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Can someone be a native speaker of more than one language?
Thread poster: xxxSpring City
xxxSpring City  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:43
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May 27, 2007

This is, I suppose, a controversial subject. I am learning Irish Gaelic and looked for some translators here who might be able to provide audio files for the dialect I am learning, and was taken aback to see that (non-members) had listed themselves as native speakers of both Irish and English. On checking their CVs, they went to school in the English-speaking parts of Ireland... And from what I have read the Irish-language abilities of children in the Gaeltacht are not a patch on those of their grandparents. O'Rahilly, a famous scholar of Irish who wrote a book on Irish dialects in the 1930s, commented in that book on the compression of vocabulary that resulted from the decline of Irish, as native speakers of Irish tended not to have the full range of Irish vocabulary that was once normal.

I can believe that someone might have been a first-language speaker of Irish before he went to school, did all his schooling in English and is now 100% competent as a native speaker of English. But I cannot accept that that person's Irish will be of an equal standard to his English. Chatting in the home is not quite the same as full schooling in a language. Maybe I am talking about being an "educated native speaker". I know many people of Indian extraction in England who use Punjabi at home, but have told me that once they go to the Punjab, they realise they do not have the full range of native-speaker competency. They might be able to discuss who is to clean the dishes, but not discuss economics.

No - I do not believe anyone is a native speaker of 2 languages - not really, not on an equal basis. I could make an exception for a country where the schooling was genuinely 50-50 in 2 languages, and business, society and culture also operated in 2 languages, so that one was not relegated as a "home language" in a kind of lopsided diglossia.


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liz askew  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
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Native speakers... May 27, 2007

I've only got one thing to say,

How can somebody be a native speaker of two languages, unless they were born in two different countries at the same time?

Even if both parents speak two different languages, surely wherever the person is initially born influences whether they can classify himself/herself as a native speaker or not?

Also, I have noted on Proz that there are linguists who say they are native in more than one language, and yet if you examine his/her answers they often belie this stated fact, unless of course he/she comes up with a very good UK En or US En site...

I look forward to other people's comments.

I expect I'll be contradicted no-end, but perhaps we should all decide what we actually MEAN by "native speaker".


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Martin Wenzel
Germany
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English to German
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How do you define language competency? May 27, 2007

The mother of my friend's kids is from New Zealand, their father is German, the family currently lives in Morocco where they are learning the local Moroccan dialect (Derischa) from their mates...they are going to a French school where they are taught French (most likely by Moroccan teachers who don't even know how to use a subjunctive); they also study "classical" Arabic (Fossha) at school. [This was a typical long-winded German sentence, which native speakers wouldn't write, I am aware of that...]. When I speak with these kids in either of their (?) languages, I find that they make mistakes, but boy they are indeed polyglots...I would not be able to tell what their native language is...

In my opinion, language competency is based on how much time you devote to the respective language...

When I lived in London my German got worse daily even though I was working as a translator, but I did not speak German nor did I read any books, journals or newspapers in German.

The last thing I wanted to do at the end of the day was reading more in my own (?) language or spending more time in front of a computer...

I know that I will never reach near-native language competency of Arabic even if I spent the rest of my life in Morocco, but I am encouraged by my own progress because it seems that -- after over two years now-- I am getting the hang of it and am even able to decipher the messages written in Arabic in this forum...


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Juliana Starkman  Identity Verified
Israel
Local time: 05:43
Spanish to English
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What would you call it then May 27, 2007

if someone is raised in a fully bilingual, literate (meaning they are read to and then read extensively themselves) household, and are educated equally in both languages all the way through school?
I know many people (myself included) who were raised this way, and who would have a hard time choosing their native language. I have two small children who at the moment, would not be able to tell you whether Spanish or Hebrew is their native language, since they have always been equally exposed to both from birth, and dream and live equally in both.
I agree that it is different if you were not educated equally in both, but surely in that case it is a discrepancy in one's education, and not "nativeness"? I can think of any number of single language native speakers who can not hold a decent conversation on economics (read: the legal system, literature, politics, etc.), simply because their education did not include it, and their vocabulary does not include the key words and concepts.


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
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Made, not Born May 27, 2007

Being a native speaker of more than one language is something that has to be made. You are not merely born with it or gain it from your environment, you must strive for it actively in your entire experience.

Since the use of two languages is rarely well-balanced, such as the common situation where one language is used at home and another in school, then one must make up for such deficiencies with one's own efforts.

Being just an ordinary "bilingual" is one thing, but being a truly balanced bilingual is quite another. This is something we notice here on the U.S.-Mexico border, where many people are "bilingual" but the vast majority also have serious problems in one and often both languages.

What that boils down to is that out of a large "bilingual" population all we have is a handful of people who have true, balanced competency in both languages which is only accomplished though intense study, practice and observation, not only in school but on the street, in homes, by traveling, through the media and in all situations that can possibly exist.

There is no school better than life itself, and it must be experienced twice in its full range to become a native speaker of more than one language. But it can be done and it's also fun.

[Editado a las 2007-05-27 17:58]


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Kim Metzger  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 04:43
German to English
Definition of a native speaker May 27, 2007

Henry Hinds wrote:

Being a native speaker of more than one language is something that has to be made. You are not merely born with it or gain it from your environment, you must strive for it actively in your entire experience.



I don't agree, Henry. A native speaker is someone who's been exposed to the language from a very early age - usually from birth. It's not something acquired through study.

Dictionary of Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics

Native language: the language which a person acquires in early childhood because it is spoken in the family and/or it is the language of the country where he or she is living. The native language is often the first language a child acquires but there are exceptions. Children may, for instance, first acquire some knowledge of another language from a nurse or an older relative and only later on acquire a second one which they consider their native language. Sometimes, this term is used synonymously with FIRST LANGUAGE.

Native speaker: a person considered as a speaker of his or her native language. The intuition of a native speaker about the structure of his or her language is one basis for establishing or confirming the rules of the grammar. A native speaker is said to speak his or her native language "natively".

[Edited at 2007-05-27 18:27]


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xxxLia Fail  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 11:43
Spanish to English
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native ability for a minority (possibly near moribund) language .... May 27, 2007

David Webb wrote:

This is, I suppose, a controversial subject. I am learning Irish Gaelic and looked for some translators here who might be able to provide audio files for the dialect I am learning, and was taken aback to see that (non-members) had listed themselves as native speakers of both Irish and English. On checking their CVs, they went to school in the English-speaking parts of Ireland... And from what I have read the Irish-language abilities of children in the Gaeltacht are not a patch on those of their grandparents. ***********O'Rahilly, a famous scholar of Irish who wrote a book on Irish dialects in the 1930s, commented in that book on the compression of vocabulary that resulted from the decline of Irish, as native speakers of Irish tended not to have the full range of Irish vocabulary that was once normal.

I can believe that someone might have been a first-language speaker of Irish before he went to school, did all his schooling in English and is now 100% competent as a native speaker of English. But I cannot accept that that person's Irish will be of an equal standard to his English. **************Chatting in the home is not quite the same as full schooling in a language. Maybe I am talking about being an "educated native speaker". I know many people of Indian extraction in England who use Punjabi at home, but have told me that once they go to the Punjab, they realise they do not have the full range of native-speaker competency. They might be able to discuss who is to clean the dishes, but not discuss economics.

No - I do not believe anyone is a native speaker of 2 languages - not really, not on an equal basis. I could make an exception for a country where the schooling was genuinely 50-50 in 2 languages, and business, society and culture also operated in 2 languages, so that one was not relegated as a "home language" in a kind of lopsided diglossia.



... near moribund in the sense that the language is spoken by very few and in endangered ...

I agree with you - and Liz - about native ability.

In regard to your comments above (marked with ****):

1. There is no such thing as a monolingual Irish speaker, all Irish speakers also use English.

2. That probably explains why the richness of vocabulary has declined, as people live their lives in two different language environments, so their 24-hour days are "shared out" between two languages, and obviously, certain aspects of life will be lived in one and not the other language. This was not the case a few generations previously, when people possibly lived in an Irish-speaking environment all their lives and rarely left the gaeltacht, nor were they exposed to EN media.

3. Children in the gaeltachtaí ARE schooled through Irish, and can take their school-leaving exams in Irish.

So, finding a true monolingual "native" speaker of Irish is impossible, as they don't exist. To me it seems obvious that only a monolingual speaker of a language is likely to have full command of the richness of expression of a language.

I'm Irish and learned Irish for 14 years (up to age 18), but for lack of practice, I don't speak it anymore. I only actually lived and breathed it for 18 months (at a gaeltacht school). Note that, nowadays, lots of Irish children go to schools that teach through Irish.

I now live in Catalunya, and see plenty of evidence of theoretical bilingualism; but it's also quite clear that the native people of my mountain town rarely use Spanish ... so, are they bilingual after all?

I'm firmly of the opinion that, in most circumstances (with some exceptions) one should translate into the language one knows best, which is usually one's native language.

As for trying to obtain an audio file of a language like Irish, I think you need to look further than translators, which would in theory be fine for more common languages. With Irish you probably would need to ensure that the sample came form a speaker who was born and still lives in the gaeltacht.



[Edited at 2007-05-27 18:16]


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Patricia Lane  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 11:43
French to English
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Reformulating questions May 27, 2007

liz askew wrote:

I've only got one thing to say,

How can somebody be a native speaker of two languages, unless they were born in two different countries at the same time?

Even if both parents speak two different languages, surely wherever the person is initially born influences whether they can classify himself/herself as a native speaker or not?



When I read your questions (and their underlying assumptions), then surely I am from Mars.

Native French and English speaker, but born in Vietnam - and my Vietnamese is rusty as all get-out. Even if I spent the next 20 years there, I would never reach native proficiency and would never dare claim to have it.

Who else around here is really from Mars?

Patricia


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xxxSpring City  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:43
Chinese to English
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TOPIC STARTER
Yes, I am looking for a Gaeltacht speaker May 27, 2007

Thank you, Lia Fail for your comments. Actually, Irish government figures show that even in the Gaeltacht, a large number of children are leaving school **without any Irish**. About 20%. I think only about half of Gaeltacht children leave school with good Irish. But there are issues re: Gaeltacht boundaries were sometimes drawn including English speaking areas for political reasons. But I think it is true that Gaeltacht teachers - who get a bonus in their salary because they are presumed to teach in Irish - are often... teaching in English, and sometimes exclusively so.

I just thought that one of the Irish translators here just might be a native speaker and give an audio file. I contacted a Gaeltacht organization in Clear Island - supposedly Gaeltacht, but like a lot of Gaeltacht areas, only theoretically so - and they told me that the real native speakers are all old people now, and they would not want to provide audio files for a Yahoo group learning Irish!! I am learning Cork Irish - the Irish of Peadar O'Laoghaire - which complicates things. The latest census showed that there were only 54 children in the West Cork Gaeltacht who used Irish outside school... And so the pool of potential people is not large... I could use an audio file from a Munster speaker of genuine Munster Irish (not official standard Irish), but would have no use for a Galway/Donegal audio file. You see my problem, I expect!


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xxxSpring City  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:43
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TOPIC STARTER
Yes, I see the point re: native speakers are born May 27, 2007

By definition they are born. But in the modern world, with education systems and what-not, we expect native speakers to have been exposed to at least 11 years of literate education. We must all have much larger vocabularies than our farming ancestors. Some native speakers who are bilingual in 2 languages may not have that full literacy in one of their languages. But I see that as Viktoria said, it might be possible for it to happen, particularly if the parents make sure it does. I am sure, however, that many claims of native proficiency in more than 1 language on proz.com need to be investigated further!

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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 03:43
English to Spanish
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Sorry, Kim, but... May 27, 2007

Despite any opinions from learned sources to the contrary, I fully maintain what I have stated, but for you to understand you would need to have walked in my moccasins for a hell of a long time!

I might add that it appears that very few people have ever truly ventured to walk in such moccasins, and much less those who inhabit the ivory towers of academia.

I would never have been able to become a translator if I did not have a native knowledge of English, Spanish and Translating. Now that's three. All three require different wirings of the brain acquired through years of effort, and the wiring must be good.

All that takes a lot of work and a lot of miles, and that's why I say we are made, not born.


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myrcarromero
Local time: 02:43
English to Spanish
Bilinguals, a small community May 27, 2007

There are some cases, very few, but they are, of people born, raised and literated in bilingual even trilingual communities. Switzerland, Belgium, North European Countries, and in Spain, Catalonia, Galicia, Basque Country. They learn two or three languages since they born, and feel the same confidence in both languages. With Gaelic and the languages spoken in Ireland, Scotland, I know that the local governments are trying to do the same, but I am not aware of the results so far.

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xxxCMJ_Trans
Local time: 11:43
French to English
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today's world.... May 27, 2007

Things are changing. More and more people are getting together across cultures - people are moving from one country to another. There ARE people with dual parentage and two completely fluent languages but even they will, to a degree, be influenced by the dominant culture in which they essentially live.

People like myself, with a single nationality and a single language background will become culturally highly proficient and linguistically very competent in a language other than their birth language but there will always be that little something that will show we are not 100% bone fide. Having lived more than half my life in France, having been born 100% British in the UK, I am beginning to think that it is a lose-lose situation: however good my French and my French cultural references, I will always be less than mother tongue but, in the meantime, my UK knowlegde is fading, I'm not up-to-date with the latest jargon, I've missed whole chapters - not that I care.

So I have probably ended up being neither fish nor fowl rather than having two mother tongues. And those are not my only languages. I could take the reasoning further but I'll spare you....

[Edited at 2007-05-27 20:02]


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Vito Smolej
Germany
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Member (2004)
English to Slovenian
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my summary: looks like "native speaker" May 27, 2007

... as a category (and I apologize for the expression) sucks.

smo

PS: I am absolutely sure Noam Chomsky would agree;)


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xxxLia Fail  Identity Verified
Spain
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Spanish to English
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university, RTE? May 27, 2007

David Webb wrote:

Thank you, Lia Fail for your comments. Actually, Irish government figures show that even in the Gaeltacht, a large number of children are leaving school **without any Irish**. About 20%. I think only about half of Gaeltacht children leave school with good Irish. But there are issues re: Gaeltacht boundaries were sometimes drawn including English speaking areas for political reasons. But I think it is true that Gaeltacht teachers - who get a bonus in their salary because they are presumed to teach in Irish - are often... teaching in English, and sometimes exclusively so.

I just thought that one of the Irish translators here just might be a native speaker and give an audio file. I contacted a Gaeltacht organization in Clear Island - supposedly Gaeltacht, but like a lot of Gaeltacht areas, only theoretically so - and they told me that the real native speakers are all old people now, and they would not want to provide audio files for a Yahoo group learning Irish!! I am learning Cork Irish - the Irish of Peadar O'Laoghaire - which complicates things. The latest census showed that there were only 54 children in the West Cork Gaeltacht who used Irish outside school... And so the pool of potential people is not large... I could use an audio file from a Munster speaker of genuine Munster Irish (not official standard Irish), but would have no use for a Galway/Donegal audio file. You see my problem, I expect!


Even when I was in secondary school, the actual level of difficulty of the Irish language exams was reduced as also the entry standards for teacher training colleges (that is, training those who would teach Irish to primary school children) ...there's been a lot of lip service to the Irish language as an "official" language:-(

Thing is, what's "good" Irish: is it by the lowered standards of today or against the higher standards of 100 years ago?

As for children: the reality is that even despite a fairly modern Irish language TV channel, the influence of English (and its usefulness) cannot be avoided (denied). Incidentally, regional Irish accents (which were extremely distinctive, e.g. Cork, Kerry, Dublin, etc) are all disappearing fast - all kids now speak what they call mid-Atlantic, i.e. like the people on TV, a very standard Hiberno-English.

I imagine that the reason why kids from the gaeltachtaí are leaving with no Irish is becuase Irish is no longer compulsory, as it was when I went to school. They are not learning it bacause it's got no economic value, even though they probably speak it at home or with friends.

I'm not sure exactly what kind of audio files you need, but do you have to grab a granny in West Cork? Maybe you should contact Cork University or Radio Teilifis Eireann, as they will have archives from the past. RTE has an Irish language channel and the radio division should have lots of recordings that you could probably obtain as audio files.



[Edited at 2007-05-27 20:14]


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