What is mother tongue?
Mother tongue refers to the language that a speaker acquires in childhood through uncontrolled learning processes. Targeted teaching is not required for this. The child’s parents and other immediate caregivers make a significant contribution to language development. In linguistics today, the term first language is preferred.
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FAQ: More questions about mother tongue
Mother tongue is the language that a child learns in early childhood from their family and other caregivers and primarily uses.
Yes. When children grow up with two languages and have roughly equal command of them, they are called bilingual. The term comes from Latin and means “two languages”. Mostly, children of parents with different mother tongues grow up bilingual.
If the acquisition of a language is interrupted, for example because children move with their family to a new country, children can actually unlearn the language they grew up with. In adulthood, however, it is no longer possible to forget a fully acquired language.
The term mother tongue is derived from the Latin “lingua materna”. This is based on the idea that language is already shaped in the womb. After birth, language acquisition is mediated by close caregivers such as a mother, father or grandparents.
The terms mother tongue and first language are used synonymously. Strictly speaking, however, the first language a child learns is not necessarily the language of the mother. The term first language is more precise and means the language that a child learns first and intuitively.
The mother tongue is acquired in a private, social environment and not first learned at school.
Language level C2 is considered a native speaker level. At this level of competence, a person can effortlessly understand virtually everything they read or hear.
After puberty, certain brain regions that are important for learning a foreign language are mature in their development. They lose their plasticity and can then no longer process new information so flexibly. From then on, it becomes difficult to master a second language perfectly.