Author Topic: How does one recover from language attrition (i.e., forgetting L1)?  (Read 9527 times)

Offline vincenthan2009

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Hello, thank you very much for taking time to read this. Please allow me to describe my background first.

I am a Chinese descent born in the United States. Supposedly, English is my native language (L1). However, starting from elementary school first grade, I studied abroad in China in an elementary school in which Chinese is the major language. Hence my Chinese began to take over English as my most dominant language. I began to lose my skills in English due to the lack of exposure to it. In the recent years, however, I myself put in very great efforts to recover my English skills. Also, I enrolled in a curriculum in which English is the major language in middle school. Right now, I returned to the United States to complete my high school education.

My skills in English have improved very significantly. Currently, I would say that I am very proficient in speaking, listening and writing in English, and I have no worries about them. The only problem in reading. When I read literary or complex texts in English, I often struggle to comprehend. I scan through the words without absorbing completely the meaning. I did a vocabulary test on, it is estimated that I have 11,000 words in my arsenal, which is very proficient for a secondary language speaker, but lagging behind for a native speaker. I did some research about this, and it seems like I am a victim of Language Attrition. My question is: how can I improve my reading skills and my vocabulary such that I am able to comprehend complex texts well? Thank you very much.
« Last Edit: February 20, 2018, 01:41:50 PM by vincenthan2009 »

Offline Daniel

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Re: How does one recover from language attrition (i.e., forgetting L1)?
« Reply #1 on: February 20, 2018, 02:38:43 PM »
Hi Vincent and welcome!

The simplest answer is to practice. A lot. And practice well. Don't rely on Chinese. I'd suggest roughly 90% of your time just practicing, and then maybe 10% (or less) of your time analyzing your usage in helpful ways such as (re-)read a paragraph/page/section and highlighting words you don't know, and looking them up. Reading is relatively easy to do on your own without any help, but for the other skills (with you can still of course keep practicing, and you obviously have found a way to do this!) you should look for some feedback from native speakers. Most importantly, you want to break any bad habits you've formed. For example, try not to skim over words you don't know but actively look them up. (That's just one suggestion, and not one you need to literally do every time.) In short, doing things that are uncomfortable (like reading a lot when it's hard) is actually usually a good thing, because you'll eventually get good at it.

That's really all the advice anyone can give you. Easy advice. Lots of work/time for you. But also easy to practice. Just keep going it. Having your background really will make it easier, and you'll catch up eventually.

From what you wrote above, your writing seems very clear and good, although I do notice a few minor mistakes:
I am a Chinese descent born in the United States.
"Descent" is not a noun, so it can't be used like that. "Descendant" would work but doesn't have quite the right meaning (usually it's a relationship noun for distant relationships in a family as in "my descendants in the future"). Probably "someone of Chines descent" (yes, more indirect/awkward phrasing) is what a native speaker would say, or just some other alternative. (Culturally I've heard "American Born Chinese", even sometimes abbreviated ABC, but I don't know if that applies to you from what you wrote, or how many people really use that, but I know some people do.)
Part of speech errors are very common for Chinese speakers because Chinese doesn't use word forms to distinguish between parts of speech. Nouns for verbs, adjectives for nouns, etc. This is a sign of Chinese influence, and something that will improve with practice-- obviously you are making few mistakes of this kind, so it's not a "big" problem, but something worth noticing.

Right now, I returned to the United States to complete my high school education.
There is a mix up of tense/time here. You say "right now" should should be present tense, but then you use a past tense verb. This is another common error for Chinese speakers (because tense/time is used differently in Chinese for some complex reasons I could explain, but in short just doesn't work like English). This isn't technically "wrong", just stylistically odd and probably not something a native speaker would usually write. Instead I would suggest "Recently, I returned", or "Right now, I have returned".

The main reason I mention these details is that it is much easier to get feedback (from native speaker friends or from a trained linguist) on your production of language rather than your perception. There's very little that someone can do to help you with reading (aside from giving you more things to read or giving you tests about comprehension), but it is much easier to give you more active advice about any mistakes you make while speaking. Also, typically, people find it easier to read than to write, listen or speak. So if that is not the case for you, then maybe you are having trouble reading because you're actually reading at a higher level than your average ability, which is good. But also keep an eye on your other skills and try to get some feedback. Usually vocabulary knowledge is represented in a similar way in your writing and your reading ability, so if that is your main area of difficulty, then practice with writing can help. Reading is generally where people (especially native speakers) learn vocabulary. So keep that in mind too.

Short answer: practice a lot!
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