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Poll: Do you have native fluency in your source language(s)?
Thread poster: Staff Staff
Local time: 01:25
Apr 10, 2010

This forum topic is for the discussion of the poll question "Do you have native fluency in your source language(s)?".

This poll was originally submitted by Michele Fauble. View the poll results »


Muriel Vasconcellos  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 01:25
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
I am skeptical of claims of "native fluency" Apr 10, 2010

True bi-/trilinguals are very rare. They do exist, but the phenomenon is not as common as some would think. And leakage from the mother tongue can show up in written translation more readily than speech--ordering of adjectives, choice of prepositions, mishandling of determiners... those are some of the lingering tell-tale signs.

There is also the case of fluency in several languages with no mother tongue.


Michele Fauble  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 02:25
Member (2006)
Norwegian to English
+ ...
Native or near-native fluency Apr 10, 2010

This is not at all the poll question I submitted. My question was:

Do you have native or near-native fluency in your source language(s)?

Yes, in one
Yes, in two
Yes, in three or more

My aim was to find out what percentage of translators felt that they had attained a very high level (native or near-native fluency) in their source language(s).

The question has been changed to essentially ask whether or not the translator is a native speaker of his/her source language(s).

Does it ever occur to staff that the person submitting a poll question might have given some thought to the form of the question and expressed it in just that way for a reason?


Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 09:25
Flemish to English
+ ...
Spoken or written? Apr 10, 2010

Spoken or written. Spoken :

Do they have polyglot clubs where you live? Put your fluency to the test and change from table to table. The club, I went to people who spoke the same language sat around a table with one native of that language. I changed from English to French to Dutch to Spanish to German talking about any subjects without many remarks of the native speaker. Only the German lady had to correct my "deklinationen".

Of course, if you mean with near native the level of English of the level of the BBC-world or the Economist, I have to say that I am still learning. Nobody know all the words in a given language. Language is a continous assimilation process even in your native tongue.
If you really want to test how good you are try some simultaneous interpreting and see how many words and equivalent expressions are lacking. Which is why I mostly ask for equivalent expressions in Kudoz.

If you mean written: I ask people who are natives to revise my translations into my near-native languages (French-English). Near-native because I grew up in Belgium and which languages are spoken in that country. Two know more than one. To translate in a language which is not your native tongue can be a continuous learning process.

If you mean if I am able to read and understand texts in English,French,German, Spanish and Dutch with the help of specialized dictionaries/specialists : It depends upon the subject. In math, I am a beginner, but the professor of maths is the "real pro". So if you get an offer for a math-translation, I'll accept it, if the prof. accepts to revise it.
Besides, in translation/interpreting there are always words and expressions, you do not know, native or near-native.

The level of your near-native depends on your daily surroundings. I am modest, so I think that in some languages I have reached level C1 of the COE, whereas other will pretend to have reached level C2 (level of LeMonde Diplomatique).

[Edited at 2010-04-10 09:53 GMT]


Mark Nathan  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:25
Member (2002)
French to English
+ ...
Interpretation Apr 10, 2010


Don't be surprised that your question was changed slightly - these sorts of issues are so open to interpretation that one person's understanding of what is relevant or "the issue" is very likely to be different from the next person's....
Your question assumes that "fluency" in a source language is a secondary requirement for translation. It also seems to be more relevant to translators who work in several pairs.
So this then raises the issue of whether translators who only work in one pair have a different "relationship" with their source language, or even a different approach to translation.
Another issue, that Muriel raised, is whether it is really possible to have native fluency (if you include the written and spoken language in "fluency") in several languages.
I wonder if, for example, you could work in three pairs and be very fluent in one of the source languages, but actually prefer translating one of the other pairs?


Aguas de Mar (X)
Totally agree with Muriel, and... Apr 10, 2010

... to get more or less uniform answers, I believe we would first have to define "native fluency", and for what purpose (I assume that, in these forums, it is for translating/interpreting, though).

I can "live", and "study" in English, French or Portuguese without a problem, but I would not dare start translating into any of them. Yes, I might be very good, but there will always be those little details that will reveal I am a non-native speaker.


Michaël Temmerman  Identity Verified
Costa Rica
Local time: 03:25
English to Dutch
+ ...
of course not Apr 10, 2010

My native language is Dutch, so that is my best language. As Muriel said, true bilingualism is extremely rare. It's not because you speak or write pretty well, that you can qualify as "native". I'm astonished that so many people here think they have that very rare gift of one in a million...
More than half of the people here say they have native command of at least one of their foreign languages. The gift wouldn't be so rare if so many people really had it.
I can understand that non-linguists say they speak five, six, seven or even eight languages fluently (and I really have to laugh when I hear such a thing), but there's really no excuse for people who had linguistic training...

[Edited at 2010-04-10 13:40 GMT]


Noni Gilbert  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:25
Spanish to English
+ ...
native, bilingual - devalued terms Apr 10, 2010

I try not to get worked up about this, but I often feel quite dictatorial and say that there should be legislation about the definition of these terms! Imagine the debate to reach those definitions...

The reason I get so worked up is a slightly different field - that of language teaching rather than directly that of translators, but I think it is relevant.

For many years I have been trying to find the right words to use in advertisements to describe the standard of language I need for the teachers I recruit for my English language school. You'd have thought "native-speaker level" would sift out the vast majority of candidates with insufficient linguistic knowledge, but you'd be amazed the amount of times I've had to curtail, politely, an initial telephone interview because as soon as candidates opened their mouths it was evident they were not up to standard.

The second area is what is known in Spain as "bilingual education". In my city the majority of the primary schools and several of the secondary schools (both state and government-funded private) are supposedly bilingual (English-Castillian). Why is it then that I have yet to meet a teacher from those centres with whom I could hold a normal conversation in English without having to make allowances?

My answer to the poll question? No, I don't have native fluency. It sometimes takes listeners a while to tumble to me (better if they can't see me, since I don't exactly look Spanish), and longer if I'm writing, but native level, no. Mind you, if there were a Spanish equivalent to Proficiency, I'd give myself an A! No need to be modesticon_smile.gif

And, to bring myself back directly to the topic, I know plenty of translators working from Spanish into English who don't have such a high productive level of Spanish as I do, but who are better translators for a variety of reasons.


Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 09:25
Flemish to English
+ ...
Here we go again. Apr 10, 2010

Why bother to discuss native or near-native?
It is like trying to discuss the basis of a fundamentalist religion.

[Edited at 2010-04-10 18:09 GMT]


Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:25
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
I voted yes, in some, meaning one. Apr 10, 2010

I have lived half my life in Denmark, where my main source language is spoken. I ´live´ in Danish and am functionally bilingual - so I would claim to have near-native fluency.

How correctly I speak and write the language is another matter. Occasionally I am over-correct, to the amusement of my friends and relations. At other times they correct me - only to use precisely the same ´wrong´ expression themselves later on.

I have taken university education in Danish and can compete with the natives in general. But not with native professional translators, and I do not translate into Danish.

Having said that, there are times when I think the native/non-native issue is allowed to overshadow other issues that are at least equally important. Native English from one part of the globe grates on the ears of natives from other parts. The same applies to a greater or lesser extent in any language, across the generation gap, between different groups of society or people from different regions.

It is far more important to adjust from job to job and situation to situation to make sure that the target group understands.

Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Caroll) wrote in English. Most of what he wrote for his students would probably have been incomprehensible to Alice Liddell, and the students might or might not have been amused if he had adopted the style of Alice in Wonderland for his lectures.

Very often when I am translating I do NOT actually write the kind of native English that first comes to mind. I edit out expressions and idioms that might be obscure for the target group. I have done this ever since I was a child in India. At school I spoke and usually wrote like my classmates. At home this was not approved of, so I spoke ´proper´ English. On the occasions when our parents visited the school, my brother and I were completely silent! We were caught between two varieties of English, both of them native by most definitions.

On other occasions I can pick up on Danish idioms that are never seen in the text books, and try to find English equivalents that fit the context of my translation. Or again, I may convert the Danish into something slightly more conventional before translating it - it all depends on context.

As for my other languages, I barely speak them at all! Like many Scandinavians, I read three languages (Norwegian and Swedish besides Danish) but only speak one.



Tatty  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:25
Spanish to English
+ ...
Native fluency Apr 10, 2010

Doesn't fluency refer primarily to the spoken language. To me, oral fluency implies that you can use a language to your advantage - she speaks fluently.

While written fluency, if taken in the context of a sentence, would seem to imply some awkwardness, that the person still has some way to go in order to reach a generally acceptable standard of writing - she has good written fluency.

What about the word "properly"? Can you speak your source languages properly, with the implication that you can write them half-decently as well.


Interlangue (X)
Local time: 10:25
English to French
+ ...
Was too quick... Apr 10, 2010 answering this poll: read fluency and oversaw native at first.
I am fluent in my "home language", the first one I ever spoke but which I do not consider my mother tongue (never really did, to my mother's great distress). My "home language" is the one we spoke at home, with my parents (it was theirs) and the family at large (my parents were the only "emigrants"). I never went to school in that language nor did I have any friends. Of course, I culturally belong to that language also but still, the language of the area where I grew up, that we used in school and with friends is the one "I feel". Others, I am just fluent in.


Andrea Riffo  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:25
English to Spanish
Other Apr 10, 2010

Hard to answer.

When speaking English, I dont stumble on words nor have the need to "translate" in my head before speaking up. I don't have the usual Latin American accent, either, and many English-speaking natives have assumed that I'm also a native speaker (I have an undefinable accent, so the British have assumed I'm American; the American have assumed I'm Australian; the Australian ... etc).

I can also argue (and quite heatedly at that!) in English without even blinking an eye nor the need to stop and think over my words to make the point clear. I can also understand what the other part is saying (and have even been told I have "selective hearingicon_razz.gif") in the heat of the moment.

BUT... I'm not sure that all of this amounts to having native fluency. I'm pretty sure that I still make mistakes that a true native speaker wouldn't make, however small, though in oral language these are more readily overlooked than in written media.

If the poll had been left as Michele intended, I would've answered "yes, I have native or near-native fluency"... as it is now, though, I choose "other".



Reed James
Local time: 06:25
Spanish to English
+ ...
The other part of what? Apr 11, 2010

ariffo wrote: I can also understand what the other part is saying (and have even been told I have "selective hearingicon_razz.gif") in the heat of the moment.


I just found a "non-native" mistake. The other part? Do you mean the "other party"?


Reed James
Local time: 06:25
Spanish to English
+ ...
Nobody know? Apr 11, 2010

Williamson wrote:

Nobody know all the words in a given language. Language is a continous assimilation process even in your native tongue.

In "native" English, "nobody" is third person singular. Therefore, it should be "nobody knows". Perhaps you just made a typo?

I am making these corrections to prove a point: it is nearly impossible to claim "native fluency". I would never make the "native fluency" claim myself. But I am sure your English is at the "really good" level, Andrea and Williamson.

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