a question about native languages in profile
Thread poster: Galina Labinko Rodriguez

Galina Labinko Rodriguez  Identity Verified
Local time: 04:26
Spanish to Russian
+ ...
Oct 24, 2003

When talking about declaring more than one native language, what criteria is applied to consider the second language as native? For instance, my native native native language is Russian. However, I've been living out of Russia for 17 years. My everyday language is Spanish, which I use to communicate with my husband and my kids. I feel that my Spanish is more fluent than my Russian at this point. I would call myself as a bilingual speaker. Should I enter Spanish as my second native language or not?

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Gayle Wallimann  Identity Verified
Local time: 05:26
Member (2001)
French to English
+ ...
I'm in the same situation Oct 24, 2003

Hi Galina,
I am in the same situation as you. I was born in the US, spoke only English (except in school) until I married a French citizen and moved to France almost 30 years ago. So I have spoken French for more than half of my life now. (OK, so I'm older than a lot of you...! ) I feel more fluent in French, and I am definitely bi-lingual, bi-cultural, however, I still consider English as my native tongue. That's because there are such fine little nuances that we learn as a child from our parents, fine little differences in understanding expressions and humor, that we may have learned along our way in our second language, but it still can't replace the "gut" , almost physical, emotional feelings that we have about a language and the way we can translate that into our second language. When I joined proz I first wanted to put that French was my mother tongue, as well as English, however I really can't because I was not nurtured in that language before I myself could utter a real word.
I think this topic has been brought up before in the forums but I'm not sure that I read the others (sorry, I don't always have the time that I'd like to read the formus.)
It will be interesting to hear what others think about this subject.
Gayle


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Özden Arıkan  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 05:26
Member
English to Turkish
Excellent point, Gayle: "gut" is the keyword here Oct 31, 2003

It's just that gut feeling that makes you get not only the meaning, but all connotations, associations, references of a word without giving one single thought to it; choose the aptest word from among a million; not only know it but feel and experience it. Very sad for our profession maybe, but this skill is acquired in childhood, through the interaction with parents. Of course, you'd be more fluent in Spanish if you speak Spanish all day long, with everyone around you. But still...

I observe the same process at my child. She's 12 and we've been living in Germany for 2 years now. Her Turkish is almost frozen, because the only person she can interact in Turkish is me and she can spend only a few hours with me each day, whereas she speaks German all day long, at school, with her friends, etc. She's obviously more fluent in German, and while speaking Turkish she sometimes hesitates, makes word-for-word translations of German idioms, puts German words inbetween... BUT her Turkish vocabulary is still richer and even though she may not find the right word every time, she never misses the nuances in her native language, because it is encoded in her mind at the gut level



[Edited at 2003-10-31 00:23]


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Melina Kajander
Finland
English to Finnish
I'm sorry, but... Nov 1, 2003

...it's exactly my "gut" feeling that rebels against what has been said above...! If you are more fluent in one language, how could you still be a "better" translator in the other one?! It just goes against every intuition I have! In my opinion, "fluency" also includes knowledge of all the nuances etc. of the language, so the more fluent you are, the more you know about these, and vice versa. It just cannot be true that ONLY the language we have been "nurtured" in is bound to remain the native tongue for the rest of our lives, period!

(Yes, this topic has been under discussion in several forums and threads here of late, and I think it is a very interesting topic, too!)


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Özden Arıkan  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 05:26
Member
English to Turkish
Fluency Nov 1, 2003

could be defined as the capability to express oneself in a smooth flow of speech. One may be able to think and speak effortlessly in a foreign language, may be able to provide a speech without gaps, and even with a rich vocabulary, but a native-speaker would always find the most appropriately nuanced word to fill in the same gap, the word that would best fit in the cultural, historical, social, psychological, technical... context in question. Effortless speech is one thing, getting the right nuance in the right context -especially when it comes to professional performance- is quite another. I believe that a native capability is neither replacable nor can be acquired later in life, when it comes to the purposes of our profession, that is. Just an example: there are about three words for "love" in Turkish, and even more important than the words themselves is that the verb "to love" should be put in a different tense according to the type of love in question. The difference between the love you have for your father and for your lover is to be found in the tense, if not in the chosen verb itself. I know a couple of non-natives who can hardly be told apart from a native speaker in their fluency and accent, but they would fail at such nuances quite often. This might not always amount to expressing an erotic passion for one's father or car, maybe, but create problems for situations where professionalism is needed. "Professional native command" is a very hard-acquired capability even for the natives themselves (the professional side, I mean) and it has several components of course (early interaction with parents, in-country experience, education, primary education, in-country education, early exposure to the traditions and also to the popular culture created in that same language etc.). What's put forth with a lack of any of these components would still be satisfactory, even excellent in one situation, but is destined to fail in another, because it's always less than native.

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Melina Kajander
Finland
English to Finnish
* Nov 4, 2003

I see your point, Xola (of course), but still don't agree... I guess we just have to agree to disagree on this!

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Özden Arıkan  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 05:26
Member
English to Turkish
Yes, Heli, Nov 4, 2003

Heli Kajander wrote:

I see your point, Xola (of course), but still don't agree... I guess we just have to agree to disagree on this!


I agree with you


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Heike Behl, Ph.D.  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 20:26
Member (2003)
English to German
+ ...
it always depends on the individual person Nov 8, 2003

There is an additional factor: although generally, many non-native (but near-native) speakers might be able to express themselves better in their native language, they nevertheless might be able to express themselves much better in their second language than the majority of native speakers! It's really a question of degree, of the topic involved, of the individual's language skills and languge "gut feelings", etc. It is as possible for a near-native speaker to do an excellent translation into their second language as it is for a native translator to do a bad translation!
It really boils down to the skills of the individuals (and these are not all language skills but can include also research skills, level of thoroughness, how to use tools efficiently, awareness of shortcomings, etc.).


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