I'm very confused as to whether 'mother tongue' and 'first language' mean the same thing.

Considering the first three years of my life, I was surrounded by Hindi-speaking parents, so that makes Hindi my mother tongue, right? Then I began going to nursery/daycare at age 2½ or 3,and learnt letters for both Hindi and English, and that has been the case for most of my school life. I'm fluent at both and prefer either language on the basis of the situation I'm in.

If this adds anything - my inner monologue is mostly english, but I converse to actual people in hindi most of the time. I live in India, so speaking Hindi with people is obvious.

Does that mean I have two 'first languages'? Or the original language my parents spoke is my first language, and the rest second? I have to fill this info in a form and I've always thought English was my second language, but I'm confused now.


1 Answer 1


Generally speaking, there is a mother tongue and other languages.

You may not know your mother tongue completely fluently but it is the first language you learned.

However, you could call yourself bilingual since you seem to use both equally and that is borne out by your studies. However, to be bilingual your knowledge of both have to be at the same level.

I won't provide references for this as I consider myself a reference having grown up in a similar language environment and because I am a translator/interpreter. These terms are standard.

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