Back From Vienna, Part 2: Reactivation

This post has been long delayed, though not for the usual reasons of working on other projects or traveling. I simply realized that I didn’t have much to add to Back From Vienna, Part 1: Activation. At the end of that post, which dealt with my son’s linguistic experience on our recent trip, I promised to follow up about my own linguistic experience. But there’s really just one thing to point out, illustrated by a lovely dinner with old friends David and Agnes on our first full day in Vienna.

Enjoying superb food and conversation while my son had the first German-speaking playdate of his life, I noted two things about the language I was using:

  1. Most of it was at ACTFL’s “Superior” level: We discussed insurance; taxes; attitudes about family, work, vacation, politics, nutrition, and entertainment (people back in Austria always want to know how these sorts of things vary between Austria and the USA); world travel, and child-rearing.
  2. I heard myself use lots of words, phrases, and even discourse patterns that I’m sure I hadn’t used since the last time I visited Austria, in 2009.

Noticing these two things confirmed past experience that can also serve as encouragement for me and others who have to spend time away from languages we love, whether we’ve been using them for a long time or just started, and whether the time away consists of a few hours or of many years: Language that has been acquired remains in the brain. Even after apparent loss, it does not have to be relearned like skills sometimes do, just reactivated.

So, if you’re bummed about time away from a language you know you’ve known, be at peace! It’s still in there.

What has been your experience coming back to a language after time away, or returning to a context where you can use a language at a level you don’t normally get to?

For related thoughts, see Relearning a Language, especially the bullet points in the bottom half of the article.

David (mentioned in this post), his son, me, and mine, on a little hike outside the city

David (mentioned in this post), his son, me, and mine, on a little hike outside the city

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