Most of us learn a foreign language when we are young, but lack of practice makes us believe that we have forgotten it. However, a new study has shown that the "forgotten" language may be more deeply engraved in our minds.
The study suggests that exposing young children to foreign languages, even if they do not continue to speak them, can have a lasting impact on speech perception.
For the study, University of Bristol researchers Jeffrey Bowers, Sven L. Mattys, and Suzanne Gage recruited volunteers who were native English speakers but who had also learned either Hindi or Zulu as kids while living abroad.
The volunteers were asked to complete a background vocabulary test to see if they remembered any words from the neglected language.
They later trained the participants to differentiate between pairs of phonemes that started Hindi or Zulu words.
It showed that while volunteers showed no memory of the second language in the vocabulary test, they were able to quickly relearn and correctly identify phonemes that were spoken in the neglected language.
"Even if the language is forgotten (or feels this way) after many years of disuse, leftover traces of the early exposure can manifest themselves as an improved ability to relearn the language," said the authors.
The findings appear in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.