So far we’ve gone through both early and late bilingualism, but we have yet to touch on the idea of language so powerful that it may cause the learner to actually forget their native language. This is what happens with subtractive bilingualism.
As one may guess, subtractive bilingualism means to subtract some part of a language from their vocabulary. On the other side of that is additive bilingualism which means to add a language. Additive language learners tend to have very balanced languages.
Losing a native language may seem impossible, but is a very real possibility if the language learner completely immerses themselves in the culture of the second language. That second language will become the dominant one in the learner’s brain, taking over out of necessity. This happens because the brain is able to quickly adapt to its surroundings by automatically doing the following: organizing, compiling and ridding itself of what isn’t needed. While it may not seem like it, it’s actually quite common to hear that learning a language when it’s needed is much easier to do otherwise.
According to A World of Languages blog for ESL, some ways to prevent a subtractive language, and gain more access to additive languages, are to read and watch what’s available online, chat and ensure there are connections in your language that you create or hold onto. Just like a learner of a new language, maintaining a language requires practice and desire.