I speak 4 languages, and I have the least exposure to my native language, since I have never lived in the region where it's spoken. My only exposure to it is speaking to my parents, and some TV. I grew up speaking 1 other language as an infant, and 2 more since Kindergarten. I'm quite fluent in these 3 languages, as I have a lot of exposure. (National language, regional language, and English)

Now, I speak my native language very fluently with my parents and a handful of other people. I can start speaking fast and effortlessly off the bat, like with the other 3 languages. But if any other person starts conversing with me in my native tongue, I'm caught off guard. I stammer, fumble a lot for the right words, don't get the pronunciation right, and take help of English a lot. It takes me anywhere between 2 days (if I'm in constant company of that person) and never to start speaking fluently like I do with my parents.

I feel like I'm selectively fluent, like selective mutism, although google doesn't have any results for it. Is this a thing? Is there a proper term for it?

P.S: This handful of people I mention have been around on and off since my childhood. They're uncles and aunts and cousins.

  • 1
    @bytebuster Except I am still fluent, but only with a handful of people, I wonder why that is!
    – insanity
    Jul 11, 2018 at 13:43
  • Your situation is similar to what mine used to be! Jul 11, 2018 at 15:03
  • @Wilson How did you get over it?
    – insanity
    Jul 12, 2018 at 10:42
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    @insanity In my case: practise practise practise, spending a lot of time outside my comfort zone. Moving to the country where my "uncomfortable" language was spoken ... Plus I had some confidence problems in those days which I am glad to say are past now. Jul 12, 2018 at 10:52

1 Answer 1


One of my MA instructors, Alex Ho-Cheung Leung, has researched this question with regard to phonology. He says that speakers of 'heritage languages' (e.g. spoken within the family but in the wider enviornment of a different language) may develop less robust phonology because they only hear a limited number of variants of each sound. That makes them less flexible when exposed to other variants. Seems similar to your case.

Edit: Leung, A. 'Input Multiplicity and the Robustness of Phonological Categories in Child L2 Phonology Acquisition'. http://doe.concordia.ca/copal/documents/28_Leung_Vol5.pdf

  • 1
    Some links and references would certainly improve this answer. Aug 24, 2019 at 10:17
  • 3
    I'd expect it to be the same in terms of vocab and perhaps even grammar.
    – curiousdannii
    Aug 24, 2019 at 10:34

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