Is learning a language like learning to ride a bike?
I read an interesting article by Monika Schmid in The Conversation: https://theconversation.com/modern-language-gcses-continue-to-fall-in-popularity-but-new-research-shows-language-knowledge-will- last-you-a-lifetime-187820. Her main conclusion is: ‘The knowledge you acquire in a foreign language appears to be astonishingly stable over long periods of time.’
I find that very recognizable. For example, I learned a little French in high school. After that I hardly did anything with it. Yet I can still read a French newspaper if I happen to be in France (speaking is another matter:) Almost half a century later!
As a translator, it often happens to me that words come to mind that I have no idea how I came up with. Words that I’ve never used to my knowledge, but that apparently lie dormant somewhere in me and are activated by similar words in Spanish or Catalan (the two languages from which I translate novels).
I’m curious how this is for others. Has your knowledge of languages that you have not used for a long time lingered? Do you also think, as Monika Schmid suggests, that learning a foreign language is more like learning to ride a bicycle, something you basically don’t forget once you get the hang of it, than learning math formulas by heart?
Btw, some interesting selling points for language trainers can be found in Monika Schmid’s article: learning a language is valuable in and of itself. Among the many benefits are better performance on general standardised tests and a boost to your wage.