In high school, about 15 years ago, I studied German for three years (my mother tongue is Dutch). The last eight year years I have studied and practiced Spanish and Catalan. And every time I try to talk German most words first come to me in Spanish or Catalan, and to remember the German words I really have to concentrate hard. This in fact already started the first year I studied Spanish. I heard that this happened to more people. My question are: Why does this happen? And: How can I fix this?

Note: I found these two related questions which focus on another aspect of learning another language:

  • What language was primarily used when learning each one? Did you learn each of them directly using Dutch (including learning materials)? – user3169 May 10 '16 at 16:45
  • German classes were in Dutch and partly German for as far I can remember. The Spanish classes were in Spanish. – agold May 10 '16 at 18:05

My native language is English but I speak mostly Swedish these days. I am much stronger in English than I am in Swedish. Sometimes when I speak English a Swedish word will randomly pop out of my mouth instead of the English equivalent. This is why I guess this happens. Take the word red, or röd as it is called in Swedish. In my brain somewhere I have an image of the color red with a connection to the audio for "red" and a connection to the audio for "röd". When I speak English I follow the English paths in my brain but when I think of the color red, there is a risk that I end up taking a wrong turn to "röd" if the connection to "röd" is much stronger. Why might it be stronger? Well if I have been speaking a lot of Swedish, then there is a risk that I havet used "red" for a while so the connection gets a little rusty - it begins to fade. Connections in the brain do get weaker over time if we do not refresh them. This is so that the brain can forget old things that we no longer need. For example, try remembering all the names of those you went to school with.

  • Yes, what you say does make sense that neuron connections fade with time. Do you have some references? – agold May 14 '16 at 19:35
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    @agold No, as I stated this is my guess as to what happens based on my own experiences. – Baz May 14 '16 at 20:16

Why does this happen? Apparently because your brain is processing the most recent language first.

What can you do about it? "Re study" your German so that it is your "most recently" studied language that your brain processes "first."

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