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I was born in the US and stayed for a little over 2 years, thus English and Spanish (my parents' native languages) are both my native languages. I've stayed in near constant contact with English and never lost the language even if I was raised for the rest of my life in a Spanish speaking country.

I'm currently looking for scholarship options abroad, and most will require me to take an English proficiency test as if learned as a second language (like the TOEFL or IELTS exams), which is not the case. I haven't been able to find any information on how scholarship language requirements work for native speakers and even then, I'm not sure how I could prove that it is, indeed, one of my native languages.

Is there any certificate that I could get to prove that I'm a native speaker? Or would I have to take one of these exams despite that anyway? I'm aware my situation is uncommon so I don't know if any information is available; either way I appreciate any kind of advice or info anybody has on this.

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    Is there any reason you don't want to take the exam?
    – Buffy
    May 28 at 19:48
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    Language includes reading and writing as well. Was your education done in English or Spanish? Being verbally fluent has little bearing on producing appropriate writings (essays, term papers, etc.).
    – Jon Custer
    May 28 at 23:05
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    @Buffy the exam costs money to take and effort to get there if you are not close to a test centrum. I can certainly see reasons to not take it.
    – marts
    May 29 at 7:17
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    @Buffy I had that exact situation when I came study in the US. The reason I refused to take the TOEFL exam was the racism I was seeing. I was black and the whites students in similar situations to mine were given waivers. I finally convinced them that all the fights I had with them were much harder than the test they wanted me to take, and they had absolutely no problem understanding me.
    – John Smith
    May 29 at 12:09
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    @PatrickT Very little of being born someplace assures proficiency in the language of the place. Particularly for someone who spent only two years there, with parents who spoke a different language, and then left. Certainly a university can choose whatever criteria they want, but that particular one doesn't seem that meaningful.
    – Bryan Krause
    May 29 at 15:50

6 Answers 6

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Is there any certificate that I could get to prove that I'm a native speaker?

  • That is exactly what the TOEFL and IELTS people give you after you take the test. (keep in mind most native speakers will not get the top score)
  • Usually a transcript from an English-language high school or university is sufficient.

Nobody cares what your native language is. They want to know your current language ability. Plenty of native English speakers do not have sufficient skills to succeed in a university. People from English-speaking countries are evaluated with transcript instead of a standardized test.

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    A transcript from an English-language high school is definitely NOT enough. I studied in a British school my whole life and I still need to take an IELTS (before my undergrad, now while I'm applying for a masters). I do not recall any university in Europe/Canada that waives the IELTS/TOEFL requirement unless you are from an English speaking country. May 29 at 9:32
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    @AyamGorengPedes that depends. I have a different experience. UBC, a major university in Canada didn't require a TOEFL because I had completed an English-taught bachelor's in the Netherlands (a country where English is not an official language). If I recall correctly, Texas A&M waived the TOEFL too. If you can't afford the TOEFL, it's definitely worth asking the respective admissions departments directly what their policy is.
    – Joooeey
    May 29 at 11:56
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    To the above comments, each university/department has their only policy, which is usually stated on its website.
    – Kimball
    May 29 at 13:17
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    @Sixtyfive A five-year old is also a native speaker. Some aspects of C2, as far as language exams are concerned, correspond to the level of an educated adult native speaker in specific contexts (and in other aspects the requirement is below the level of a native speaker) as most learners study a language for academic and professional purposes (and mostly only these purposes require a language certification).
    – xngtng
    May 30 at 9:27
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    Additionally, standardized exams unfortunately can and often must be learnt explicitly. I know native English speakers who "fail" IELTS because they did not understand the marking rubrics for the speaking portion. They of course speak English perfectly well but they were not saying the things the examiners are (required to be) looking for.
    – xngtng
    May 30 at 9:27
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The simplest course is just to take one of those exams, though, yes, there is some expense of time and money.

Colleges/universities do not want to spend time on customized treatments. What's their motivation? They're not being hostile, it's more like they simply don't have anyone whose job would be to appraise non-standard certification of sufficient English fluency.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, in some cases self-confidence in fluency is more a personality test than a certification of fluency. :) Rather than getting embroiled in such stuff, there are many motivations to just go the standard route(s).

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At my institution (CUNY in New York, USA), the criteria for identifying "native language" (and hence exemption from TOEFL testing requirements) is basically that you hold a high school diploma from an English-language speaking country. The web page for undergraduate admissions says this (note different schools even in the same system have varying cutoff requirements):

Applicants on a temporary visa who were educated in a non-English environment are asked to submit results from TOEFL, IELTS, PTE or Duolingo. This is one of several academic components evaluated during admission review.

Similar language is given for graduate admissions:

Please note that if you are an international student who completed a bachelor’s degree program in the U.S. or an English Speaking country like the U.K or Australia (India, Bangladesh and Pakistani students are still required to take the TOEFL exam) then you are exempted from the TOEFL exam.

See here for a specific list of country-by-country requirements for the undergraduate program. Perhaps the universities you're applying to will likewise have their own specific definitions for this requirement.

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  • one important note -- doesn't that say "bachelor's" rather than high school?
    – Mike M
    May 29 at 11:38
  • @MikeM -- Good point, I took one slice from the undergraduate admissions page, and one from graduate. Trying to clarify now. May 29 at 13:04
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    Duolingo, really?? May 30 at 8:57
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    @FerventHippo Duolingo offers a proctored online language test that has been relatively widely recognized especially after the early stages of the pandemic where traditional options were not available. You can't certify your level with XPs.
    – xngtng
    May 30 at 9:18
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I would guess that the easiest way is just to take the test and provide your scores when asked. The advantage is that it is the expected and "normal" thing for those applying from a country with a language other than English as the dominant one.

Alternatives would probably require tailoring a request for each institution that you apply to and they may not have an obvious process for dealing with it. Phone calls, pointing to published work, and some other things might suffice, but each case would require some work on everyone's part, where supplying a test score is standardized.

I assume you wouldn't have any problems getting a high score on any of the tests. Costs a bit of money and time, but only once.

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    "but only once". I seem to remember that some certifications (TOEIC?) expire after a few years. May 29 at 20:57
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    @EricDuminil both TOEFL and IELTS expire after two years.
    – fqq
    May 29 at 23:20
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Requirements vary by jurisdiction and school, but they are usually abundantly clear. For example, see the requirements to obtain a UK Student Visa, in which you must have an approved SELT certification (such as an IELTS certificate) unless you are from one of 18 English-speaking countries or obtained UK "high school" qualifications (GCSEs, typically taken at age 15–16; or A Levels, typically taken at age 16–18) when you were under the age of 18 (e.g. someone from India moving to a UK school at age 16 and obtaining A Levels).

Notably, the last point implies that people born as UK nationals but who did not obtain GCSEs or A Levels, renounced/overrode their UK citizenship to one other than the specified 18 countries, and subsequently returned to the UK to study, are required to demonstrate knowledge of English, even though they theoretically may have lived in the UK and spoke solely English for decades before changing their citizenship. That may very well seem unreasonable or just plain annoying for such people, but those are the requirements, and you have to meet them.

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    You could also be a permanent resident of Canada who landed in Canada at the age of 3 months and grew up in an anglophone province and finished all previous studies in English and still be required to prove your English level.
    – xngtng
    May 30 at 17:32
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I am from India and know many people who have done all their education in English - kindergarten/preschool to Graduate (say 17-18 years) and whose English is pathetic. Largely this is due to the fact that these people think and converse in their native language (we have many) and dialect (many for each language), with English used only for academics.

So, it does make sense for universities to insist on an English language test. I do not think you will be able to avoid taking this test.

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    This may be a good answer to why universities have such policies, but does not seem to answer the question asked.
    – GoodDeeds
    May 31 at 18:01
  • Agree -- the question was "can I avoid taking the test," so I added a sentence that answers the question ("no"). But, this answer would be stronger if you provided more detail on this last part -- for example, did these students in India have to take the test, or was a work around available?
    – cag51
    May 31 at 18:43
  • No workaround is available - I do not know of any country that admits students from India without a language test. I am a 'native' English speaker (in the sense that I think, converse, read and write English 99% of the time) and even for a Masters in the US I had to take the test. I was the first to leave the proctored test center which had about 300 people taking the test, and I found it easy. Did not prepare even for a minute - so as others have stated, for 'true' English speakers these tests are a cake walk. Jun 1 at 7:40

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