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Once and for all - what\'s the qualification \"native speaker\"?
Thread poster: Klaus Dorn
Klaus Dorn
Local time: 23:48
German to English
+ ...
Feb 11, 2003

Dear colleagues,



as far as I can see, this subject is an ongoing bone of contention on ProZ and maybe other forums. Personally, I would like some clarification whether there\'s a clear definition of what is a native speaker or whether this is down to someone\'s viewpoint. A few questions I want to ask in this context:



If someone is born in one country, emigrated and speaks the language of the second country better than his/her own, is he/she classed as a native speaker of the birth country or the country he/she emigrated to? I know, for example, an Iranian guy, who left Iran in the Seventies and now lives in Texas and speaks US-English perfectly. He\'s forgotten some Farsi though...



Likewise: a North American Indian, speaking his tribal language and a US-born descendant of Italian immigrants - is the native language of the USA English or is it the language of those that lived there before?



Similar cases apply to Australia, South Africa and many more countries. Is it important, which language the country defines as its \"official\" language today that determines native speakers?



For example - many job posters here on ProZ often ask for a native speaker - can someone who speaks the language as well as a native apply and is it correct for the job poster to reject/exclude someone who isn\'t born in that particular country?



Can someone be accepted as a native speaker of more than one language?



Why am I interested? Mainly because I work for two language schools (one in Italy, one in Turkey (besides translating) and I have to employ teachers. Btw. both of these schools never thought I\'m not English (which I\'m not indeed...).



Over to you...


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Juan Jacob  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 15:48
French to Spanish
+ ...
Yes: two "mother" lenguajes Feb 11, 2003

Dear collegue: I don\'t write in English, so please excuse me for my mistakes. I consider myself as \"bilingual\" and \"bicultural\": I was born in Belgium, french speaking, and my mother was Spanish. I learned both lenguajes at the same time, and lived in both countries too. So I consider muyself as a perfect bilingual person, and don\'t see any problem in that. But, I should say there\'s a difference between \"bilingual\" and \"bicultural\". I think, in my experience, that the first one depends on the second one. I modestly don\'t think that a person can be a perfect bilingual one if she\'s not bicultural, living several years in both countries.

Hope it helps.

Greetings.


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xxxcandan
Local time: 21:48
Turkish to English
+ ...
It doesnt matter Feb 11, 2003

I rather dont understand why to seek for a native speaker absolutely. The main problem is to get an accurate translation. If you could get a good quality translation, what else?

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Susanna & Christian Popescu GbR
Germany
Local time: 22:48
Romanian to German
+ ...
qualification *native speaker* Feb 11, 2003

We all know that being a native speaker is the key to status, job opportunities and higher pay in our branche. There were times when I entered heated debates on this topic. The last time I was implicated in such a discussion was, when I protested against the subscription form of Aquarius, which would allow only one mothertongue. I simply cannot refrain from keeping my mouth shut when it comes to it.

Native speakers of a language are persons who learned a language X when they were children. They think in this language. They use it naturally. It is their mothertongue.

Now, this would be a classical definition of what you would call a n. s. Please notice that I have left out elements related to “be an indigenous of/born in a specific country”.

The term native speaker is in my opinion unfortunate in a discussion of language, since the word \"native\", as its etymology suggests, implies birth into a specific community, or in a particular place, the two usually being regarded as identical. It seems a rather unilateral point of view, doesn’t it?



Relevant are the cases when being born in a particular place, let’s say X, does definitely not entail automatic membership of the X community and knowledge of the X language. See e. g. the Hungarians born in Romania and Slowakia, the Russians in Kazakhstan, the Spanish in the USA etc.). Language does not equal either of these (community and country).



\"Mother tongue\" (why not father tongue as well?) is used as a convenient reference for determining who is a native speaker of a particular language. It is usually considered to be the language a speaker spoke as a child with his parents, normally uses at home, or both. But what if one has been speaking German with his mother, Romanian with his father, was born and raised in Romania, but graduated a German school in Romania? – My case. I was often asked, why I always claim to have 2 mothertongues. I should consider myself to be a Romanian, as I was born there, as I have a Romanian surname etc. I have many friends who are bilingual and who use three (!) languages with their children. What shall these children consider themselves later, as they speak already all the three languages fluently?



I strongly believe that these terms are often used arbitrarily by those who were born and raised in a monolingual community. Many require “native speakers of…” for a job but only few know (or really want to know) its meaning. Something else - and personally I find it to be more competent - is using the expression \"native speaker competence\". It would at least sound less discriminatory and unilateral and it would stress more the ability, as this is what they are all expecting from us, aren’t they?



PS: As far as I can remember, Klaus, you translate from German. I recommend you the link: http://www.deutsche-sprachwelt.de/berichte/euro/esperanto01.shtml


[addsig]


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xxxLia Fail  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 22:48
Spanish to English
+ ...
linguistic competence is not translation competence Feb 11, 2003

To all intents and purposes, a native speaker is a reference to teh ability someone has to speak a language of a particular country etc to perfection, regardless of origins. So your Iranian friend is a native English speaker if this is the language he communicates best in.



For translation the request for a native speaker is for someone who can write the target language perfectly in terms not only of grammar, choice of lexis, punctuation, orthography but also stylistically (note that few \'natives\' are capable of this level of perfection!)



A link for an article on the subject for you below.



As to bilingualism, I find it hard to accept that a person can be native level in two or more languages, UNLESS they used BOTH languages with BOTH their parents equally, used BOTH at school and throughout their education equally, and developed all four skills (reading writing speaking listening) equally in both languages, and used both in exactly equal proportions throughout their lives. I believe that in at least one of the active skills (speaking and/or - especially - writing) they will reveal imperfections, deficiencies in vocabularly, grammar, etc.



As to tranalstion, people confuse the two concepts of LANGUAGE COMPETENCE and TRANSLATION COMPETENCE. They are very distinct notions. A child of 5 can be linguistically competent in two or more languages but will not be competent from a translation perspective.



http://neptune.spaceports.com/~words/native.html





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Marijke Singer  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 21:48
Dutch to English
+ ...
Being a native speaker Feb 12, 2003

I think Juan has a valid point.



I grew up in South America, where I went to British Schools from the age of 4 but at home we spoke Dutch. I have lived in Argentina, Uruguay, the Netherlands and, now, the UK. My husband, who is British (and speaks Dutch but no Spanish), calls me a chameleon. When I am in Spain/Uruguay I blend in, when I am in the Netherlands, I blend in, and when I am in the UK, I blend in. I have learnt to assimilate all the different cultures (as well as the languages) and act accordingly. I am trilingual (I dream in all three languages). I even have local accents that I can, to a certain extent, interchange. When I am in Manchester, I can put on a very broad Lancashire accent.



Having said this, British people do not seem to be able to accept this. I think it is because they generally find it difficult to really be fluent in another language. This is my personal experience and in no way should it be seen as an insult! It is merely an observation.



Klaus wrote:

For example - many job posters here on ProZ often ask for a native speaker - can someone who speaks the language as well as a native apply and is it correct for the job poster to reject/exclude someone who isn\'t born in that particular country?



I usually argue that a native speaker, as defined by the job posters you are referring to, does not necessarily have the background to do a translation from a grammatical viewpoint or a terminology viewpoint.







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Sara Freitas
France
Local time: 22:48
French to English
Another viewpoint Feb 12, 2003

I don\'t think that there are many absolutes when defining native speakers.



I once saw a study that analyzed linguistic errors in things like wh-questions, plural markers, pronunciation...



And the result was a correlation between the number of errors (errors meaning output not matching that of native speakers) in certain areas and the age at which the person began learning/using the target language in the study (English).



Also, as a former ESL and EFL teacher in the US and in bilingual schools overseas, there are many degrees and facets to bilingualism. There is the \"home\" language and the langauge used at school/work. Literacy and cultural literacy are also part of the mix.



There is no such thing as a bilingual person who has exactly the same skills and strengths in both languages (it just wouldn\'t be human!) and what makes a true bilingual is often a question of perception.



I agree with the previous posting that the question is sort of a moot point when talking about what it takes to produce an accurate translation, which is a different issue.
[addsig]


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Jeannie Graham  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 21:48
German to English
+ ...
more on the subject Feb 12, 2003

When I look for a so-called \"native speaker\" translator I always look at their background on their cv. For example someone born in a country and living there only until age 3 or 4 is not someone I personally classify as a \"native-speaker\" or can claim that due to the fact they were born there or their parents originate from there.



It is important to look at the country a person grew up in and went to school in as a child, as well as the language they have been using and living amongst as an adult.



Personally, I am not sure if someone emigrating to another country as an adult, no matter how long they live there can ever really be considered a \"native-speaker\", although they may be very proficient in that language.





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Anne Lee  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 21:48
Member (2003)
Dutch to English
+ ...
'Once Dutch, always Dutch'? Feb 12, 2003

You are so right, Marijke. I have just become a member of a British professional institute for translators, and they only want to put me on their website for translation into my mother tongue, Dutch, although I have lived in the UK for 23 years and consider myself more proficient in English. You\'ve hit the nail on the head, and it is very frustrating that they won\'t understand...



Quote:


On 2003-02-12 00:04, Marijke wrote:

I think Juan has a valid point.



I grew up in South America, where I went to British Schools from the age of 4 but at home we spoke Dutch. I have lived in Argentina, Uruguay, the Netherlands and, now, the UK. My husband, who is British (and speaks Dutch but no Spanish), calls me a chameleon. When I am in Spain/Uruguay I blend in, when I am in the Netherlands, I blend in, and when I am in the UK, I blend in. I have learnt to assimilate all the different cultures (as well as the languages) and act accordingly. I am trilingual (I dream in all three languages). I even have local accents that I can, to a certain extent, interchange. When I am in Manchester, I can put on a very broad Lancashire accent.



Having said this, British people do not seem to be able to accept this. I think it is because they generally find it difficult to really be fluent in another language. This is my personal experience and in no way should it be seen as an insult! It is merely an observation.



Klaus wrote:

For example - many job posters here on ProZ often ask for a native speaker - can someone who speaks the language as well as a native apply and is it correct for the job poster to reject/exclude someone who isn\'t born in that particular country?



I usually argue that a native speaker, as defined by the job posters you are referring to, does not necessarily have the background to do a translation from a grammatical viewpoint or a terminology viewpoint.









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Ouadoud  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:48
English to Arabic
+ ...
bilingual native speakers exist! Feb 12, 2003

Dear \"forumists\"!



you have very good examples of perfect bilinguists in countries that were colonised, like mine (Tunisia). We speak Arabic & French at home, in the streets, at school and so on.. After the first years of resistance against the idea of French beeing taught in the first years of School in the 60\'s (for evident identity & cultural reasons) our educational system adopted pedagogies that enhance & develop bilinguism.

Concerning expertise & translation (or interpretation) abilities, it\'s a question of personal investment & hard work.

I say that Arabic & French are my native languages but wouldn\'t say it for Italian or English (although I work with them).



Best regards!


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George Hopkins
Local time: 22:48
Swedish to English
Native speaker Feb 12, 2003

According to Collins: a person having a specified native language: eg, a native speaker of Cree.

As indicated earlier in this discussion, children brought up in the right environment can learn several different languages equally well, and thus have more than one \"specified native language\". There is no definite limit.

Learning a different language than your mother tongue after about the age of 11 will, with very few exceptions, leave some flaws. On the other hand, many people never become particularly competent even in their \"own\" language.

It is all very individual - I have lived in Sweden two-thirds of my life (am now retired) and speak the language fluently but do not consider myself qualified to translate from English into Swedish, but am fully occupied, and enjoy, translating from Swedish into English.

After reading a few lines, a well-educated \"native speaker\" will usually be able to detect whether a text has been written by a \"native\" or \"non-native\" writer.

But I suspect that there might be one or two exceptions.


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Parrot  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 22:48
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Bilingualism exists Feb 12, 2003

in which both languages can be \"native\". But in EVERY bilingual\'s case, one language will be dominant and another recessive.



In a typical mixing situation, the bilingual usually employs the dominant language as base grammar, and the recessive as vocabulary bank. By analogy, the relationship is like that between a skeleton and a skin.



Control over this factor is what is important, as it determines what we might call a first level of interference. (Interference may also come from second and third languages, but that depends on a person\'s \"configuration\" at any given time. And this configuration - already on the non-native level - is subject to change).



For your purposes, Klaus:



If someone is born in one country, emigrated and speaks the language of the second country better than his/her own, is he/she classed as a native speaker of the birth country or the country he/she emigrated to? I know, for example, an Iranian guy, who left Iran in the Seventies and now lives in Texas and speaks US-English perfectly. He\'s forgotten some Farsi though...

----------------

He would be a native speaker of US English, this being the language he thinks and - probably - reacts in. There are other examples of this type: persons who think in one language, feel in another and live in a third (like many people in India, or children of immigrant parents. Caution: no guarantee they\'ll be good translators or writers.)

------------------

Similar cases apply to Australia, South Africa and many more countries. Is it important, which language the country defines as its \"official\" language today that determines native speakers?

------------------

This can influence the language profile of the people who live there, but it is only one of the factors. Family is another. The medium of education has a particularly strong impact.

------------------

For example - many job posters here on ProZ often ask for a native speaker - can someone who speaks the language as well as a native apply and is it correct for the job poster to reject/exclude someone who isn\'t born in that particular country?

------------------

It is presumed that a native speaker for the target language will have better control over it. But it is difficult to generalize and say, for instance, that only French nationals are native French speakers (there are Canadians, Algerians, other Africans, Lebanese, etc.).



Hope it helps you.



Cecilia

[ This Message was edited by:on2003-02-12 22:30]


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kbamert  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:48
French to German
+ ...
alingualism Feb 15, 2003


Quote:
To be clear about the languages used by translators, I’ll refer to the translator’s native language as the A language and the non-native languages as the B or C languages.






Quote:
First, a born and bred bilingual often suffers from not truly knowing any language well enough to translate, with some even suffering from what is known as alingualism, a state in which a person does lacks a full, fluent command of any language.




source:

http://www.foreignword.com/Articles/Rogers/default.htm


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kbamert  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:48
French to German
+ ...
language of habitual use / dominant language Feb 15, 2003

Quote:
Mother-tongue Muttersprache

One’s native language. Often used as an indicator of a translator or interpreter’s ability to translate into a particular language. Because a person who has lived in another country for many years (perhaps from childhood) may be more fluent in their second language than they are in their first (i.e. their mother-tongue), the term “language of habitual use” or “dominant language” is often preferred..




...



Quote:
Native speaker competence muttersprachliche Kompetenz

Oral and written command of a language equivalent to that of a person who not only learned the language as a child and has continued to use it as his/her language of habitual use, but who also has had some language training.




source:

http://www.trans-k.co.uk/glossary.html#mothertongue


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Mike Morrell
Local time: 22:48
Dutch to English
Native speakers and translation Feb 17, 2003

There are a few points I\'d like to add to this discussion on native speakers in relation to translating:



Klaus: \"Personally, I would like some clarification whether there\'s a clear definition of what is a native speaker ...\"



Mike: I\'d be suprised if there was a definition that would also be useful in qualifying and selecting translators.



Juan: \"But, I should say there\'s a difference between \"bilingual\" and \"bicultural . . \".



Mike: You\'re right - and it\'s important to note that both language and culture change with time. After living in Holland for a few years, I discovered that my \"native english\" was starting to sound quite antiquated in the UK. Since then, I consciously try to keep my english up to date. The same also applies to culture.



Ailish: To all intents and purposes, a native speaker is a reference to the ability someone has to speak a language of a particular country etc to perfection, regardless of origins. So your Iranian friend is a native English speaker if this is the language he communicates best in.



Mike: As far as writing and translation go, I would disagree. It seems to me that the proof of the pudding is whether a native readership are aware that the target text has been written by anyone other than a professional native writer. If not, then the writer can justly claim (perhaps for particular domains and readership profiles) to have native-speaker writing proficiency.

It seems unfair that professional associations make no provision for this.



Parrot: Control over this factor is what is important, as it determines what we might call a first level of interference. (Interference may also come from second and third languages, but that depends on a person\'s \"configuration\" at any given time. And this configuration - already on the non-native level - is subject to change).



Mike: Yep, I recognize this one. Ever heard of a language called Dunglish? It\'s spoken - and particularly written - by many Dutch people who actually intended to speak - or write in - English. It\'s almost English but not quite, because of the Dutch language interference. Suprisingly, Dunglish is also spoken by many native English speakers who also speak a lot in Dutch. The same interference occurs.


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