Keeping or losing the native language
Thread poster: NathalieL

Local time: 21:25
Dutch to English
Apr 25, 2006

I was born in the Netherlands, and after moving to the UK at the age of five, am now completely fluent in both languages. I attribute this to the fact that I went to an English school, whilst my (Dutch) parents spoke Dutch at home, as well as attending Dutch lessons on Saturdays. However, it is interesting that when I first went to this English school, there was another girl my age who had just moved from Russia, with Russian parents. To this day, she does not speak a word of Russian; she only understands it. Seeing as our situations are were so similar, why is it that I retained both my native language (Dutch) and English, whereas she did not?


Peter Linton  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:25
Swedish to English
+ ...
Saturdays Apr 25, 2006

Substitute Sweden for the Netherlands and Swedish for Dutch, and my experience was almost identical. I think a key factor in my case was that we had a rule to speak Swedish on Saturdays. That kept the language active and alive in an otherwise monoglot environment.


Claudia Iglesias  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:25
Member (2002)
Spanish to French
+ ...
You know the answer Apr 25, 2006

Hi Nathalie

The answer is that your parents did want you to keep Dutch as an active language. It could have become less "native", as the school and environment language is very strong, but you did use it.

Once I was in a French environment my parents (my mother above all) always insisted when we couldn't find the right word in Spanish and she never let us mix the two languages.

Years later, when I was a mum married to a French dad and that we used to move a lot from one country to another, I always worked the minor language with my children (this means carrying books, films...). My three children (12, 15 and 17) are fully bilingual right now and I'm sure that they won't lose any of their two native languages.



Slavica Kosca-Vrlazic  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:25
English to Croatian
+ ...
few words from linguistic point of view Apr 26, 2006

In today's world, speaking two or more languages is clearly an advantage with respect to future business opportunities (and I don't mean only in terms of translation carreer). Bilinguals' personal advantage is the ability of divergent thinking (they are more creative due to their cognitive flexibility and increased language sensitivity). The language we speak is one of the central elements of our personal identity and our inner-self. «Identity» is a key or crucial term in all linguistic communities, especially in monolinguistic communities where the language that is spoken is equalized with a nation's political or other identity. We all have more or less clear vision of our own physical, mental, collective (cultural or ethnical) identity. Identity as such is a quality of utmost importance to the person that builds several types of identity throughout one day without being conscious of that fact (as a member of some sports club, as a member of some cultural society, as a member of political party or his/her local community, as a parent participating in a parents' meeting, ...) But the identity that stays intact during the whole day and does not change with respect to the goals of our current interest group is our language identity (the focal point of our national/ethnic identity).
What you described in the case of the Russian girl is a case of anomie: when the parents or the family are too eager to become part of the new society that they deliberately exclude their native language from their daily communication. «Anomie» is an unhealthy attitude towards one's own native identity and dangerous attempt at achieving complete assimilation out of fear of failure, thus loosing an important part of one's general identity. A society can also show symptoms of anomie: by not respecting minority languages and subjecting everything and everyone to a «melting pot». The reasons for both of these anomies lie in deep insecurity. In psychology it is regarded as linguistic disorder sometimes with significant consequences for the troubled persons. It all becomes clear if you consider the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.
Your parents did the right thing, as Claudia is doing for her children.

[Edited at 2006-04-26 18:46]


Local time: 21:25
English to Spanish
+ ...
I also grew up as a multilingual but confused about my native language status May 20, 2006

I am a German (born in Hamburg) who grew up in Honduras. My mother is american and my father is german. Basically I grew up with three languages (English, Spanish and German). thsi is what set the stage for my becoming a translator. My mother read childrens storiesin english to me when I was a baby and only spoke to me in english. As a matter of fact to this day I do not speak to her in any other language other than english even though I could speak to her in german or spanish as well. My father did almost the same thing as her except with german.

I went to fully bilingual schools where the main language was english and the "foreign language" was spanish. (we only had about 5 hours a week of spanish classes).

My german suffered a bit because the only exposure I had to it was through my father, but I did grow up understanding the language well and speaking it sufficiently to make myself understood. Once I graduated highschool I came back to germany to learn the parts of the language that I had missed (grammar and such). I have been translating in all three languages for a good ten years now.

I also drifted into teaching english as a second or foreign language to adults after being asked several times by peole I knew. I have been teaching parallel to my translation work for about five years now. I have just finished a course that qualifies me as an english teacher in order to be able to find work hereIn germany (Oh by the way I moved back to germany a few months ago). Now I get to hear from the Language schoolas that they will not hire me becasue I am not a native english speaker ( I did not gro up in an english speaking country). Spanish schools tell me the same thing about spanish (because I am a german national). I personally wouldnot consider myself a native german speaker becasue I feel that is my weakest language of all three. Now I am a bit confused becasue I would not know what to say when people ask me which is my native language. Up to now I have said both english and spanish, thereby successfully confusing everyone, but they do understand after I explain why that is. Now having herad from different schools what they consider or not to be a native speaker I am really confused as to which would indeed be my native language.

Can anyone give me a clue what to say when I am confronted with questions aobut my native language? I would certainly appreciate it.

Sorry for the long novel I just wrote, I hope I have not bored you.

Thanks and take care,



Slavica Kosca-Vrlazic  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:25
English to Croatian
+ ...
You know the answer. Jun 2, 2006

Hi Alexandra!

I have just read your post. To me it is quite obvious that English is your native language - the term 'native' usually refers to the language that is related to one of your parents, but it is not always the case. It is also called first language, or mother-tongue (you can see why - since your best communication was probably with your mother). Then you have German and Spanish which are your second languages or languages that you speak with a native-like proficiency. Language schools are usually run by laymen who have a very restricted view of bilingualism/multilingualism and thus believe every myth they hear about native speakers. In any case, you have every right to claim that you are native in two or even three languages. Perfectly naturally, the degree of proficiency varies between the languages you speak and also it can vary between periods of your life. In several years, who knows, your German may become better than your Spanish. There are numerous recorded cases when a first language becomes second and vice versa due to change in life circumstances. If you are really eager to determine only one language as your native, I would suggest that you ask yourself: in what language do I think?, in what language do I dream? - this can give you the answer.

Best regards,


English to Spanish
Slavica, you have confused me.... Jun 15, 2006

let me explain myself: My mother tongue is Spanish, and I only started learning English when I was around 8 or 9 years old. This was in an Institute, and I only was exposed to the language when I was there at the class. But, later on, when I was in my teens, I started having "internal monologues" (as I like to call them, because it's as if I'm mentally talking to myself...) in English. An now (I'm 26...), I do not only think in English, but also dream... not all of the time, of course, it's mixed. The thing is that my two languages are really mixed 'cos, even if I live in Argentina, most of my day goes on in English since my husband doesn't speak Spanish (he just understands a bit). So... which one would be my mother tongue then? They are both so so mixed...

And now, we have a tiny baby (he's only 4 months old), and my husband speaks flemish to him (it's his mother tongue), and I speak a bit of English and a bit of Spanish; although my husband and I have agreed that when Joeri (our son) becomes a little older, I should only speak English to him, since I have a good accent (and most people here don't, it's not only my opinion, my husband also thinks the same, and he works in a company where all the employees have to speak English the whole day...) and we don't want our son to have an ugly accent. He'll learn Spanish anyway, since no one in my family speaks English (except for my cousin), and besides he'll hear it on TV, at school, from friends and neighbours, etc.


Slavica Kosca-Vrlazic  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:25
English to Croatian
+ ...
Join the club of bilinguals! Jul 8, 2006

Your post has just come to my attention. Regarding your mother tongue or first language, I would say that it is Spanish, while English is your second language, spoken with native-like proficiency. However, you’re obviously becoming bilingual.

I want to emphasize that there are many circumstances which can incite bilingualism. Although your contacts with English were strictly limited to the hours spent at the institute, it is quite normal and rather predictable for a verbal person (person who uses language + images while thinking instead of only images) to try to internalize the new language. It may become a habit and there are multiple reasons for this.

You don’t mention if you are working in an English speaking environment, like your husband does. But the fact that your communication with him is in English only, endorses your bilingualism. That probably explains your continuing internal dialogues in English and first of all, the mixture of languages that you note when you communicate.

There are, however, different degrees of bilingualism as well as different forms… In terms of degrees we differentiate between switching, borrowing and interference, and sometimes they do not exclude one another in the process of turning a monolingual person into a bilingual person. Mixing languages occurs as result of a phenomenon called “economy of language”. Even when monolingual, people tend to shorten words, to shorten sentences, to use simpler words in order to convey their thoughts and intentions more clearly and more rapidly. Although your personal idiom (personal verbal style, own linguistic style) may be very profound and even lofty, in some occasions, you tend to use much simpler synonyms. The same happens when we address our children – we simplify everything, from words to sentence constructions. Also, when you are in an environment in which you are most relaxed, you tend to economize your expression to the utmost extent which is recognized by your brain which than swiftly chooses the most available words at a particular moment – whether they are from Spanish or English. Which words the brain will use also depends on particular words’ usage frequency. Words that are often heard or repeated have well-trodden paths in the brain which are actually thickened synapses (nerve beams connecting the two hemispheres) and are much more easily retrieved.

Also, when children learn to speak more than one language it usually means that they will often put together the material from the two languages. And it is something completely normal (similar to the situation when you grow up with two different dialects surrounding you – at the beginning you mix them, and later learn how to separate them). So, it is not about an imperfect competence, but a normal learning process, like any other learning process – you need time to adjust from driving car with manual change of gears to an automatic one or vice versa: at first you are confused, and then you adjust). Therefore, it is something that you can expect will happen to Joeri. Personally, I strongly believe in delivering the children our own mother tongue, since it influences innumerable issues in the child’s life (most important impacts are sociological and psychological). For example, I would start from the inverse assumption: the assumption that, in Argentina, your son will inevitably come in contact with English: through TV, through MTV if you wish,… I don’t know if English is taught in schools in Argentina.

Regardless of your decision, rest assured that Joeri will have no trouble in adopting three languages: Flemish, English and Spanish. I speak this from my personal experience since I had this situation with both of my sons (the elder speaks fluently Croatian, Macedonia, English, German and is in the process of learning French and Chinese - by his own choice). It is easy for him because he was brought up bilingual and the brain centers responsible for learning languages in polyglots usually hypertrophy. The younger is 2,5 years old and mixes intensely Croatian, Macedonian and ocassionaly English. It will last until he is 4 and than he will put the languages in different drawers.

And, if you are still not bored by reading this post, let me tell you a true and interesting anecdote: there is a tribe in the Amazon area (I honestly do not remember the name of the tribe, but I will look up for it) which some time ago happened to discover some awkward disease spreading among its population. It was later shown that it was a genetic disease. Intuitively, long before they were told that it’s about genetics, the people realised that it had to do something only with them, since the neighbouring tribes didn’t suffer from it. And they brought a tribe law according to which their men were not allowed to marry women from their own tribe. But in order to be sure, they formulated the law by stating that men were not allowed to marry women speaking their own language. So these men were forced to go miles and miles away to seek for a suitable partner. Their today’s situation from one child’s point of view is that the father speaks one language, the mother second, the neighbour’s wife third, the other neighbour’s wife fourth, they study English and have a separate language for commerce only etc.. By the age of thirteen, an average child from this tribe can come to speak 8 – 10 languages. What do you say about this? It means that learning a foreign language is not perceived into something terrible (a bugaboo) or boring, but it is perceived as something inevitable and normal – just the way we expect our children to understand or master mathematics (a universal language in itself), philosophy, to learn how to drive bicycle, to learn the traffic rules and many other skills necessary for them to survive in the modern world…

[Edited at 2006-07-08 12:24]


will my children lose the french Language Jan 15, 2008

Hello, I am in need of some tips and advice. I moved to France with my family from the UK
Three years ago. We will now be returning back to the Uk this summer. My children have
spent nearly three years at school in France. All three are now fluent, ages now 13,7 and
4years. They have all done very well and settled both in France and at school. My main
concern is that when we do return they will lose the french as they will be going to an
English school. The four year old has only been at school for a year but he is fluent in his
speach. The 7year old found it very easy and is like any other French child in her class. The
thirteen year old still has a few problems , she was eleven when we got here and had
been to school in the UK, she is fluent and has done very well. After all the hard
work they have put in it would be such a shame for them to lose a 2nd language. Now for
me, i have not done so well finding it very hard and i am far from fluent. ( knowing i would
be going back to the Uk stoped me having to learn it, poor excuse i know, but i feel i will be
of little use to them. I will bring back videos, tapes, books ect but i just feel once they get
back to the UK they will have no Interest in learning French.

If you have any ideas that would be of any help please reply.

With many thanks Holly xxxxxx

[Edited at 2008-01-16 11:05]


Local time: 14:25
English to Spanish
Experience as a bilingual Mar 20, 2009

Im a Mexican girl, Im always lived in Mexico, I started to have contact with English when I was in kinder garden lol. I always like everything thas has to do with that language. I took many intensive courses during my childhood, then I decided to study foreing languages at university.
The fact here is that I think that even working or studying in your own country, you can become a bilingual person. For me has been very difficult to get a good level, sometimes when Im trying to speak English Im still thinking on Spanish. That's not very good for me.
Fortunately my boyfriend is from Boston, he does not speak Spanish, so Im always in contact with my second language, it is not so easy but I like it.
The problem is that I need to learn a colloquial way to say things in English, I hear myself very fomal because my English is more academicicon_frown.gif

If you have any ideas, please reply.


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