Leeds and neglected languages

I’m in Leeds this weekend for an alumni reunion – it’s twenty years since I graduated from Leeds Uni with shiny new BA in Modern Chinese and Japanese Studies, and this is only the second time I’ve been back there since then. The East Asian Studies Department, where I studied, is also celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and there are various events to mark this.

I will be seeing old classmates and lecturers, and meeting others who studied in the same department at different times. It will be interesting to see where people have ended up and what they’re up to these days. I expect there’ll be some chat in Chinese and Japanese as well – my Mandarin is still fluent, but my Japanese is quite rusty.

On the train on the way here I was surrounded by Germans and was eavesdropping on their conversations. I could understand almost everything, when I concentrated, even though my German is perhaps even rustier than my Japanese. I did spend longer studying German, so perhaps it is more firmly embedded in my memory than Japanese.

Do you find that long neglected languages come back to you when you need them? Does it depend on what level you got to in them?

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This entry was posted in Chinese, English, German, Japanese, Language, Travel.

4 Responses to Leeds and neglected languages

  1. joe mock says:

    I’ve always thought that you reach a critical point in learning a language when what you’ve learned sticks. I find that languages that I spent a lot of time with at some point in the past but haven’t looked at in years are mostly still there when I return to them.

  2. Roger Bowden says:

    Through total lack of use I think I have forgotten most of of what I knew but at times am amazed by words or phrases that just pop back up into available memory again. I think that most if not all we learn remains in memory but lack of use makes it harder to access.

  3. I had an interesting situation with this on a few occasions:
    One that I can think of right now is my Korean. For a long time since I left Israel and came to Beijing, I haven’t used Korean (while there are many Koreans in Beijing, the area most of them spend time in is different from the area I am in, which is more filled with Westerners). I assumed that I lost most of it, until one day a friend of mine from Korea called me through FaceTime to check how things are going and I could actually understand a lot of what she said and could also answer back. Admittedly, my Korean was indeed worse than before, but it was far from lost!

    On another note, there is a constant problem with people like us that study different languages, that once you add another language, you are responsible in making sure that the languages you studied before are still working well and you are still competent in them. Perhaps this problem means that I haven’t studied enough or intensively enough of the other languages, if they disappear or worsen so easily. Then again, perhaps it always happens so, even with languages one is really good at. I used to speak Japanese very well after studying it for 9 years. Currently, I speak it worse than before, although I still pretty much control it.

  4. Joe Hart says:

    Languages once embedded in the sub-conscious can reveal itself freely even if you have not been practicing it for a while.Traveling has taught me more words in different languages.Something which i have not been able to achieve with formal training.