There is something inescapably despicable about the human mind when it comes to language: It sticks like memory foam in our mind. For the vast majority of us language learners, foreign languages must be continuously tackled, studied, listened to, and written, over and over again in order to not simply improve but to retain anything at all! Language is like memory foam because, just like the comfortable bedding, it will retain it’s shape if we leave it for a little while. We lift our hand from the foam and the imprint remains…for a while. Foreign languages can be just like this because we can take a break for a week, maybe a month, and not study a single thing and still return to right where we left off, completely unharmed…but slowly the imprint begins to fade.
Leave the language study abandoned for several months and soon one will struggle with previously acquired knowledge, falter with pronunciation and grammar that was previously a no-brainer, so to speak. Like memory foam, the imprint the language held in our mind will fade until it seems once again that no hand was ever laid down to work on the art. Lost will be the knowledge.
Language must constantly and continuously be cultivated in the mind. Mentored and mediated every day in order to retain the rhetoric that had be so routinely rehearsed but which so easily slipped away. Despite a year you may have spent abroad in a country of your non-native language, without heartfelt study habits at home such language knowledge will soon become nothing more than a mere memory. Even college graduates that majored in French, Japanese, German, Italian, Spanish, Greek, Portuguese, or any other language for that matter will find themselves inexplicably incapable of even the most foundational of phrases in a matter of years if not months. Without constant vigilance, language wears away like pumice to a wave, disappearing like foam imprints now free from studious pressure.
It is a challenge, no doubt, to stay focused and driven and continue studying despite the facts: you are a native speaker, your majored in that language, you may very well never travel to that country again! However, I urge you, despite these conditions that may have you comfortably considering retiring from further review of the language…do not slack off! Challenge yourself–as I do–to study a bit more every day (if not once or twice a week) in the language of your choice. Even if the language be your native note, all the higher is your bar of responsibility to lead as an example to those who are still learning or desire to acquire the skills that you so naturally (and fortunately) possess.
To forget language is mindless. To grow in language and deepen thought is mindful. Be mindful.