I was born in Korea and so Korean was the first language I learned. However, I moved to the US when I was one years old, and after I entered the school system, I quickly learned English. Now, I am much more comfortable with English, and my Korean is somewhat lacking, although I can still speak it. What is my first language?

  • 2
    1 year old is pretty young... I'd call you a bilingual, meaning you have two first languages. From that you say you could probably be described as a 'sub-coordinate bilingual', i.e. one language dominates. Jan 3, 2016 at 21:39

1 Answer 1


The term "first language" was first used under the assumption that most people learn one dominant language during their childhood which remains their dominant language throughout their life, and that all subsequent "second" languages are learned to a less proficient level. So the term can cause some confusion when that assumption breaks down. I think in your case, it would be natural to call English your first language, because it was learned at a very young age, and it was learned to the "native" level.

You could call you Korean your "cradle language". It is the first language you heard, and the first one that you began to acquire, but it was superseded by English at a young age.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.