18 December 2016

Use It or Lose It

Being multilingual can be an advantage, but at the same time, there are some challenges. That said, I think I'd rather be multilingual than a monolingual, given how connected the world is, and given how there are plenty of places around the world that are worth visiting yet they don't speak the language you know. Anyway, one of the challenges of being multilingual is that one has to consciously practice all languages one knows, or else it'll be forgotten. I noticed lately that I wasn't as proficient in Japanese as I used to be, and I figured I should rectify that.

See, last year I discovered a German-Japanese speaking group. I went there a few times, but somehow life just became too busy and I haven't been going there regularly. I should go back.

I also started listening to Japanese radio whenever I am in the kitchen cooking. I noticed that I understand quite a bit still, but I suppose production is the one that is suffering at the moment. I think I have difficulty with some more complex terms, and don't even mention writing kanji. If I see them chances are I could read them, but if you tell me to write something from scratch then that would be tough.

Anyway, knowing a language is a skill, after all. You either use it or you lose it. The interesting thing however is that once you go and regularly use it again, then somehow it all comes back. So whenever I find myself in Japanese restaurants, I typically take the effort to speak in Japanese. Though to be honest, one of the most confusing moments for me is speaking Japanese in a German-majority environment: when I try to speak in Japanese while hearing German all around me, that is hard, since sometimes I find myself trying to retrieve a Japanese word but instead I get the German equivalent. Interference tends to be strong, especially when it's a language you're not too proficient in. In other words, I don't get interference from English, but from German. I wonder why.


  1. I feel the same about Mandarin. We use basic Mandarin at home or when talking to my in-laws, but I rarely have the chance to have a proper conversation in this language :-/

    1. Zhu,

      Yeah, practice is the key, otherwise you'll lose it.

      Speaking of language, I was in Geneva Airport earlier today, crossing the border. I greeted the officer with Bonjour, and after saying Bonjour back, she asked me in English, if I spoke English. I replied with oui, then with si, and on the third time, finally, with yes. And German came out there at some point too.