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Replace "native language" with "most competent language combination"
Thread poster: Samuel Murray

Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 18:56
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Jun 23, 2012

G'day everyone

A recent discussion on whether native languages should be verified degenerated largely into a discussion of what native language really is. Similar discussions or complaints about native language in the past that started out as threads about how to reduce abuse inevitably turned into discussions about how problems specifically with the label "native language" either causes abuse of it or renders it useless to gauge anything useful about the translator.

I therefore have one big and two small suggestions for the overhaul of ProZ.com's "native language" declaration. I'll mention the two small suggestions in the second post.

1. Replace the item "native language" with "most competent language combination"

Since the purpose of the "native language" item originally was to indicate competence, let's change it entirely so that it indicates competence explicitly. In other words, instead of declaring one language, rather declare one language combination as your "best" or "primary" language combination.

As with any system there is risk of abuse (e.g. some people will declare the language combination that they hope to get more work in) and risk of misunderstanding (e.g. in some cultures "best" does not mean "most competent" but "most suitable"), but some such risks can be dealt with.

In this system, a translator will have only one "most competent language combination". Exceptions may possibly be made for translators with highly similar source languages (i.e. mutually comprehensible languages that are used in close geographic proximity to each other) (but not similar target languages).

Your thoughts?

Samuel


[Edited at 2012-06-23 08:43 GMT]


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 18:56
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Two additional, smaller suggestions Jun 23, 2012

Samuel Murray wrote:
I therefore have one big and two small suggestions for the overhaul of ProZ.com's "native language" declaration. I'll mention the two small suggestions in the second post.


If the above suggestion is implemented, I believe ProZ.com should still allow one to declare "nativeness", since this may be important to translators and clients who care about the psychology of things. In that regard, I have two additional suggestions:

2. Add an item for "childhood language"

The psychological theory on native language is that the language learnt during one's early formative years (pre-teen years, some even say pre-school years) shapes your thinking, which affects your understanding and use of language[s] in later life. This is quite a prevalent theory and is potentially important for translators. It makes sense to be able to declare one's childhood language.

[Many definitions about "native language" in previous forum threads assume that most people who do not emigrate will speak their childhood language through to adulthood, but that is a view that takes into account most Western countries only (i.e. largely monolingual countries). In such monolingual countries, the language of childhood, the language of primary school, the language of high school, the language of adulthood, the language of public interaction and the language of government interaction is the same language, unless the person does something exceptional e.g. emigrate. In monolingual countries, the assumption is that any person would have high competence in one language. However, in many other countries (multilingual countries), the language you speak as a toddler and in primary school is not the language you speak and hear in high school or that you speak as an adult. Also the language of interaction with one's neighbours and local businesses may not be the same as the one in which you interact with government officials. In multilingual countries, it is not taken for granted that any person would have high competence in at least one language -- instead it is quite normal for most people not to have high competence in any of their languages. So "native language" can largely only be a potential guage of competence in one's current language if you live in a non-multilingual country.]

Since there are scientific reasons why childhood language is relevant, I believe we should not throw out the baby with the bathwater, and let translators declare their "childhood language".

3. Add an item for "country of cultural identity"

I originally wanted to call this "young adult country of residence" since much of cultural identity and awareness is shaped during the late teen to young adult years of human psychology, but perhaps "cultural identity" is a better description of what this item is trying to achieve.

Even if you do not believe in the psychological theory that young adult years are formative to world view, you may still agree that the translator's current country of residence may not be the country that most affects his way of reasoning and may not be the country whose society he has most knowledge of.

Why would clients select the current ProZ.com item of "country of residence"? Thanks to international money transfer methods and extensive use of e-mail, I doubt that it would be for fiscal or administrative reasons. Instead, the idea seems to be that a translator who currently lives in the client's target country will be a more suitable translator... and we all know that is not necessarily so. Different translators who have emigrated may have integrated into their new countries of residence and may have "lost" knowledge of their original countries to different degrees. It is simply not fair to let clients choose "country of residence" if clearly the reason for that item is to indicate cultural awareness or cultural identity. In fact, this is precisely the reason why some translators lie about their actual current country of residence in their profiles.

I realise that one must guard against adding endless categories such as these, but I do believe that these two items are important since they address the reasons for abuse of the currently available items.


[Edited at 2012-06-23 08:58 GMT]


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writeaway  Identity Verified
French to English
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Not the same thing at all. Jun 23, 2012

A native language is just that. It shouldn't be open to self-assessment. Self-assessed skills like "most competent language combination", etc can be presented ad nauseum in the 'About me' section of the profile page. That's the part for marketing.

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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 18:56
Member (2003)
Danish to English
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I'm definitely in favour Jun 23, 2012

I desisted from joining in the other discussion. I have been there and done that so many times.

And I agree with Writeaway. The problem is that however you define 'native language' - as shown in the other threads - many people will disagree with you, and in fact there is a risk that some people (according to the chosen definition) have no 'native language' at all.

I seriously wonder if that includes me after reading these threads! While in practice I feel I have two native languages, one was acquired in adult life. It is still 'my' language and for half my life I have probably used it more than my native language. I know it as well as many educated natives. I also share the same uncertainties about it and am not qualified to translate into that language, which is another matter.
___________________________________

None of these issues stop me from regarding myself as a qualified (exam. certificates on request) and conscientious translator and providing services that my clients obviously find satisfactory.

So if you prefer to avoid referring to my native language, and the even more emotive mother tongue... that is fine by me.



[Edited at 2012-06-23 09:39 GMT]


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BeaDeer  Identity Verified
English to Slovenian
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Define *native*. And what guarantee does the mother tongue proficiency offer? Jun 23, 2012

A person born to immigrant parents who both speak the language of their adopted country well or with near-native proficiency but continue to speak the language they grew up in within their home and the circle of closest friends, learns both languages and considers him- or herself to be native in the language of their wider environment, since this is the language they use for daily communication, personal and professional. In written language, however, errors that point to the "underlying" language can often be spotted. This varies greatly, depending on the individual, their education, but it confirms that unless one is aware of the differences between the two languages, or the group of languages in question, the sometimes subtle differences in vocabulary and grammar will slip their attention, especially when both languages belong to the same family. Take Kudoz, as an example. A person claiming to be native in languages X and Y, into which he or she claims to translate, asks a question about a term in language Y and receives two answers. Answer A is a valid one, but only for language X, while answer B is valid only for the language Y, for which the asker needs an answer. The asker chose answer A as the correct one, because it sounded closest to what they assumed would be the correct answer, albeit in language X, without even being aware of the reason for their decision. However, a translation with such errors may still be perfectly acceptable, depending on its purpose (on the other hand, a university educated reviser will catch such errors). On the other hand, a seasoned translator working "only" in one language pair, but able to read a handful of other languages from which he or she does not translate, may well be able to provide correct answers to queries in those languages, although he or she is by far not a native speaker. Inexperienced native speakers often commit errors that experienced non-natives do not,
in part because they have a sound "protocol" in place for solving translation problems.

To change the perspective a little, consider this: take a translator with MA in translation who has emigrated. He or she continues to speak their mother tongue in the family, with friends, keeps in close touch with the mother tongue on a daily basis, but in less than ten years the translations he or she delivers, in their mother tongue, become "wooden", the text ceases to flow, terms are translated incorrectly, the syntax just isn't right. Instead of receiving an excellent piece of work with nary a comma to be added, the editor has to rewrite the translation every time to raise it to the standard expected by the end customer. When the editor eventually points this out, the translator takes it as malevolent criticism because he or she is not aware of this happening, or may not be ready to accept that it is happening.

Such questions are not easily answered, and the fact that Proz is a commercial platform, not a professional one, only adds to their complexity.

















[Edited at 2012-06-23 11:00 GMT]

[Edited at 2012-06-23 11:00 GMT]

[Edited at 2012-06-23 11:01 GMT]

[Edited at 2012-06-23 11:03 GMT]


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Diana Coada  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 17:56
Portuguese to English
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Remove the ''native'' option from profiles AND from search options altogether Jun 23, 2012

Every translator/interpreter should declare their working pairs and that's it. I am so tired of the native language debate: please do not forget that writers, poets, philosophers, etc. have translated out of their native languages for centuries.

[Edited at 2012-06-23 11:45 GMT]


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Vikki Pendleton  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 17:56
Member
German to English
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agreed Jun 23, 2012

Diana Coada wrote:

Every translator/interpreter should declare their working pairs and that's it.


I completely agree - but they should do so honestly, which is the main thrust of the other debate. People should only declare working pairs where the resulting translation is of a standard that it reads like it was written a native speaker OR they employ a proofreader who can ensure that it does.


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 18:56
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
@Write, Christine, Bea and Diana Jun 23, 2012

writeaway wrote:
A native language is just that. It shouldn't be open to self-assessment.


The debate about what a native language is shows that different people give different definitions for it, and in so doing they miss the point: on ProZ.com, what is relevant is what is precise, not what is emotional.

So do away with the concept of "native language" and replace it with something that can be self-assessed with a high degree of accuracy and that can lead to more useful directory searches.

Christine Andersen wrote:
The problem is that however you define 'native language' - as shown in the other threads - many people will disagree with you, and in fact there is a risk that some people (according to the chosen definition) have no 'native language' at all.


I think the two main aspects of the various definitions of "native language" have to do with (a) your competence in that language and (b) whether you used it when you were little. Some people would want both aspects included in the definition, and others would want only one included.

The solution is to include both aspects on the translator profile without attempting to merge them into a single concept. Ask the two questions separately: (a) what is your competence and (b) what did you speak when you were little. Clients can then judge from these two separate items whether their definition of "native" has been met.

BeaDeer wrote:
Define *native*. And what guarantee does the mother tongue proficiency offer?


This is not relevant to my suggestions at all. It is comments such as these that turn useful threads into long, endless discussions about peripheral issues. No-one here said anything about "guarantees". Whether mother-tongue proficiency has any effect on competence is a long, long debate that belongs in a thread dedicated to it. Nothing that you wrote in your reply gives any insight into the suggestion that I had made.

Diana Coada wrote:
Remove the ''native'' option from profiles AND from search options altogether. Every translator/interpreter should declare their working pairs and that's it.


Actually, I find it rather useful to be able to limit a search to "native speakers", even if the definition of it is currently somewhat nebulous. When I ask KudoZ questions about issus that involve "feel for the language" instead of simpy "what the dictionary says", being able to specify the native language helps avoid guess answers. Or if I want to find translators in a language that I don't speak and can't judge for myself, being able to raise the bar by asking for native language helps reduce the number of submissions to sift through.

So I would not be in favour of removing it. It just has to be improved dramatically, that's all.







[Edited at 2012-06-23 12:44 GMT]


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XXXphxxx  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 17:56
Portuguese to English
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Samuel, it's degenerated already Jun 23, 2012

We're on page one and already some of the posts here are off-topic! There's always someone who wants to focus on the exceptions rather than see the bigger picture.

I can't say I'm convinced that this option would work either since, as you suggest yourself, it would simply be too tempting to prioritise the language pair that is the most profitable or that offers the most work.


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Diana Coada  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 17:56
Portuguese to English
+ ...
And that is the whole problem, in my opinion Jun 23, 2012

Lisa Simpson, MCIL wrote:

There's always someone who wants to focus on the exceptions rather than see the bigger picture.



...people thinking that translating/interpreting out of a native language (whatever that is) is an exception.


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Charlie Bavington  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:56
French to English
Which brings us back to where we were Jun 23, 2012

Lisa Simpson, MCIL wrote:
.... it would simply be too tempting to prioritise the language pair that is the most profitable or that offers the most work.


Which is presumably behind the problem of false claims of native language in the first place?

After all, no-one would actually claim to be something dull and unloved like English if they could claim to be something cool and grovy like Dutch or Icelandic, would they....


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Nani Delgado  Identity Verified
Spain
Member (2010)
German to Spanish
I can´t believe it... Jun 23, 2012

Diana Coada wrote:

And that is the whole problem, in my opinion

...people thinking that translating/interpreting out of a native language (whatever that is) is an exception.


Could we please stay on topic and make this a constructive discussion? Translating out of a native language has NOTHING to do with the topic that we are discussing! Again: we are not discussing whether translators should translate into a non-native language or not. Some of our colleagues even said that, under certain circumstances, it could be a positive thing.
So please: stop misunderstanding this discussion and stay on topic. Lots of translators here simply lie about their being native in a certain language. It is all about lying.


[Edited at 2012-06-24 10:00 GMT]


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Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 17:56
Hebrew to English
It is an exception, that's why Jun 23, 2012

Diana Coada wrote:

Lisa Simpson, MCIL wrote:

There's always someone who wants to focus on the exceptions rather than see the bigger picture.



...people thinking that translating/interpreting out of a native language (whatever that is) is an exception.


It's generally accepted, all things being equal, that it is preferable to translate into your native language.

If I encountered a preponderance of translators translating into a non-native language who were indistinguishable from native translators (abilitywise, outputwise), then I might agree with you that we shouldn't place so much importance on it. However, I haven't found this to be a reality.


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Oliver Walter  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 17:56
Member (2005)
German to English
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Can be complicated; hence my ideas for ProZ Jun 23, 2012

This thread and a couple of other related ones started in the past few days have, of course, made me think (yes, not only me!).

Purpose: The purpose of showing "native language", "most competent language combination", or whatever, is to help potential suppliers of translation work in part of their process of finding a translator(s). (Other parts would include subject areas, country of residence, formal qualifications etc.).

Self-declaration: The policy of Proz is that if a member declares a single "native language", such declaration will be accepted and the "N" symbol is shown surrounded by glorious colour in the member's profile. If the member declares more than one native language, that is not equally accepted: it is shown in grey until the member's claim is verified. (I'm not sure what progress has yet been made in defining and implementing this verification process, but I think it is not yet final.) Whatever is declared by the member, it is likely that most such declarations will be valid and honest and a small proportion will be invalid and/or dishonest.

Complications: A number of possible complications in this self-declaration process have been pointed out in the discussions. Among them, apart from the obvious one of lying (or perhaps sometimes honest self-delusion) are those arising from a person living in different countries at different stages of life, living in a family that does not, at home, use the language of the surrounding culture, possibly not really having any native language.

My (provisional) conclusions: I can't yet come to definite fixed conclusions (for what Proz should do), but my suggestions are:
  • Keep the present policy of accepting a member's declaration of a single native language.
  • Keep, and properly define and implement, the policy of requiring some verification of a declaration of more than one native language.
  • Follow Samuel's idea of declaring a "most competent language combination" (or perhaps more than one combination if you are really equally good in more than one) and show this in the profile in addition to the "native language" information (and allow it to change more easily than a "native language" can be changed).
  • We should remember that the profile also shows "Credentials" if the member has supplied them and Proz has accepted them. Perhaps there should be a link to this next to the "native language" and "most competent..." section of the profile to make it clearer to the visitor to the profile.
  • We should also remember that the site rules http://www.proz.com/rules/ already provide for expulsion for telling lies (e.g. rule 6 and "termination" further down the page). I suppose ProZ staff members are rather reluctant to take such measures and I think that, on the whole, ProZ works rather well as a mutually cooperative community of translators and interpreters.
  • Further suggestion to Proz: The home page seen by a non-logged-in visitor includes a section headed "Need to hire freelance translators or translation companies?". This should contain (or contain a link to a page containing) guidance on how to find a translator, including information about the "N" symbol and the other parts of the profile.
Oliver

[Edited at 2012-06-23 15:10 GMT]

[Edited at 2012-06-24 09:34 GMT]


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svenfrade  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 18:56
French to German
+ ...
No, thank you Jun 23, 2012

Why should I want to declare one "most competent language combination"? I believe that my translation skills are the same, no matter whether I translate from English, French or Italian into German (which happens to be my native language).

If I believed that my skills from one of these languages was inferior to the others, I would not offer that language. However, if I had to choose one most competent combination, outsourcers might conclude that my skills translating out of the other two languages might not be as good which is something I certainly would not want to happen.

Just my 2 cents.


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