Forgetting and Remembering a Language

My little girl was until recently speaking so much better French than she does now. She will soon be 9 and now she struggles with it. Why?

Of course, until now, I was speaking only French to her. Since one year, quite intensively, I am more and more speaking Norwegian and probably letting go of our good resolutions to have a multilingual home (without this being an aim as such – it just was so natural – a french mama, a Norwegian papa, a greek grandma… !) I still communicate with Baard in English and still try to address Alfie as much as I can in French. But it happens more and more that I NEED to express myself in Norwegian. For example, when a friend comes after school with her, or when we are out shopping together or if we look at something on TV – these are just some few of the many cases I need to express myself in Norwegian. I am not completely fluent and still miss a lot of vocabulary but the most of it is that I often miss the emotional side of the language. I cant really express emotions. No anger in Norwegian (bare forbanna!) no real sorrow (jeg er lei meg!) or real happiness (jeg har det bra!!). It is still (will it ever be otherwise?) a super flat reasonable language for me.

During the christmas holidays, my whole family was visiting and they all speak either French or Greek to each other. It was very much discussed -and of course, I got convicted immediately and again at many occasions about this fact. “Why dont you talk to her in French anymore?”. I am sorry to say that I have no good excuse, no explanation, either than observing and letting the reasons sink in me.

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Many psychologists think that we forget languages, and other things, because of ‘disuse’—the memories that we don’t try to recall very frequently become more deeply buried over time. Other studies have shown that forgetting a native language might be an adaptive strategy that helps us learn a second one.  After just a little thought after christmas, I have my own theory about what is happening.

French language (my native language) has been forced or imposed into our lives, into the life of my ancestors when they arrived in the New Promised Land from Greece seeking to find a better life. I often think of their travel, by the sea, I see them on the deck of the boat, I even see their old brown suitcases, I hear the dream of a new life. Going to new country, getting a new job, learning a new language – that must so be difficult. I say that and of course, having done that myself (in Brussels first, in Greece after, in Norway finally). But I have done it in other times, in completely different conditions! And even if it was hard for me to learn another language, I was happy to do so. And there might be the difference. I did not HAVE to learn the language – I did not need it for my job. I did not need it for communicating with others. But I was happy to integrate, to learn. I even think I would be happy to receive a Norwegian citizenship if I could. We have talked about that with Baard many times. It seems that I am trying to erase, mentally, more and more, my former identity. I dont like the sound of it. I dont like the feeling that it creates but I do admit easily that it might boil down to that.

I am gently slowly letting go of France (and Greece as well) and getting more and more connected to this (new promised) land. I am yet not sure about that, but it slides slowly and slowly towards that. As if France was a parenthesis in our “tree”. As if I was trying to put in the soil new roots for the generations to come.

Or I am just doing what my grand parents have done. Seeking for a new better life….They have also forgot quite a lot of Greek, to the point that my father was the one really NOT speaking the language…

I dont know.

This might be just crazy thoughts. And French will not be forgotten and we will all speak French soon, when Baard will also try to learn….

I dont know.

We will see. We will see.

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