Difference between Mother Tongue and First Language

Key Difference: Here, mother tongue is basically considered to be the native language. This is the language that is spoken at home by the family, by the parents. The first language, on the other hand, may refer to the first language that the person learned. This could be that same as the native language and mother tongue, or it could be something different.

One may often be asked ‘what is your mother tongue’, or ‘what is your native language’, or alternately, ‘what is your first language’? Most people think that all of them mean the same thing, and in most common cases, they do. However, in certain cases, especially where someone speaks more than one language, the terms have different connotations that may mean different things.

As children grow up they pick up words, phrases, and eventually entire languages. These languages are typically the ones that are spoken at home. In the most basic situations, this language would be native language, their mother tongue, and their first language. 

However, some of these children would start to learn a different language when they start going to school. They may even become more proficient in this language, since it is their primary source of education, than the one they speak at home. Furthermore, as they grow up, they may even pick up and learn more languages, perhaps becoming bilingual, trilingual, or even multi-lingual. This is where there confusion between mother tongue and first language start to arise.

Here, mother tongue is basically considered to be the native language. This is the language that is spoken at home by the family, by the parents. It is also the language that is generally passed down through the generations, and is typically the language that is spoken by one’s ethnic group.

The first language, on the other hand, may refer to the first language that the person learned. This could be that same as the native language and mother tongue, or it could be something different. The term is also used in the context of primary language, i.e. it is the language that someone is most comfortable with. Some people define this as the language the person thinks in, i.e. the language that the thoughts are in the first language. Again, this could be the same as the native language and mother tongue, or it could be another language that the person has become proficient in.

It is possible for people who grow up bilingual or multilingual to have more than one native language or mother tongue. Alternately, depending on what they feel comfortable with they may associate one language as the mother tongue, one as native language, and perhaps another as first language.

For example: A child whose native language maybe German, as his family is German, but as his parents migrated to UK, his mother tongue maybe English. But, he may have shifted to France as a child, and hence is more proficient in French than in the other two languages. So, he may actually consider French as his first language.

Comparison between Mother Tongue and First Language

 

Mother Tongue

First Language

Definition (Oxford Dictionaries)

The language which a person has grown up speaking from early childhood.

A person's native language

Definition (Wiktionary)

The language one first learned; the language one grew up with; one's native language.

The language spoken by one’s ancestors.

The first language one is taught to speak; one's native language.

the language one feels most comfortable and capable with

Definition

The language of your mother, parents, and native group

The language that you learn to speak at home or are most comfortable with

Description

Passed gown from generations, language that parents and ancestors speak

Primary language, most proficient language, language most comfortable with

Reference: Oxford Dictionaries (Mother Tongue and First Language),
Wiktionary (Mother Tongue and First Language), Wikipedia
Image Courtesy: academiathink.com, christinamarita.com

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