Don’t End Up Like Them! How To Avoid Language Attrition

Forgotten Language

(Photo credit: Flооd)

Why do so many people study a foreign language, but over time end up forgetting it?

I think the answer to this question is complex, but a huge and remediable factor in language attrition is lack of commitment.

What most people fail to contemplate when they begin learning a new language, is that it must be  lifelong endeavor. It does not end with the diploma or the mark of fluency.

The old adage use it or lose it has never been more true.

So what can you do to ensure that all your time and effort is not lost?

Engage in the language daily. How? Here are some ideas.

  • Read. This is a great way to grow your vocabulary and is available to you even when you don’t have access to native speakers. The Internet offers endless free reading resources. Subscribe to some blogs in your target language, read the news, or any topic you are interested in.
  • Change your electronic device settings to your target language. This is a way to maintain some daily interaction with your target language.
  • Listen to music in your target language. Music is another fun way to get a daily dose of your target language.
  • Use your screen time to watch videos, tv, and movies in your target language. This is another way to keep your target language on your radar.
  • Make friends with native speakers of your target language. Use email, Skype, Facebook, or your preferred method to write and speak to your friends regularly. Communicating your thoughts in your target language is important.

Whatever you do, commit to your language learning journey for the long haul. And make it fun!


The Problem With Being A Westerner In Taiwan

I received an email today from a blogger friend Teddy Nee, who writes Nee’s Language Blog. I’m sharing part of it because he makes a great point about how my western looks are a disadvantage to immersion language learning in Taiwan.

Hi Amy

I am writing to you after reading your post about “A Common Dilemma For English Speakers, And What To Do About It!” I really understand your difficulty and I hope that what I am going to share may help you.

First of all, you need to make clear that this dilemma happens to non-Chinese-looking foreigners. I don’t want to say “non-Asian foreigners” because Indian and South East Asian are also Asian. They also may speak English better than Mandarin.

This dilemma doesn’t happen to me because of my appearance, I am not from an English-speaking country, and I am of Chinese descent. However, being of Chinese descent doesn’t mean that I speak Mandarin. Mandarin is my second foreign language after English. Taiwanese people always spoke Mandarin to me so I was “forced” to respond in Mandarin, which was good for me to practice the language. They would not speak English with me because they assumed my English was poor.


As a westerner, it’s challenging to live in a relatively homogeneous society and be the odd ball that sticks out. And it’s challenging to be a language learner in this kind of environment where the locals, in their effort to be welcoming, deny you the chance to interact in the language you are seeking to learn.

If you are a westerner, you can’t make yourself look more Taiwanese. But you can work twice as hard and reach your language goals, regardless of the size of the obstacle. 

Immersion language learning is often about overcoming. Overcoming fear, overcoming communication barriers, overcoming culture shock, overcoming bad haircuts, etc.

“The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it.” -Moliere

Teddy Nee loves to write. He is also a website developer, language tutor, and language enthusiast. His native languages are Fujianese / Hokkien and Indonesian. He also speaks English and Mandarin Chinese as his first and second foreign languages, respectively. Teddy has been learning Spanish since 2012 and Esperanto since the end of May  2013.

PicMonkey Collage

Language Immersion Blues: Why Everyday Is A Bad Hair Day In Taiwan

highlightsWhen I was living in Mexico I had a gringo friend who lamented for weeks about a bad haircut he got there. At the time I really didn’t fully grasp the profundity of his pain. He was a good looking guy and although not a stellar haircut, it wasn’t that bad. And besides, his hair was short and would grow out in several weeks.

Brian, I can now say I genuinely feel your pain from all those years ago. 

This is why:

First of all, Taiwan is a humid place. It doesn’t matter if it is cold and wet or hot and wet, the common denominator is a lot of moisture in the air. As a result, my hair is always a frizzy mess. I often look like an 80’s rocker, which is not my best look.

The humidity / frizz problem aside, I have another challenge before me. I need to find a hair stylist. My hair is fine, and its natural hair color is a dark ashy blonde. I want to find a stylist that can highlight my hair, speaks some English, and has experience with western hair color and texture.

I began my search.

I scoured the internet and found a woman who came highly recommended by many western expats living in Taiwan. I was hopeful.

Until she bleached the hell out of my hair. I left the salon looking like a cheap blonde, a color way too harsh against my medium light skin tone. Not only did I look trashy, my hair was severely damaged. My hair went from soft and frizzy to broken, rough, and frizzy in the span of about three hours.

Six weeks later it was time to seek out another stylist. I opted for a high end salon and brought a friend along to translate. The results weren’t much better. They toned down my blonde, but added permanent color that faded and left my hair a hideous reddish-orange color. And, against my will, they lopped off several inches of hair. It cost me a whopping $195 USD.

I just set up an appointment for a consultation with yet another stylist in Taipei next week. He has his work cut out for him, no pun intended, with my badly damaged and untamable hair. Wish me luck!

I loathe my hair situation, and envy all the Taiwanese women whose silky, smooth locks are untouched by frizz. Clearly I was not genetically designed for humid island living. I am 100% California Girl.

Immersion language learning presents all kinds of challenges, from figuring out housing and making new friends, to getting a haircut and buying groceries. Nothing is easy when you first move to a new country.

At the end of the day, distraught and soured by my hair crisis, I ask myself if I still want to learn Chinese. So far, the answer remains a firm yes.

How To Answer The Phone In Chinese

Brian talking on the phone

(Photo credit: CurlyYu)

If you live in Taiwan, it doesn’t take long to figure out how to answer the phone in Chinese.

Mobile phones are constantly ringing and Taiwanese people always seem to answer regardless of the public situation they are in.

Eating out with friends? Riding the MRT? In line at the supermarket? You will undoubtedly hear 喂”Wéi?” as someone puts a phone to their ear.

I’ve gotten good at answering the phone in Chinese. In fact, a few times I’ve been told by the startled person on the other end they thought they called the wrong person because I sounded like a native speaker!

But immediately after I say 喂 Wéi, it all falls apart and I can’t keep up the facade. Not yet anyway.

Here is some useful phone vocabulary.

  • 喂 Wéi hello (phone greeting)
  • 電話 Diànhuà telephone
  • 手機 Shǒujī mobile phone
  • 電話號碼 Diànhuà hàomǎ phone number
  • 接電話 Jiē diànhuà answer the phone
  • 請等一下 Qǐng děng yīxià please wait a moment
  • 打錯了 Dǎ cuòle call the wrong number

A Common Dilemma For English Speakers, And What To Do About It!

Flower seller

(Photo credit: ll_browneyes_ll)

I received a great deal of suggestions both on the blog and on Facebook in response to my recent post The Single Most Difficult Thing About Learning Chinese. The post was my supplication for advice on how to get Taiwanese people, who are all too eager to practice their English, to speak to me in Chinese.

This is a summary of your advice.

  • Pretend you don’t speak English.
  • Refuse to speak English unless hired for pay as a teacher or tutor.
  • Set clear expectations with language exchange partners and dismiss the session if the partner is non-compliant.
  • Hire a paid Chinese tutor whose job is to speak only Chinese.
  • Move to the countryside where fewer people speak English.
  • Live with or spend time with elders who do not speak English.
  • Speak Chinese no matter what language people are speaking to you.
  • Find a Taiwanese girlfriend / boyfriend.
  • Speak Chinese to shopkeepers and people in the street who don’t speak English.

Some of these measures may seem extreme or rude, however consider this. When you move to a foreign country to learn a language, you invest a ton of time, resources, and effort into your language learning endeavor. You make huge sacrifices to seek an immersion experience. Justifiably, you expect to have opportunities to practice your target language.

Because English has become the language of business and opportunity, there is an ever-growing demand for it. As native a English speaker living abroad trying to learn your new country’s language, you will be forced to be more tenacious and seek creative solutions to the English dilemma.

Now it’s my turn to administer advice: Don’t give up! Don’t become complacent and yield to the desires of others. Make your language learning your number one priority, and structure your life accordingly. Good luck!