Just because you’ve forgot your first language doesn’t mean it’s lost forever.
Bilingual people may find the following scenario familiar: A family member from ‘back home’ calls the house, and your mum passes the telephone to you.
Though you really want to speak articulately with your auntie or uncle, oftentimes what ends up coming out is a garbled grammatical mess.
Losing your native tongue is called first language attrition.
Speaking to Quartz, Monika Schmid, a leading researcher on the topic at the University of Essex, doesn’t believe that the loss is permanent.
She argues that first language loss for bilingual people tends to be a case of burying the mother tongue rather than permanently erasing it from your mind.
Schmid explains that when a child begins to learn another language, they end up building a mental barrier to block the mother tongue-version of words they’re trying to learn.
It’s not that you’re forgetting that language, what’s happening is that it has been buried and you have to dig it up again and that takes quite a bit of energy.
Rather than expel what the brain deems as unnecessary energy focusing on two languages, it focuses instead just on the language being learned.
However, there is a way for you to recover your mother tongue, and all it takes is speaking it more often.
Children will pick up the grammatical rules of their language by the age of six and by the age of 12 will have consolidated that knowledge.
If you grew up speaking your mother tongue up to the age of 12, the likelihood is that you will have mastered it, and getting it back will be easier.
The best way to do so is simple: practise.
In order to relearn the dormant language, you have to speak that language often; whether it's by interacting with your parents in the mother tongue, going to language classes or immersing yourself in your home country.
The process could take years, but for those wishing to reconnect with the language of their mothers and fathers, it's time well spent.