Misconceptions on Language and Location

Misconceptions on Language and Location ~ Original image from Unsplash.com

Are you a native English speaker?

Yes, I am!

Great! Where are you from?

Seoul, South Korea!

But you’re a native English speaker?

Yes, I am. I went to a US school on the US military base! I am a US citizen.

But you haven’t lived in the United States, Great Britain, South Africa, Canada, or Australia?

I lived in the US for one year as a baby.

Then you’re not a native English speaker.

This is a prejudice I’ve encountered many time. The most recent incident occurred when I applied to be a private tutor for someone, and once they found out I hadn’t lived in one of the so-called native English countries, they stopped contacting me. This is truly frustrating because location shouldn’t determine someone’s language skills! I lived in Seoul practically all my life, but I still attended a US school, where all my curriculum was done in English and I interacted with US citizens. I read English books, watch English films, play English video games, use English operating systems, and browse English websites. Almost everything I do is in English. It is my first language, my native tongue, and while I can speak, read, and write Korean, English is really my stronger language.

But a lot of Koreans here who want private tutors and English teachers do not see that. Even if I were to tell them everything about my English lifestyle, they just see the fact that I haven’t lived outside of Korea. To them, location is very important. Yes, I am aware that people tend to be native speakers of the country they live in, but that’s not always going to be the case. Granted, I am an unusual case, but my location should not determine my language. It should never determine anyone’s language skills. In fact, if location is really important for a language skills, I should be a native Korean speaker, to which I’m not. Korean is my secondary language, and it will always be that, secondary. I am a native English speaker who grew up and live in Korea, and I am as native as I can be with English!

What do you think? Do you think a native speaker of a language has to live where the language is spoken primarily? Have you ever been in my kind of situation?


  1. I don’t think it should matter what countries you’ve lived in. I actually don’t think it should matter whether English is your first language or not either =/ I feel like the important thing is that you’re fluent and are able to teach the language. The funny thing is that you’re more capable of teaching English than many people who actually live in US. I mean, just look at how terrible some people are at spelling and grammar!

    I personally haven’t been in a situation like that, though there are the awkward moments where people think I’m from China, even though I don’t speak with an accent, and my Chinese is terrible. English is the only language I’m truly fluent in.

    • Unfortunately, many people here don’t care whether you’re fluent or not. They want a native English speaker from an English-speaking country. They have it in their mindset that people who aren’t native and whatnot are not going to be able to be good teachers of the language. ~_~; Truly frustrating!

  2. It doesn’t matter where you have lived, I think it matters more what education you have had. A lot of Asian countries are now very developed and provide the right education to teach students English from a very young age. It was wrong of that person to simply ‘judge’ you in that way, and I don’t think people should be assuming these kinds of things. Some people learn a language simply for the purpose of teaching, even if they were not born in a country that primarily speaks that language. I have to admit that it is a little ignorant.

    • Spot on about how some people learn a language to teach it, despite never living in the country that primarily speaks it! But nope . . . some people here do not see it like that because they believe native speakers know the proper pronunciation, all the slang and lingo, and proper spelling and grammar.

  3. I would have to agree with most of the comments on your post. It doesn’t matter if you’re living on the other side of the world. As long as you can speak and write on that language properly, there shouldn’t be any issue on that! Hehe! :)

    • I agree, but many people here do not see it that way. I guess it seems more “prestige” to have a tutor/teacher that’s a real native speaker, as someone pointed out to me.

  4. That’s frustrating, if anything you’re more qualified because you can speak both languages fluently and make it easier for their kids to learn.

    • It is very frustrating :( And honestly, it’s been something I never really quite understood since I first encountered these mindset!

  5. I don’t think that you need to live in a place to be considered a native speaker. I understand where you’re coming from, in a sense. My parents have lived in the United States for most of their lives now. I wouldn’t think that they weren’t native speakers of Filipino (Tagalog and Ilocano) just because they haven’t lived in Philippines for some-odd decades.

    Also, language for me is social/cultural, something that is a culmination of our environments. My cousins have grown up in international schools abroad, and they have just as much of a grasp of the English language (even slang!) as any of my family or friends that were brought up here in the states. It’s not about what country you’ve lived in at all.

    • Yeap, it’s definitely not about what country you’ve lived in. A lot of people even forget that there are international schools all over the world, and then they wonder how someone who lived in XX but never YY can speak YY so well. I know some Koreans feel that Koreans who never learned English and lived in English-speaking countries may have strong Korean accent, and they don’t want their kids/students to pick up that accent, but that shouldn’t bar people from teaching a language!

  6. Who cares what country you lived in? If you can speak, eat, breathe, live in English then what’s the harm? Have to agree with the rest of the comments – you’re probably more qualified to teach English than me and I live in the UK. My English is atrocious, bahaha.

    • LOL. I’m sure your English isn’t atrocious XD It seems perfectly fine to me! :3 And yes, who cares what country, right? Please share that mindset with everyone you meet, haha!

  7. I think it’s a bit silly. Not fitting stereotypes for a native English speaker definitely makes finding work difficult. The discrimination is two-fold probably. 1) It’s more prestigious to have a teacher from abroad, which is just … obnoxious and racist. 2) It’s hard for people to evaluate others’ credentials. If I were trying to learn Korean in the States, I’d probably be suspicious of someone who claimed fluent/native Korean status without having ever really lived or studied there. BUT I wouldn’t just cut off contact with them. Once they explained their circumstances, it’d be fine.

    • Exactly. If you told me you lived in Korea all your life, but your first language is English, went to Seoul Foreign School, and worked on a military base or something, I’d totally accept the fact that you’re a native English speaker despite having never lived in the states. This is definitely a form of discrimination, and it’s just really annoying and stupid. X_X

  8. Michelle on

    I too, find it silly that if you don’t live in the States or any English speaking country, that you automatically can’t be a native speaker. I’m just flabbergasted that you were treated that way just because you lived somewhere else your whole life but know two languages. Usually that’s an asset and sadly, they should be awed by you, not stereotyping and discriminating.

    As long as you know the language fluently and can rock it, that should only matter, because honestly, why should it matter where you lived/live?

    • Yeah, usually knowing two languages are an asset, but that’s not always the case, haha! Oh well. Their loss, really XD; It really doesn’t matter where anyone lives as long as they can show they are capable of teaching a language they know!

  9. I don’t see why you should have to have lived in a country to have to be fluent in that language, it really doesn’t make any logical sense to me. If they took the time to understand they could have realised instead of making assumptions. Hopefully if you have the chance to apply as a tutor again, that the person will take notice. :/

    • It doesn’t make any logical sense to me. People just believe that native speaker requires you to have lived in that country. I am not sure if I will try this tutoring thing, but if I do get an opportunity in the future, I’ll try again — hopefully with someone not so prejudiced and someone more understanding.

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