When I was in school, I did Malay as a second language. I even did it all the way up to my 'A' levels, and passed - not a distinction, but a pass is a pass. I could converse quite easily with my Malay neighbours, and I must say, I was pretty pleased with my level of written and spoken Malay.
However, as all my children do Mandarin as a second language, I have more exposure to Mandarin now. I have learnt to read and write some basic Chinese. Sometimes I find that I can even use some of the Chinese proverbs that I have learnt in my everyday sentences.
But I seem to have lost some of the Malay I previously knew. The only time I get to use it nowadays is when we travel (to Malaysia), when I am buying food from a Malay stall, or sharing a secret with MIL. Even when sharing a secret - when wanting to say something in Malay, sometimes it comes out in Mandarin instead!! Looks like I am more wired into Mandarin nowadays!
There are times when I say something in Chinese, and wonder to myself what the Malay equivalent is? I tell myself that it cant be I never knew the word, coz if I can write a composition at 'A' levels and even answering those horribly difficult questions to the comprehension passages, I find it hard to believe that I didn't know the word - mind you, it could be quite a basic word.
My older daughter's school has made it compulsory for those learning Mandarin to do a basic course in Malay. She came back from class yesterday, and wanting to show off my knowledge, I asked her what she learnt. I tried to test her to see if she could remember what she was taught. She knew most of what they taught but she couldnt remember the word for behind. I kept telling her it was "hadapan", but she insisted it wasnt but "ber" something. I cracked my brains for quite awhile before I realised that the word was "Belakang!!". Imagine, if she depended on me, she would definitely fail her Malay!!
Language is something we have to use it, or we will lose it. How else could my mandarin improve so much!! I am glad my daughter is now learning Malay, as I am able to put to practice what I learnt eons ago, and hopefully, some of it will come back to me!
So better use it or lose it!!
P.S. - this applies to brains as well!!