- Language Mixing Updates
- Use it or lose it?
Use it or lose it?
In the realm of language learning, it’s often said that it’s a case of “use it or lose it”. While that’s generally true, why hasn’t this set off alarm bells?
What do I mean?
Well, don’t you think it’s rather odd that we, as native English speakers, know and remember even very obscure words that we hardly ever use? Yet somehow, magically, when learning another language, we will forget the simplest words like “the” or “him” if we don’t use them.
It makes no sense.
For example, I know the word “hysterectomy” (defined as: “Surgical removal of part or all of the uterus”). Yet I’m not a doctor. I don’t go around talking about hysterectomies all day. Nobody around me is talking about it, either. So what happened to “use it or lose it”? How come I can not only remember the word, but its meaning, its spelling, and its pronunciation – despite the fact that I have probably not uttered it (or heard someone else say it) for 20 years?
Let’s go even further: antidisestablishmentarianism. That’s the longest word in the English language. It means the practice of being against disestablishing the Anglican Church as the official Church of England.
Again, what happened to “use it or lose it”? I am pretty sure that I have never once used antidisestablishmentarianism in a conversation with anyone, ever. I do not hear it in everyday life, ever. I learned it a few years ago when reading a casual article about the longest English words.
So what gives?
I can remember really complicated English terms – one of which I’ve probably never uttered – yet can’t remember the Polish word for “car”… A word I deliberately tried to learn many years ago. I could sit here for an hour trying to remember, and I can tell you – I’ll fail.
Yet I have no problem remembering defenestrate (the act of throwing someone out of a window).
It’s clearly easier to learn new English words than to learn new foreign words. Our brains seem to be designed to expand our existing vocabulary more than it’s designed to add a completely separate one.
I think that’s why the language mixing method works for me and many others. When we pretend that a foreign word is just newly-coined English, our brains accept it more easily.
Perhaps “use it or lose it” will apply to other language-learning methods far more than it will apply to this one.
Try my books: