Language is a structured communication system, brimming with words and symbols that allow people to communicate and express ideas through speech and writing. But a mother tongue is different; the language of one’s origin country or native culture is something that holds a different place in one’s soul entirely.

From early childhood, everyone grows up with a mother tongue—the native or first language, that is usually learned from parents or other guardians since birth. However, people experience first language attrition, which is the forgetting of words, phrases, grammar, pronunciation, or spelling of the mother tongue after moving to new places. Language attrition happens more in young children, especially international adoptees, rather than adults.

Moving out of one’s mother country or experiencing international adoption causes language attrition as it leads to little to no exposure to a person’s native languages. To adapt to a different country, one needs to learn and use a new language, which also causes language attrition. Francisco De Lacerda, the head of Linguistics at Stockholm University, said, “When you learn a second language or a language in adulthood, what you are doing is essentially trying to find equivalent expressions that you can initiate in a spontaneous way. And that takes the place of the thing you have learned before.” Learning a new language would replace the mother tongue in the brain, causing language attrition. International adoptees adopted at ages 4 or 5 can completely forget their mother tongue as they grow up. Trauma may also induce language attrition, some cases including groups of German-Jewish elders who have lived in Germany for decades but cannot communicate in German due to traumatic experiences from World War II.

Language attrition is common, but it is still important that people do not forget the mother tongue. The mother tongue expresses people’s identity and their value for their culture and heritage. Preserving it may also allow one to have a more positive self-concept and deeper understanding of their culture, knowledge, literature, and music surrounding their native language. Furthermore, knowing one’s mother tongue allows communication with parents and people of the native language community. Forgetting the mother tongue would create language barriers within these communities, weakening relationships. Insight towards native languages is not the sole beneficial thing for those who are bilingual, though, as knowing another language—English, for instance—and a mother tongue betters employment and can allow one to become a translator, interpreter, or teacher. Students that know both English and their mother tongue often have higher academic achievements than those whose first language is English. Plus, remembering the mother tongue can set a foundation that eases learning new languages for numerous peoples.

Forgetting one’s native language could be unintentional, intentional, or due to other reasons. Nonetheless, countless methods are effective to prevent this: reading text such as magazines, newspapers, journals, or books, watching TV shows or films, listening to the radio, and speaking with someone in their native language all assist with reinforcing the memories. Visiting one’s country of their origin and heritage may help as well. These methods of preservation can allow people to maintain a healthy relationship with their native language, safeguarding the intricate details of their culture by and monumentally aiding future generations doing so.