Use It Or Lose It: How I Forgot Foreign Languages

foreign languagesI was a pretty ambitious kid and consequently managed to take Spanish, French, Latin, and Japanese during my school years. For those of you who are curious about how much exposure I had in school to each of these languages, they are as follows:

MANY years of Spanish (plus cultural exposure)
Two years of Latin
One year of French
One year of Japanese (plus cultural exposure due to my Japanese heritage)

I am so glad I took Latin in high school because it proved to be extremely helpful during medical school, but my decision to take French was primarily a way of filling up my senior class schedule. French was so easy for me that I got the the only A+ in the class. As for Spanish, I was so culturally and scholastically immersed that I approached fluency at a couple of different points. Finally, with Japanese, I wanted to have a more solid understanding of the language of my ancestors and wanted to honor my heritage.

As the years passed I found few opportunities to speak French, so I am now quite bad at it. I can read and understand about 25% of it but beyond that I am lost. I also went through a very similar experience with Japanese.

Spanish is an entirely different story because I keep finding myself in situations in which I could use my Spanish speaking and reading skills. Nevertheless, because I don’t speak it regularly, I am getting pretty rusty in my ability to converse in Spanish. Though I had learned and used medical Spanish out of pure necessity, I now rarely encounter Spanish speaking patients, so that skill is diminishing as well. What is perhaps most frustrating is when I am struggling too find the words in Spanish to say something I was so easily able to convey 10 years ago.

Like any skill, comprehension of a foreign language requires regular usage so that it is not lost. Looks like a trip to Costa Rica or Venezuela may be in order!

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