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Oxford advanced dictionary: native speaker

a person who speaks a language as their first language and has not learned it as a foreign language

Collins dictionary: native speaker A native speaker of a language is someone who speaks that language as their first language rather than having learned it as a foreign language.


  • Could someone speak three language: Germany, Italian, and English, described as “a native speaker of three language”?

Consider someone whose father is American, mother is Italian, and he was born in Germany and raised there.

Would he be a native speaker of three languages?

He would Learn English from his father, Italian from his mother, and Germany from friends, school and street.

marked as duplicate by FumbleFingers, Michael Rybkin, ColleenV Jan 14 '18 at 18:18

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    Possible duplicate of What defines a native English Speaker? Also Am I a native speaker? (closed as a duplicate thereof). – FumbleFingers Jan 14 '18 at 17:12
  • - if your "trilingual" example was raised in Germany, he'd almost certainly be a native speaker of German (that being the language all his peer group would speak). He might or might not learn English and/or Italian from his parents to that level, but if they were his only exposure to those languages I think it's unlikely he'd pass for a native speaker to native monoglots of either. – FumbleFingers Jan 14 '18 at 17:18
  • The test is this: Would the person make a mistake in the language that those who speak no other language would make? That's the test of the native speaker. No other. And that includes educated and uneducated speakers, too. – Lambie Jan 14 '18 at 20:38
  • A dictionary is just a list of words with explanations of how people use them. The definition is not a specification but a description, more or less nuanced. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jan 15 '18 at 13:35
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Cambridge Dictionary - native speaker: "Someone who has spoken a particular language since they were a baby, rather than having learned it as a child or adult.".

Constant exposure to a particular language throughout your life, from various sources, is different than learning from a small number of sources later in life.

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The common tongue does not have the exact definitions of academic disciplines like mathematics or law. Words used outside such disciplines sometimes have fuzzy boundaries or meanings too complex to be fully captured in the brevity of a dictionary.

If you ask whether a "native speaker of X" is someone who has been speaking X frequently and and regularly since early childhood, people may agree that definition is correct. But that is not the complete definition of how the word is actually used. People mean in addition that a native speaker of X will be fluent and idiomatic in X and have an accent that is typical of some group for which X is the primary language. The dictionary definition may focus exclusively on biography, but the actual usage presumes a minimum level of linguistic ability in addition to biography.

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