I was always jealous of schools that offered foreign languages to younger students. In my school, growing up, foreign language classes didn't begin until seventh grade. But I was well aware of the fact that supposedly, the younger you are, the easier it is to learn a new language. I always wondered why we weren't starting these classes in elementary school. Just because you're too young to make a choice between them? I don't know.
But anyway, apparently Use it or Lose it is NOT a correct statement to make about languages. And apparently, also, once a second language is learned and practiced (laid down a new map over our brain when you become bilingual), we don't shut it off.
I have always wanted to learn to master a new language. I've been fascinated by it for an excessively long time. Long enough to learn one-- but I never did. I took Spanish from seventh to tenth grade, but then I dropped it in favor of study halls (I know, shame on me!) and when I got to college and actually wanted to learn again, I chose Latin for the reasons already mentioned in this post. Though they were both romance languages, it fractured my language education.
The course I took in Latin was not excellent, and I learned very little. Of Spanish I had learned much more, but didn't use it at all and forgot most of it. But, if these articles are correct, it means that I haven't REALLY lost either language (as much as I had learned of them anyway) and that my brain is still using them while I read. What's fascinating about this, is that I've noticed it while I attempt to learn Icelandic, a language not at all related to either of my previous choices. As I learn, I'm constantly making comparisons to Latin, as far as structure and declension and conjugations go. I'm not doing it on purpose, but it's there in the back of my mind. Hovering. Comparing. Contrasting. Looking for similarities that I can file away to help me learn this new one. Or maybe that's just the way brains are supposed to work.
Anyway. When I was in middle school I used to talk to this guy from Germany over the magic of the interwebz. I was fascinated by how he had learned English and how he thought. What language did he think in? What language did he dream in? Or were things constantly being translated? Languages, I've always believed, are like cultural maps. We live inside our mother tongue, safe, knowing that everything we believe is reflected in the words we use. It's comfortable. But when you learn a new language, you learn new ideas. New truths. New beliefs. All of a sudden there are words that maybe don't have a direct equivalent. Words that have more than one meaning, maybe meanings that don't seem to go together to us. It teaches us a new way to think, and a new way to SEE the world around us.
I don't think it really matters what second or third language you learn, but man, I think we'd do ourselves a great favor if we at least tried to learn one!