On Forgetting Words…In Your Own Language

Immersion leaves native language speakers tongue-tied might just provide an explanation for my absentmindedness with English language vocabulary. Near the end of this post on Changing Speech, I mentioned my increasing tendency to forget words. I also alluded to it in connection to the skirmish activity. More recently, I’ve forgotten words like disincentive, commiserate and implicit: these are hard words, and it’s not really that surprising. But forgetting other more common words kind of freaks me out.

Two University of Oregon researchers found that when trying to learn a new language, “the brain… is trying so hard to learn new words that it actually hides the memory of those words in its native language.” All the more reason never to learn a foreign language: you’ll forget your own!

I kid, of course, no one is going to forget their own language completely, but this gives just a little credence to my personal experience and reassures me that I’m not losing my mind. That would be quite a loss as I don’t speak the “second” language(s) all that well!

The experiment went like this: “… they started showing [college students of Spanish] simple pictures of common objects and cued them to come up with either their English or Spanish names.

Sometimes they were shown the same picture 10 times in a row and each time asked to name it in Spanish. Later they were shown an English word that rhymed with the English name of the object, the word “brake” for a picture of a snake, for example.

When asked to give the English name for the picture that rhymed with the word, students who had been naming it in Spanish often drew a blank.”

Thank goodness it’s not just me!

Do you ever have memory issues with your own language?