I was reading an article by Céline Graciet about language attrition the other day and it made me think back to when I was living in Spain and Portugal.
Many things that characterised her year studying in Brighton rang true for my year in Lisbon particularly, where I knew just one English person with whom I actually spoke Portuguese. Whilst I have not had the experience that Céline does of living for such extended periods of time in another country I did find that I would have difficulty bringing to mind certain English phrases or words when asked. When I returned to England the first few weeks were splattered with moments when the only truly suitable phrase that would come to mind to describe something would be in Spanish or Portuguese.
Now I have the opposite problem. I am living back in England, after a year living in Spain, waiting to commence an MA in Translation and Interpreting, and trying my hardest to recuperate my Portuguese (unfortunately after a year in Spain my Portuguese has suffered), maintain and improve my Spanish, and also improve my English (as highlighted by Céline, the dangers of not keeping up with the evolution of your own language) and I have, by spending so much time concentrating on the development of my foreign language knowledge, inadvertently sometimes forgotten about my own).
I have also realised that my Portuguese sometimes pollutes my Spanish. I was translating an article for HEDON Boiling Point magazine about Natural Draft Gasifier Water Heaters, and asked a ex-translator colleague and friend of mine to proof read it for me (it was English to Spanish). He picked up on a couple of times where I had inserted Portuguese structures onto Spanish verbs.
I have various methods to try to combat these issues: I try to keep in contact with friends in various countries, make more here in London, read on-line newspapers whilst simultaneously making glossaries of new words and phrases, watch on-line news programmes, but is this enough?
I would like to think that there is some way to have it all, but I don’t think there is. I do believe that as time goes on, I will improve from experience, having read more, spent more times in all relevant countries, known more people, but it still seems like a daunting yet exciting task. I agree with Céline in that practice is paramount and would add that so is dedication and motivation. Here’s to the future!