1. Forum
  2. >
  3. Topic: Duolingo
  4. >
  5. Can Learning Languages Hinder…


Can Learning Languages Hinder Your Abilities with Your Native Language?

Ciao ragazzi!

I don't know this for sure, but I was just wondering if learning other languages can make you do a bit poorly with your native language.

I know that with any language, you've got to use it to keep up with it and to maintain it, but I always use English (though sometimes I don't use some words as often and usually I'd be good at remembering the spellings of the words, but I find that now it's not as automatic).

I love languages, but I especially love English (my native language) and I love my English skills. I would want to keep it with me forever, even if it weren't useful anymore. (Thank you HappyEvilSlosh and duonks lol)

I'm aware that Duo isn't a forum necessarily for these kinds of things (Duo isn't Yahoo! Answers or Google after all, I could easily Google this instead of cluttering up Duo lol); but I just wanted to know if anyone else had their own thoughts about this. I want to know what others think before I end up finding the answer from Google or something like that.

It could just be me since I haven't written the way I used to in a while, maybe I'm just speaking less and incorrectly more often because I have a very minimal amount of anxiety, maybe it's because I'm only very slightly socially awkward - who knows?

All I know is, no matter what, I'll love languages and I'll have a drive to learn and learn and learn. Sometimes it might cost me a little bit of English, but I have English class for 180 days in school (mostly) and I have to speak it and I use it all the time so I shouldn't be worried lol!

Sorry if this has already been asked too, if it has and it'd be better to delete this, go ahead and ask. I'll do so if needed.

Thanks for reading! :)

Avete una buona giornata! じゃまたね!

If anyone would like to point out any grammar mistakes I might've made, don't hesitate. Sorry about that, I don't proofread even though I should lol. I wrote this very quickly because I was busy, but still. I'll try and reply to as many comments as I can and I want to try and give some lingots away :D, hopefully it'll work out, I'll have to see what happens since I'm usually at work and am busy at home. Thank you all!! <3

July 27, 2015



I think the opposite is true: learning languages increases your abilities with your native language. Because in learning how other languages do things you gain a deeper insight into your own language. For example, due entirely to learning German, I now know where and how to use the subjunctive in sentences like

I would want to keep it with me forever, even if it wasn't useful anymore.

Sure, it's on its way out, but I like having it available as an option.


... even if it weren't useful any more? :-)


The only hindrance I find is that I mix Portuguese and Spanish spelling with their English cognates. Sometimes I don't even bother to change them, depending on whatever I am writing.


Ah, I know what you mean! I also sometimes mix up Italian and Spanish cognates like "familia" and "famiglia."


I have no idea why, but you made me laugh when you said due to German you now know where and how to use the subjunctive and it's only because you pointed out my sentence xD. Good job, good job! :DD xDD Sorry, I think proofreading would be a good habit to pick up on for me because I love writing, but I suck at it so I need to proofread and for some reason I'm good at proofreading (sorta) lol.

But you're right, I recently learned about auxiliary verbs while learning French and had no idea what they were (even though I had heard of it before). I also learned about some different grammatical functions so woohoo!

Thank you pretty kitty! :D Good job with your language learning, too! I see you've made quite the progress.


I think it depends on the person and the circumstances. English is my native language, but I grew up fluent in Spanish from infancy as well. Back when I had reason to switch back and forth on a daily basis, I actually acquired language faster because I could intuit connections between the two. Once I no longer "codeswitched" on a regular basis, I found myself getting confused often, and the Spanish soon fell away. I have a friend who grew up fluent in English and Wolof, and she's had several attempts at learning French, only to give it up because she can only get so far in French without feeling the Wolof start to slip... but she's also no longer living near other Wolof speakers.

It stands to reason that if you're in a position to use each of your languages frequently, they'll all stay in your head and not get too mixed up. If not, the brain tends to start letting go of the less frequently used ones, even if one of those "less used" ones is your native language.

When you're still learning a language, it's that learning how to "codeswitch" thing that trips you up. Codeswitching is when you change what you say and how you say it depending on who you're talking to, and we all do it - the same conversation with your parents will sound different to how it will sound with your boss, which will sound different to how it would with your child or your best friend. Most of us will even change how we phrase something depending on which website forum we're posting in; it's natural to essentially mimic the dominant or expected tone for your audience. This kind of codeswitching happens naturally within a person's native language(s), but switching from one language to another is also a kind of codeswitching, and it takes the brain a while to learn how to do that with that automatic "click" feeling. It's not unlike growing up working class and learning what to do at a formal dinner party... at first, you're nervous, you don't know what's going on, who to talk to or how to say what you mean in the most "audience appropriate" way. The more formal dinner parties you go to, the sooner you'll find yourself able to click into to formal mode, and then click back (if desired) to your normal way of speech.

It's that mushy middle ground when your brain is still learning what the "modes" are that causes most of the confusion, and without regular practice switching between them, those modes can get mushy again.

The good news is, once you learn the structure and pronunciation of a language, that tends to stick long after vocabulary has fallen away. My Spanish vocabulary is sub par at best these days, but I can read it well enough to understand the newspapers, and native Spanish speakers still compliment my accent and grammar, even though I have to hunt for every third word I'm trying to say. They may not know what I'm trying to say, but the way I say it sounds perfect to them!


Only thing I can think of is that i sometimes forget words in one language, and need to use a word from another language instead.

Sometimes that doesn't work, and I need to act out the word, and that can be amusing at times.


I hear you. English is my native language and I've spoken it for over 50 years, and yet one day I couldn't for the life of me remember the word "weathervane". I had the French "girouette" loud and clear, though. And I ended up looking it up in my French/English dictionary to remind me of the English word I couldn't think of!


I think that has happened to me before, I'm glad you remembered the French equivalent though xD.

Bravo, bravo! :3


Haha! I understand what you mean! :D


Short answer: No

Long answer:

I'll leave some links that give a more scientific perspective in the end, but you asked for personal expierences and opinions, so I'll start with that

In many countries all over the world people learning a second or even third languages at school is standard. I'm from Germany and have been learning English from third grade on, latin from 5th grade on (looking bak, that was largely a waste of time, but it helped me with at least a few things) and french from 8th grade on. I've learned english at schoo for 10 years, Latin for 5 and French for 3. I'vee forgotten a lot of french and use Duolingo to brush up my french skills as well as learning Spanish. I've also just started Turkish, but it's pretty hard (prob.because it's very different from the languages I've learned so far).

For me in-class language lessons have helpe me with my German skills. The focus alot of lthe focus language learning at school is on grammar (whether that's a good or a bad thing is a whole other discussion) and getting a better understanding of grammar in general also helped me to understand german grammar in particular better. I also learned about diferent ways of expressing oneself (for example an English essay is structured differently from a French or German one and there are advatages and disadvantages of each style). It does happen sometimes that I can't think of German word, but of the English translation, but that's pretty rare.

Duolingo doesn't focus that much on grammar nor does it teach really expressing yourself freely in the language that you're learning (Which is one of the biggest drawbacks and the reason I would reccommend getting in contact with a native speaker to get some practice), so I don't think it offers those advantages.

Judging from what you shared.I assume that you're probably an US student who is currently on summer break. My guess is that due to the lack of practice your English skills declined a little, but because you are still practicing Spanish, you Spanish skills have not. I'd try to talk to friends online for written practice and face to face for speaking practice and maybe writing some longer, more elaborate post (like the one you posted here) about things tht you are interested in and concern you.

As for the more scietific approaches:

I found a paper and an article about two studies that concerned themselves with a topic. One examined a group of english natives that learned Spanish as a second language and one that learned Mandarin as a second language. The results were that different parts of language proficiency were affected differently by the different languages some positive, some negative (http://www.bilingualism.northwestern.edu/bilingualism-psycholinguistics/files/vm5.pdf).

The other study examined the found that learning a second language can have a positive effect on the native language if quality and quantity of exposure to the native language is not decreased while learning the second language. (http://www.albany.edu/faculty/ikecskes/files/babyloniaproofkecskes.pdf)

  • 2288

I have found myself searching for words more often in English since I started seriously studying foreign languages. However, those tend to only come up when I'm writing and want a very specific word (because some "synonym" doesn't have the same connotation). That said, even when I turn to resources like thesauruses, I rarely find the word I'm looking for, which has actually made me wonder if the word I'm trying to find is a foreign word, in fact, which is why I can't find it in my English mindset.

The other change I've noticed is my grammar - I'm far more likely to say "with which" than "... with." now than before I started learning German. Now my brain seeks a more objective understanding, so floating prepositions don't fly quite as easily as they used to.


In your situation, the answer is super simple: Not even a little bit.

Many famous and highly skilled authors are or were bilingual or even polylingual. J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Jack Kerouac, Joseph Conrad, Vladmir Nabokov, Samuel Beckett and many others spoke and wrote in multiple languages. Their language learning endeavors definitely did not hinder their skills in their native language.

In fact, Tolkien was fluent or semi-fluent in as many as 16 different languages, and he went on to write one of the most popular and influential English-language books of the 20th century.

As long as you never stop using English, you'll never lose it.


Haha, it probably is simpler than I think it is, for some reason I often feel like things are more complex than they actually are.

But wow, I didn't know that! Thanks for sharing, I never knew that Tolkien and Lewis (as well as some of the other authors you mentioned) were or are bilingual/polylingual.

Woohoo! :D--SIXTEEN?? I can only dream of knowing even ONE other language fluently!

:) Thank you, thank you, thank you! I had this weird paranoia about losing it because I might have to live in India for a while and I'm worried about being less proficient in it because I probably won't have to use it as much there. I do know many Indians have to study and speak a good amount of English (it depends though), but my family probably wants me to speak Indian languages like Urdu and Tamil more. I don't mind that at all, but I was paranoid for some reason. Then again, I'm like that with everything lol.


I haven't noticed any change in my speaking, word retrieval, or grammar in English, but my spelling has degraded significantly. Before I got serious about Norwegian, I used to be able to spell anything. Now, I would be in trouble without spell check. It might be because there are so many words that have similar-but-not-exactly-the-same spellings that my brain doesn't automatically flag misspellings as "wrong" anymore. But, this is minor. I have gained so much from the foreign language experience (adventure, knowledge, travel, and most importantly some wonderful friends) that being a little more dependent on spell check is irrelevant.


I totally agree with these great answers that people have posted here ! But I admit that sometimes speaking about medical or business terms in my native language, I remember the English words usually much faster because the terms in my native language are stupid or not used that much. But I think that learning other languages has made me much better in my native language because I observe it differently now when I'm fluent in many languages.

Learn a language in just 5 minutes a day. For free.