentations, workshops and seminars by local, regional and national speakers with the ultimate goal of advancing diversity, access, equity and inclusion at the College of Charleston.

Scholarship and Community Engagement in the Charleston Promise Neighborhood: Opportunities and Challenges

This semester we’re continuing a series of informal talks with faculty discussing their current research. All talks will take place in the African American Studies conference room, located in Education Center Suite 207, room D.

January 28, 12pm—Michael Hemphill, Health and Human Performance

Scholarship and Community Engagement
in the Charleston Promise Neighborhood: Opportunities and Challenges

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