Plurilingualism: a threat to your mother tongue or not?

I have recently been thinking about plurilingualism and people speaking more than one language. To be more precise, what has been occupying my mind was the question whether adding a language to one’s repertoire might reduce one’s mother tongue skills. Could there be a certain link between being plurilingual and having poor and primitive lexis of one’s native language?

There seems to be some logic in it. You are not speaking your mother tongue while speaking another language. The time allocated to communicating, reading books or watching movies in one’s second language might weaken the grasp of one’s first language. Moreover, by using a foreign language in a certain domain you prevent your mother tongue from developing in that specific area and this way limit your own linguistic abilities. As a result, young people studying in the language other from their mother tongue might find difficulties to express the knowledge they gained in their native language. Another feature of plurilingual nature is code-mixing, “the presence of elements of more than one language within a clause” (Zuercher, p. 19). These elements are frequently perceived negatively and considered to be a representation of language impurity. Conversely, the more time you spend using your second language, the more is taken away from your native one.

Does it mean then that if we care about our language we should speak only that very language and learn and use no other than that? But blaming plurilingualism for your inability to speak properly looks more like searching for an excuse. Languages are like muscles that require workouts. If you are lazy or do not use your muscles they lose their shape and strength. And working on your side chest does not interfere with the physical shapes of your leg biceps. In this way, speaking Italian should not affect your Japanese as long as one is paying adequate attention to both. There are people who speak several languages perfectly and their mother tongue still remains rich and expressive in their use. Such skills are always the result of constant language practice. Not often though acquiring and practicing proper language occurs naturally. Sometimes it might take you efforts, especially with less suitable environment for it.

             And what is your experience with plurilingualism? Does speaking several languages impact your mother tongue? If yes, how do you feel about it?

References

Zuercher, K. (2009). Azerbaijani-Russian code-switching and code-mixing: Form, function and identity. Arlington: ProQuest Dissertations Publishing

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7 thoughts on “Plurilingualism: a threat to your mother tongue or not?

  1. Thank you, Alexandra, for sharing your thoughts. It’s always interesting to know what is on the mind of my roommate)) But, anyway, I think the question that you have risen is worth to think about. Let me share some thoughts on it. There might be two situations: 1) when we learn a foreign language and at the same time use our native language on a daily basis. It obviously occurs when we stay in our own country and always have people around who speak the same language, so even if we learn, for example, Korean, it does not affect our proficiency of the mother tongue, because of the constant usage of the latter one. It’s a different matter 2) when you have been living in the country where people speak a totally different language, including the language that you are learning, for instance, the U.S.A. or Egypt, but there is no need to use your mother tongue because the local population does not speak it. So, the more you don’t use the native language the more you start to forget it.

    My point of view, therefore, is that the learning a second language itself does not affect the proficiency of the first language, it’s all about the environment and constant use of our mother tongue. What do you think?

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  2. Excellent work, Sasha! (5/5) This post takes the reader from a simple observation, to an interesting question, to a careful analysis of that question. I know from experience that my foreign languages (Spanish and Russian) are constantly competing for attention and space in my brain. As for your writing, your ideas flow smoothly together and your reference helps solidify your argument with some examples. Maybe for the next post, think about adding some images or links to spice up the interactive nature of the writing.

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  3. Dear Sasha,
    Some of our groupmates including me conducted a little research on codemixing of Kazakh and Russian languages. The findings showed us that people with more than one language tend codemix not because they lost the proficiency in their mother tongues but due to some other factors including the environment speaking the other language. In my case, I thought I did not lose the proficiency in my mother tongue but how blind I was. The lesson of Kazakh made me realise that I don’t think in Kazakh anymore.Now it seems rather distant and uncomfortable.

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    1. Farihandro, thanks for sharing with me about your Kazakh language. Great to know that I am not the only one feeling I am loosing the command of my mother tongue. I believe the reason in my case is that I take my native language for granted and simply give preference to other languages. To be honest, I can hardly remember the last book I read in Russian and the movie or a video I watched in Russian on my tablet or laptop. The only language I hear and use is basic everyday phrases with simple conversational structures and very limited rudimentary vocabulary. And this is all the result of my own personal choice. Seems as if it is true that people start value something only when they realize that they are loosing it.

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  4. Dear, Sasha! I really enjoyed reading your post! It is such an interesting topic and I want to share my thoughts on this question. I agree that for preserving our mother tongue from losing its strength we need pay attention to this language. While studying in Korea I had English as a language of instructions during two years, I read books and studying materials only in English. Maybe because of lack in time spending on reading and writing in Russian, sometimes I felt uncertainty during writing complex sentences in Russian.
    Moreover, this year in NUGSE we learned and read a lot of information in English language. So, sometimes when I talk with my family and friends I unconsciously use English words or want to use them. Last semester while attending workshops in International Conference on Trilingual Education, I noticed that information on slides presented in Russian language seemed more complicated than analogous presentations in English. I decided that I will read more fiction literature in Russian, because I believe that reading books is one of the best ways to enrich language and make it beautiful.

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  5. Thanks for sharing, Sasha! This is such a relatable topic. I would never consider pluringualism as a threat to mother tongue, conversely, I think that you come to appreciate the role of a language in one’s life. However, you should always make sure that you practice a language, whether it would be your L1, L2 or L3- because if you do not work on it systematically, there is a great probability that you forget even the basics!
    I really fancy the idea of comparing learning a language to working on muscles. I would only add one more thing: learning a language is like doing sports: you might not enjoy the process, but you will definitely like the results!

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