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Poll: Can a non-native speaker have a better command of a given language than a native speaker?
Thread poster: ProZ.com Staff

ProZ.com Staff
Local time: 22:28
SITE STAFF
Nov 13

This forum topic is for the discussion of the poll question "Can a non-native speaker have a better command of a given language than a native speaker?".

This poll was originally submitted by Ilias Marios Kounas. View the poll results »



 

Teresa Borges
Portugal
Local time: 06:28
Member (2007)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Other Nov 13

It depends on what you mean: a better command of a given language than a native speaker for what? Speak? Write? Translate?

Marjolein Snippe
Xenia Solís Fuentes
Muriel Vasconcellos
 

diala al-ali
Local time: 08:28
Arabic to English
+ ...
It depends on, some people we can say yes others no Nov 13

It depends on, some people we can say yes others no according to many aspects as education, usage, experience, live aboard or one of their parent is foreigner, passion and understand every expression and know all new and update words and expression in the other country language.

Alice Crisan
 

Marjolein Snippe  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 07:28
Member (2012)
English to Dutch
+ ...
I voted no but Nov 13

I agree with Teresa. A non-native speaker may use the language more correctly, for example in terms of grammar, but this may sound awkward or unnatural. Does that mean they speak or write it better? Or is it actually worse? For translation purposes, I would say the text needs to read like it was written in the target language, so slight grammatical oddities that are common may be better than a grammatically flawless text that feels unnatural.

Kay Denney
Liena Vijupe
Noni Gilbert
Xenia Solís Fuentes
Carmen Lanzrein
 

Vera Schoen  Identity Verified
Sweden
Local time: 07:28
Member (2008)
German to Swedish
+ ...
Yes, of course! Nov 13

There are far too many native speakers with a very poor command of their own language.
Now, had the question been: "Can a non-native speaker have a better command of a given language than a native speaker with a good/excellent command of her/his language?", my answer would probably have been "no".


Zibow Retailleau
Valerie Scaletta
Rachel Waddington
cuinadelletres
Mario Freitas
Paola Dossan
Kay Denney
 

Guofei_LIN  Identity Verified
Australia
Local time: 16:28
Chinese
Yes and no Nov 13

The question is a bit vague and leaves a lot of room for people to give different and contradicting answers that can all be correct.

This is a topic that has interested me for many years and some years ago, I set a goal for myself to achieve a high standard in my command of English language that is comparable to that of a typical, well-educated native speaker. I'm still on this journey and although I'm not there yet, I still believe this is achievable. Is there anyone here who is ob
... See more
The question is a bit vague and leaves a lot of room for people to give different and contradicting answers that can all be correct.

This is a topic that has interested me for many years and some years ago, I set a goal for myself to achieve a high standard in my command of English language that is comparable to that of a typical, well-educated native speaker. I'm still on this journey and although I'm not there yet, I still believe this is achievable. Is there anyone here who is obsessed with this goal as I am?
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Henry Pijffers
 

Ilias Marios Kounas
Greece
Local time: 08:28
Member (Sep 2019)
English to Greek
+ ...
Reply to Teresa Nov 13

Dear Teresa,

This is why I added the options "Only in written language" and "Only in his/her field of expertise".

Best,
Marios


 

Mario Freitas  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 04:28
Member (2014)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Absolutely doublessly Nov 13

Anyone who dropped school in fifth grade will still be a "native" speaker of their native language, without a lot of kwonledge in their language, without acceptable writing skills, etc. The concept of "native" as a sort of level of proficiency above "fluent" is entirely wrong.
I work with English as my second language, and the number of terrible mistakes made by natives I have to deal with is amazing.
I think those who answered "no" have this very incorrect concept of "native" as a
... See more
Anyone who dropped school in fifth grade will still be a "native" speaker of their native language, without a lot of kwonledge in their language, without acceptable writing skills, etc. The concept of "native" as a sort of level of proficiency above "fluent" is entirely wrong.
I work with English as my second language, and the number of terrible mistakes made by natives I have to deal with is amazing.
I think those who answered "no" have this very incorrect concept of "native" as a level.

[Edited at 2019-11-13 11:06 GMT]
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Henry Pijffers
Liena Vijupe
Kaisa I
Tina Vonhof
MollyRose
Virginie Debourges-Marley
Xenia Solís Fuentes
 

Teresa Borges
Portugal
Local time: 06:28
Member (2007)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
@Marios Nov 13

Ilias Marios Kounas wrote:

Dear Teresa,

This is why I added the options "Only in written language" and "Only in his/her field of expertise".

Best,
Marios


So, if I understand you correctly what you meant was: Can a non-native translator have a better command of a given language than a native translator? My answer is: I don’t know as each case is different. Personally, I translate exclusively into Portuguese (my native) even though I speak and write French fluently after living in Brussels for 30 years, but I admit that the basic label of native or non-native is not enough to assess what really matters: translation competence.


Mario Freitas
Mónica Algazi
Laura Bissio CT
Muriel Vasconcellos
 

Ilias Marios Kounas
Greece
Local time: 08:28
Member (Sep 2019)
English to Greek
+ ...
@Teresa Nov 13

No, I was making reference to all language speakers. I added the "field of expertise" option because I thought that, for example, a Professor of Philosophy native in Spanish could still express better his ideas on the subject in a foreign language than someone who has no experience in the field, despite being a native in that language (for example, because the professor is familiar with the terminology or relevant literature). I added the "written language" option because in oral language, usual... See more
No, I was making reference to all language speakers. I added the "field of expertise" option because I thought that, for example, a Professor of Philosophy native in Spanish could still express better his ideas on the subject in a foreign language than someone who has no experience in the field, despite being a native in that language (for example, because the professor is familiar with the terminology or relevant literature). I added the "written language" option because in oral language, usually, a native speaker can be more fluent and idiomatic than non-native speakers regardless of their level of education. Character limitation did not allow me to add any more parameters to the question. However, I could have added a separate option specifically for translators.

[Edited at 2019-11-13 11:23 GMT]
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Kaisa I
Josephine Cassar
 

Katya Kesten
Russian Federation
Local time: 09:28
Russian to English
+ ...
Sure Nov 13

Sure, if the native speaker moved to another country before hitting puberty, and grew up speaking the local language outside the home...They would also eventually have a better grasp of their new country's culture than of the one they came from. Native speakers also tend to lose touch with the culture, and evolving language of their country of origin, when they move at a later age and live in their new country for ~10+ years, but I'm not sure their syntax ever quite reaches the level of native s... See more
Sure, if the native speaker moved to another country before hitting puberty, and grew up speaking the local language outside the home...They would also eventually have a better grasp of their new country's culture than of the one they came from. Native speakers also tend to lose touch with the culture, and evolving language of their country of origin, when they move at a later age and live in their new country for ~10+ years, but I'm not sure their syntax ever quite reaches the level of native speakers. Yes, natives also make mistakes, but there's a difference between their typical mistakes (especially in speech) that often even end up creeping into dictionaries and style guides, and the types of the mistakes non-natives make, which tend to reflect the syntax of their original language.

[Edited at 2019-11-13 12:20 GMT]
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Gareth Callagy
Ilias Marios Kounas
Xenia Solís Fuentes
Karen Wooddissee
 

Anne Maclennan  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:28
Member (2010)
German to English
+ ...
It depends on how you use the non-native language Nov 13

In my experience as a teacher of Modern Languages, those children in my classes, who were labelled “bilingual” where European languages were concerned usually spoke both languages fluently up to the point where their environment was dominated more by one language than the other. The first native language froze at a certain point, in terms of maturity, grammar, cultural knowledge and facility. At that point the language of the environment dominated, even for those who spoke one language in th... See more
In my experience as a teacher of Modern Languages, those children in my classes, who were labelled “bilingual” where European languages were concerned usually spoke both languages fluently up to the point where their environment was dominated more by one language than the other. The first native language froze at a certain point, in terms of maturity, grammar, cultural knowledge and facility. At that point the language of the environment dominated, even for those who spoke one language in the home and another outside, or who had parents, each a native speaker of one of the languages.

A German colleague living in England insisted that her son and daughter sat A-Levels in German to ensure that they had a good grounding in that native language, as well as in English.

When I trained as translator, way back in the Dark Ages, we were told quite categorically that it is unprofessional to translate out of your mother tongue.

I hear many complaints from French colleagues and friends, who translate EN>FR, that they are often confronted with “English” texts, written by a non-native, which are well-nigh impossible to render into good French, a fact that they have to try to explain to their customers.
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Iwona B. BA (Hons) MCIL
neilmac
Xenia Solís Fuentes
Kay Denney
Josephine Cassar
 

Peter Simon  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 07:28
Member (2013)
English to Hungarian
+ ...
In general Nov 13

some of you may be correct: native speakers with low education may be surpassed by second-language speakers of that language. However, I don't think understanding most varieties of that spoken language can only be attained over a life-time, and certain fields of expertise are still far away. But in the latter, even I can't understand everything in my native language, where a "foreigner" may be better - mostly, in writing.

This is thus a very complex question. I'd say if the question
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some of you may be correct: native speakers with low education may be surpassed by second-language speakers of that language. However, I don't think understanding most varieties of that spoken language can only be attained over a life-time, and certain fields of expertise are still far away. But in the latter, even I can't understand everything in my native language, where a "foreigner" may be better - mostly, in writing.

This is thus a very complex question. I'd say if the question referred to a certain category of speakers, translators, people with high, or low education, in that category an answer could be provided, but in this way our answers amount to very little. But I don't think a non-native can approach my understanding of my native language even if he/she lives in the country for a long time. Understanding dialects will always show a difference.
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Xenia Solís Fuentes
Josephine Cassar
 

neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 07:28
Spanish to English
+ ...
Other Nov 13

As has already been mentioned, being a native speaker doesn't immediately make you a luminary. I know several native speakers who can barely string a sentence together. However, having said that, I still prefer to work with a target language native speaker who is suitably competent and with the necessary qualifications.

When I was teaching EFL back in the day, I remember showing a native speaker friend a Cambridge first certificate level reading comprehension exercise, and he found
... See more
As has already been mentioned, being a native speaker doesn't immediately make you a luminary. I know several native speakers who can barely string a sentence together. However, having said that, I still prefer to work with a target language native speaker who is suitably competent and with the necessary qualifications.

When I was teaching EFL back in the day, I remember showing a native speaker friend a Cambridge first certificate level reading comprehension exercise, and he found it very difficult -in fact he couldn't answer most of the questions - and the first certificate is a pretty basic/intermediate exam for EFL students.
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Ilias Marios Kounas
Mario Freitas
Mónica Algazi
 

Daryo
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:28
Serbian to English
+ ...
Kicking the same hornets' nest again? Nov 13

With what aim exactly?

To rediscover that "nativeness" is a grossly oversimplistic criteria, that "being native" in itself is not a proof that the "native" will be able to do all and any translation better than a "non-native"?

[Edited at 2019-11-14 02:42 GMT]


 
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