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Poll: Do you think it is possible to be native speaker in two languages?
Thread poster: ProZ.com Staff
ProZ.com Staff
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Jan 7

This forum topic is for the discussion of the poll question "Do you think it is possible to be native speaker in two langauges?".

This poll was originally submitted by RBailleux. View the poll results »



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EvaVer  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:22
Member (2012)
Czech to English
+ ...
Yes Jan 7

although there is always one place where you currently live and have current first-hand living experience of. But the same problem exists between native speakers of one language - a British native speaker of English has no such knowledge of the US, Australia...

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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 08:22
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Even more than two, but it doesn't necessarily lead to a skilled translator Jan 7

The case of a couple I knew:
HIM: Born in the USA, after college spent several years in Japan, learned to speak JP like a native, then moved to Brazil, where he learned to speak PT very well, having a very light nondescript accent. Learned FR too, having spent some years in Belgium. An entrepreneuring retailer while in Brazil.
HER: Born in Germany, as a young adult moved to France, where she mastered FR like a native. Spoke English fluently, learned PT when she moved to Brazil. A flight attendant in Germany, later airline offices manager in France.
All their three children, born and raised in Brazil, by the age of 6, spoke PT+EN+FR+DE like natives. AFAIK all live in the USA now.

A Brazilian friend of mine in college had married an Italian woman. Their 3-year old son, then, spoke PT with his father, IT with his mother, and never missed nor mixed. When he addressed both, he said the same thing twice, once in each language.

A friend's late uncle was born in Russia. In his teen years, he moved to Brazil, where he eventually graduated in Law. His hobbies were reading and listening to shortwave radio newscasts from countless countries. His home library, I saw it, resembled Professor Higgins', and he had read it all. He spoke about twelve languages fluently, in spite of some slight accent, and knew each language's grammar inside out. According to natives in each of these languages, he didn't speak like a native, but like an erudite scholar from their home country.


My take is that a polyglot is someone capable of expressing his/her own ideas in more than one language, while a translator is an individual skilled in faithfully and accurately conveying someone else's ideas in a language different from the one in which they were originally issued.


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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 06:22
Russian to English
+ ...
I chose "yes" but it should have been 'other" Jan 7

The concept of a native speaker is very vague--we would have to establish what is meant by a "native speaker" in this context. A native speaker is someone speaking a local language, any variety of it, naturally, sort of. They often do not have to know how to write well in the literary standard associated with that language, if the language happens to have one. Certainly, one language is always dominant, in my opinion, not necessarily someone's L1, the language they learned first. As to whether it is possible to speak several languages equally well--yes, certainly so, based on first hand experience, but one could only discuss more complex matters to the extent they studied them in that language. (sorry about the editing in stages, but my perfectly edited post froze, and then something was preventing editing of the new one) I am really sorry.








[Edited at 2017-01-07 10:18 GMT]


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Teresa Borges
Portugal
Local time: 11:22
Member (2007)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
I'm not sure! Jan 7

First of all, are we talking exclusively about translators or not? One of my brothers was a hotel manager all his long professional life (retired now). He left Portugal in his late teens to go study in the UK, married there and lived in Spain, South Africa, Egypt, Mexico and USA. He speaks, reads and writes English as a native, but his native language (European Portuguese) is now a beautiful “mezcla” of Spanish and Portuguese that I can’t even call “Portuñol” because of his strong English accent…

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Muriel Vasconcellos  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 03:22
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
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I'm not sure Jan 7

"Native" isn't the best term here because a person can grow up in a multilingual household and speak more than one language fluently. But "fluently" is far from full native command.

Personally, I have known many, many polyglots, but I never met anyone I would consider fully bilingual. On the other hand, I have met people I would consider a-lingual--i.e., without a true native language at all.

I've been considering this issue for at least 40 years (I have a Ph.D. in linguistics and taught translation in a university curriculum for 17 years). For a while I was in an organization that rated simultaneous interpreters (A=native, B=near-native, C=fluent) and I observed that interpreters with double-A ratings were able to meet high quality standards in the booth but still made occasional slip-ups in writing that betrayed them. Writing is the acid test of a person's command of the "idiom." By that standard, one could say that Vladimir Nabokov and Joseph Conrad were native in two languages--though I don't know what their spoken English was like. I would certainly say that a foreign accent disqualifies a person from being a native speaker, no matter how fluent they are or how beautiful their writing is.

So I stand firmly by my answer: I'm not sure.



[Edited at 2017-01-07 10:28 GMT]


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Agneta Pallinder  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:22
Member (2014)
Swedish to English
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Slightly off topic Jan 7

José Henrique Lamensdorf wrote:

My take is that a polyglot is someone capable of expressing his/her own ideas in more than one language, while a translator is an individual skilled in faithfully and accurately conveying someone else's ideas in a language different from the one in which they were originally issued.


Beautifully put, and very true.

I also think it is possible to be both a poly-(or bi-) glot and a translator, but you wear your different hats at different times.


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neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 12:22
Spanish to English
+ ...
Er.... sort of (PS: My LAN already has a gauge, thanks very much) Jan 7

Joking aside, I think I'd tend to say yes, but only on the condition that we just accept "native" to mean what the pollster/s obviously think it does, rather than getting into debates about how vague the term is (pax Lilian and Muriel).

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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 11:22
Member (2007)
English
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It's possible Jan 7

When kids grow up speaking a different language with each parent then they become bilingual in two native languages. But they need to have schooling in both languages otherwise they'll speak naturally and idiomatically but have problems with reading and writing. I coached a teenager in that situation: ostensibly as British as I am but didn't recognise the word "night" in a text . My own son is bilingual and French is probably his dominant language now at 30, but it isn't his native language as he was monolingual until 7.

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Chris S  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Member (2011)
Swedish to English
+ ...
No Jan 7

I've always loved spy novels but struggle to suspend my disbelief when they're being interrogated and still manage to pass as "natives". I mean, come on. All they had to do was ask something about pop culture when they were young. How many Russian spies could hum the Birdie Song?

You can speak or write a language fluently, and better than most natives, without being a native speaker. You cannot learn later or elsewhere all the things you learn growing up in a country in your native tongue. If you grow up in different countries and languages then you will have a diluted form of nativeness. Your familiarity with idioms and different registers and slang and accents as well as cultural references will also be impaired and make you non-native. You won't have the same feel for subtleties and nuances. You can learn a lot with time, but you will always be several steps behind the true native speaker.

That said, in most contexts it doesn't matter at all.


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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 06:22
Russian to English
+ ...
Accent is yet soemthing else. Jan 7

I have known many people, including some of my relatives, who have spoken Polish with a strong German accent, and who most likely would have been taken for speakers of another language (judging by accent alone, by the residents of other regions), yet many of them were monolingual--Polish-speaking. There are people who have a perfect command of the language, and top level writing skills, in terms of using the literary standard, yet they speak with a certain accent either out of preference or something else. There are many so called "native speakers" who do not write well in the literay standard, if the language happens to have one, the kind in which newsppers and academic works are written. Some people may have a pefect local accent without knowing the language well--its grammr or vocabulary, like my German, almost perfect accent, not very good grammar and limited vocabulary.

[Edited at 2017-01-07 12:05 GMT]


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Eduardo J Ramos  Identity Verified
Thailand
Local time: 17:22
Member (2015)
Portuguese to English
+ ...
It's definitely possible... Jan 7

Why?

Because I'm both European Portuguese and British English native. I did start to say "mãe" and "mum" at the same time. Then, later in school, I had both Portuguese and English teachers and, when I was a teenager, I used to read (and still do) Fernando Pessoa and James Joyce with the same voracious feeling...

Plus, I'm a translator, for over 20 years.
[I do speak more languages but I only translate into my native languages.]

So, that's the reason why I'm completely sure it's possible.
And I'm also absolutely sure that I'm not the only one...



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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 06:22
Russian to English
+ ...
Replying to Chris' Jan 7

You would be surprised, you would be surprised what people know versus don't know in big multicultural countries such as the US, among others. You could find many people who would not be able to sing the National Anthem now, not to mention and "birdies, " or knowing some elements of the so called pop culture. Plus, we are talking about translators, not spies. About native proficiency, not blood, ancestry and tradition. What about Norwegian--there are so many varieties of Norwegian. How can you tell a Swede speaking Norwegian from a Norwegian speaking some very local variety, spoken by 5,000, let's say?

[Edited at 2017-01-07 12:22 GMT]


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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 08:22
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Not sure we are talking about translators Jan 7

LilianNekipelov wrote:

You would be surprised, you would be surprised what people know versus don't know in big multicultural countries, as the US, among others. You could find many people who would not be able to sing the National Anthem now, not to mention and "birdies, " or knowing some elements of the so called pop culture. Plus, we are talking about translators, not spies. About native proficiency, not blood, ancestry and tradition.


Considering the truly native bilinguals/polyglots I know, few of them - if any - became translators.

The truth is that if they grew up speaking more than one language, it was a natural event in their life. Their brain encodes/decodes either language into/from (their own) thoughts, kept in "brain language".

Translation involves studying both source/target languages, and especially building bridges between them, so that a translator can deliberately encode someone else's thoughts into that "brain language" and decode them properly in the target language.

The mere personal use of different languages to communicate is an automatic brain process, which does not build such bridges.


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Reed James
Chile
Local time: 07:22
Member (2005)
Spanish to English


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I'm not sure Jan 7

There are some amazing people out there who do amazing things! I remember being at the Miami airport and hearing employees switch between Spanish and English effortlessly. I didn't hear any accent in either language.

I would tend to think that there is still a dominant native language. After all, we are all ruled by time, and in our developing years, we are going to be exposed more to a given language.

I think of this like keeping different objects in different pockets, each with a separate functions. I can't put them all in the same place because they won't fit, and sometimes I will have to leave some of them behind.

If you grew up in Lithuania but moved to the US to go to college, you have to put your childhood colloquial Lithuanian in one pocket and find another for your academic English: you can't have everyhing spread out on the table.


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