I've been doing personal research in Second Language Acquisition by reading a book on the subject (Understanding Second Language Acquisition -- by Lourdes Ortega) and I've become convinced that the L1 has a huge effect on the way an individual thinks and communicates.

However, as a very young child I first spoke Russian at a low level, and then spoke Hebrew from the age of about 5 until 10, where I soon after lost Hebrew and English became my native language.

I now speak English at a native level with no apparent accent and am maintaining an intermediate level of Russian and am re-learning my Hebrew from ground up.

Two questions arise in my mind:

  1. Is it possible that my thinking in general and communication in English is suffering because my L1 is still Hebrew, yet I lack the vocabulary to communicate?

  2. Has my L1 become English at an age as late as 10-11?

Now a question that can potentially be answered:

If I were to re-learn Hebrew, how would I be able to determine whether my L1 is indeed English or in fact Hebrew, or perhaps even a mix of the two (three if you include Russian)? Is there some sort of analysis I could perform on myself?

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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is not about Linguistics. Commented Jan 20, 2017 at 22:01
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    I understand where you're coming from as this has to do a lot with language Learning. But I doubt Language Learning SE will understand SLA theory or how to form an experiment relating to my situation. Commented Jan 20, 2017 at 22:06
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    While on-topic both here and at Language Learning, I think you're more likely to get more helpful answers at the other site, as this is very much a question of applying language theory.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Jan 21, 2017 at 1:56
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    Just a note: If a question is on topic here, then it doesn't matter whether it's on topic on other sites as well. Questions must be closed on this site only when the don't belong here, not when they might better belong elsewhere.
    – Alenanno
    Commented Jan 21, 2017 at 10:39
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    @curiousdannii Sure they can, but my point was that if it's ok here, why migrate it? The OP can ask another question on the other site, making sure it fits their guidelines, about the same topic.
    – Alenanno
    Commented Jan 21, 2017 at 14:07

2 Answers 2


You have to first determine how you are going to define "L1", which isn't a scientific term in linguistics. It sort of stands for "first language", in which case Russian is your L1. Though perhaps Hebrew is the first language you became fluent in, suggesting another definition. A third possibility is "dominant" ("number one", not first), so from what you say it it would be English. It can't be a mix, since "Hebrew and English" isn't a language, it's two languages. But again, since L1 isn't a defined technical term, you can define it however you want and maybe "Hebrew and English" could be an answer. If you want, you could adopt the definition promulgated by Wikipedia (for "first language"), but please bear in mind that that article is mostly unsubstantiated opinions, not backed up by studies of usage in technical articles.

On LLSE they might have an informed opinion of how the term "L1" is used in language learning journals.

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    L1 may not have a single accepted definition, but individual authors and frameworks do define it as a technical term.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Jan 21, 2017 at 1:58
  • Point is, unless he picks a definition, there is no answer to the question.
    – user6726
    Commented Jan 21, 2017 at 2:00
  • That's a fair point. Someone might be able to provide an overview of the half dozen most prominent definitions, but I'm not that someone.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Jan 21, 2017 at 2:01

How is "L1" used in these texts you're reading? Is it

  • a) about the influence of the L1 on the syntax and pronunciation of the L2?
  • b) is it just about the L2 label for a new adult learned language?
  • c) is it about cognitive development in children?

For a and c it is complex and you are a very special case. For b, it's just about difficulties in learning an additional language as an adult.

Yes, you may very well have more than one L1.

You state that you have no accent in English (most likely no accent because of when you started immersion, but have others confirmed that?). Do you have an no accent in Hebrew or Russian? Do you make grammar mistakes like natives in those? Then those are probably both L1's also. Whether you're labeled L1 for Hebrew or Russian or English just says what kind troubles you will have learning more of the language. If you're L1 then there's no accent, basic grammar is no problem, elementary vocab too, and you will learn more complicated grammar quickly. L2 you may never get a perfect accent, and native-like grammar (with mistakes like a native) will require lots of practice (but can be achieved).

  • I like your answer. I wish I could upvote it. I have a native accent in Hebrew but in English I seem to change my accent depending on who I speak with. I am more concerned with c), because I have a feeling that Hebrew is my "most cognitive" L1 and I am limiting myself by not being able to use it (due to forgotten vocabulary). Commented Jan 21, 2017 at 20:10
  • What language do you count in? What language do you swear in?
    – Mitch
    Commented Jan 21, 2017 at 20:16
  • Exclusively English for 1), almost exclusively English for 2) Commented Jan 21, 2017 at 20:17
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    Also, "I've become convinced that the L1 has a huge effect on the way an individual thinks and communicates" is essentially the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. By lots of experiments, a strong SWH (like in the Arrival movie) has been almost entirely discounted.
    – Mitch
    Commented Jan 21, 2017 at 20:23
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    Also by lots of experiments at very narrow linguistic phenomena, a very weak SWH holds (eg speakers of a language with no left/right/front/back but do have compass labels have extremely good sense of direction because they have to keep track of their orientation all the time to answer left/right style questions). But this weak SWH is very weak. Nonlinguistic culture accounts almost entirely for 'thought' differences.
    – Mitch
    Commented Jan 21, 2017 at 20:23

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