Is mother tongue necessarily your best/native language?
Thread poster: snowyash

snowyash
United States
Local time: 12:02
English to Thai
+ ...
Sep 12, 2011

Hi, I was just wondering if this applies to everyone. From my experience it depends on what language you grow up using the most. What do you think?

 

wonita (X)
China
Local time: 16:02
Mother tongue Sep 12, 2011

snowyash wrote:

Hi, I was just wondering if this applies to everyone. From my experience it depends on what language you grow up using the most. What do you think?

My kids' mother tongue is German, not Chinese.


 

Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 03:02
Chinese to English
"Mother tongue" is a misleading phrase Sep 12, 2011

The language your parents speak isn't necessarily the most important point. Generally, translators are supposed to translate into their native languages. A native language is one you learned as a child (starting before about 5 years old), and probably the language in which you were educated.
The test is, if you went to a monolingual language community and talked to the people there, would they think you grew up there?
By this definition, it is possible that some people don't have a *native* language. If you grew up as an expat, and your acquisition of your parents' language isn't perfect, but your acquisition of the local language isn't perfect either, then you would struggle as a translator.


 

snowyash
United States
Local time: 12:02
English to Thai
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
age varies Sep 12, 2011

Phil Hand wrote:

The language your parents speak isn't necessarily the most important point. Generally, translators are supposed to translate into their native languages. A native language is one you learned as a child (starting before about 5 years old), and probably the language in which you were educated.
The test is, if you went to a monolingual language community and talked to the people there, would they think you grew up there?
By this definition, it is possible that some people don't have a *native* language. If you grew up as an expat, and your acquisition of your parents' language isn't perfect, but your acquisition of the local language isn't perfect either, then you would struggle as a translator.


Hmm.. I agree with you, except that I think you can acquire a native language at the age of 7 or more as well--taking myself as an example.


 

Signe Golly  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 21:02
Danish to English
+ ...
cut-off point for acquiring native speaker level Sep 12, 2011

snowyash wrote:

Phil Hand wrote:

The language your parents speak isn't necessarily the most important point. Generally, translators are supposed to translate into their native languages. A native language is one you learned as a child (starting before about 5 years old), and probably the language in which you were educated.
The test is, if you went to a monolingual language community and talked to the people there, would they think you grew up there?
By this definition, it is possible that some people don't have a *native* language. If you grew up as an expat, and your acquisition of your parents' language isn't perfect, but your acquisition of the local language isn't perfect either, then you would struggle as a translator.


Hmm.. I agree with you, except that I think you can acquire a native language at the age of 7 or more as well--taking myself as an example.


In my linguistics studies I've always heard that immersion prior to puberty is most important to acquiring native level language skills.
There are, of course, exceptions. I personally did not become immersed in the English language until the age of 16 when I spent a year as an exchange student, and I've encountered several renowned professors (native English speakers) in the fields of linguistics and second language acquisition who were quite stunned to learn that I am, in fact, not a "native" English speakericon_wink.gif


 

Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:02
Hebrew to English
That's the problem with the CPH... Sep 12, 2011

The Critical Period Hypothesis is a bit vague, and gets banded about a lot by people with only a basic understanding of linguistics. That's why you hear so many things of the sort:

You have to be under 10....
You have to be under 5.....
You have to be under 14....

It's a very murky hypothesis, whilst it clearly has some merit, I'm not sure there will ever be a specific age that you will be able to say "Ok, if you don't start learning ___ language by the time you are ____ you won't achieve native-like proficiency".

I think it's safe to say that the age would be 18-ish and below, with all things being relative, different aptitudes, ability, motivation, circumstances etc...

Language learning is a messy business and I don't think it can be so easily reduced to learning it by a certain age.


 

Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 13:02
English to Spanish
+ ...
Depends Sep 13, 2011

It all depends. Where I live on the US-Mexico border, many kids, including my own, first speak Spanish at home and then transition into English at school while continuing with Spanish at home and in the community. However, English gets all the academic support while Spanish gets none. What results is that we have a lot of unbalanced bilingual people who can hold their own in informal conversations in either language, but when things get heavy they are best in English because they were educated in that language.

There is no doubt that we could do much better in encouraging equal development in both languages, but try convincing the dunces who are in charge of our educational system.


 

kmtext
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:02
English
+ ...
Similar situation with Gaelic in Scotland Sep 13, 2011

Henry Hinds wrote:

It all depends. Where I live on the US-Mexico border, many kids, including my own, first speak Spanish at home and then transition into English at school while continuing with Spanish at home and in the community. However, English gets all the academic support while Spanish gets none. What results is that we have a lot of unbalanced bilingual people who can hold their own in informal conversations in either language, but when things get heavy they are best in English because they were educated in that language.

There is no doubt that we could do much better in encouraging equal development in both languages, but try convincing the dunces who are in charge of our educational system.


That's certainly how things were when I went to school, although my school did teach Gaelic and some classes were occasionally taught in Gaelic. My English teacher insisted on teaching through Gaelic because he said it made English grammar easier to explain, and made the distinctions between the usage of, for example, "there", "their" and "they're" much clearer, and I tend to agree with him.

I'm not sure that the mother tongue/native speaker label is strictly valid for people who've grown up in bilingual communities, because we're native speakers of both languages.

I was brought up speaking Gaelic at home, but was educated mainly through the medium of English, so I'd say my mother tongue is Gaelic, but I'm also a native speaker of English. There are subjects which I find easier to talk or write about in one language because I'm more familiar with the vocabulary in that language. For instance, I find it easier to discuss chemistry or physics in English (perhaps because all bar one of my science teachers were monoglot English speakers), but I can talk about history and geography quite happily in either language.


 


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