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Will you ever/can you declare yourself as native speaker?
Thread poster: Mari Noller

Monique Laville  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 05:45
Italian to French
+ ...
I agree with Rita Jun 3, 2005

it depends on the individual.

I was born in France and raised in a bilingual family, my mother being sort of German speaking and my father French speaking. I have lived the first 5 years very near to my mother family, in Lorena. My mother spoke a German dialect but wrote Hochdeutsch (German). My grandmother spoke her dialect only, she did not know a word in French. She wrote German gothic and taught me to write it. In my neighbourhood, dialect was the language more often used. So my
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it depends on the individual.

I was born in France and raised in a bilingual family, my mother being sort of German speaking and my father French speaking. I have lived the first 5 years very near to my mother family, in Lorena. My mother spoke a German dialect but wrote Hochdeutsch (German). My grandmother spoke her dialect only, she did not know a word in French. She wrote German gothic and taught me to write it. In my neighbourhood, dialect was the language more often used. So my native languages are German and French.

Nevertheless this does not make me a German native speaker. In fact, as my family moved away to live in other countries, I gradually lost the habit to speak German and used to speak French only. I would now be quite unable to follow a conversation in German, even if I am still able to read and understand a simple text in that language.

I have been living now for 20 years in Italy and consider myself a native like Italian speaker. My knowledge of Italian is not perfect, but it is anyway better than that of most Italian native speakers. This is not to be considered offensive. Those knowing perfectly their own language are few in any country, even in European ones.
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Henry Dotterer
Local time: 23:45
SITE FOUNDER
There are many definitions for "native" - why not clarify what is meant when the word is used? Jun 3, 2005

Before we presented our "native language declaration" option, I researched the definitions available for "native". The fact is, there are as many definitions are there are respected authorities.

When an outsourcer requires a "native" speaker, and does not provide more information than that, we can not be sure of exactly what they seek. In some cases, they want someone who writes well. In other cases (interpreting), they want someone "without" an accent. Other times, they mean someth
... See more
Before we presented our "native language declaration" option, I researched the definitions available for "native". The fact is, there are as many definitions are there are respected authorities.

When an outsourcer requires a "native" speaker, and does not provide more information than that, we can not be sure of exactly what they seek. In some cases, they want someone who writes well. In other cases (interpreting), they want someone "without" an accent. Other times, they mean something entirely different. In many cases--and it is very important not to forget this!--the outsourcer requires a native speaker primarily because that is what they have in turn promised to their customer. An outsourcer's outrage with you will be justified if you present yourself as native, and the outsourcer's customer has grounds to argue that you are not.

Rather than making presumptions concerning an outsourcer's needs, and disregarding a requirement, I recommend clarification. Either explain what you mean when you say you are "native", or ask what they mean.
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mstkwasa
Local time: 04:45
English to Japanese
+ ...
Let's not be dogmatic Jun 3, 2005

I think Henry has made a sensible point - declare what you mean by "native language", since the term is vague and any strict explanation for all will be unfair to some people.

As far as I know there is no reason to assume that the first lanugage you acquired when you are young will necessarily remain the language you are most proficient in later on. This is especially the case with people who have migrated and their children. This is unless you subscribe to the notion that it's gene
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I think Henry has made a sensible point - declare what you mean by "native language", since the term is vague and any strict explanation for all will be unfair to some people.

As far as I know there is no reason to assume that the first lanugage you acquired when you are young will necessarily remain the language you are most proficient in later on. This is especially the case with people who have migrated and their children. This is unless you subscribe to the notion that it's genetic...

The problem at ProZ, as has been mentioned elsewhere I believe, is that "native language" is declared by each individual and hence invariably subjective. Some people are justified in declaring their native language(s) as such and such but in other cases confidence may not be reflected in their actual ability.

My native language (in that it was the first language I encountered, I am ethnically Japanese and it is the language I am most proficient in) is Japanese and despite having lived and went to school and universities in the UK, English was, remains and will remain a foreign language to me. I know my limits - definite and indefinite articles; prepositions; verb tenses; idioms... So whenever I take work translating into English, I make sure that the client knows that I am not a native speaker of English, as far as I consider the matter.

I am not sure whether I would use "native-like" even if I were in a position to do so - my subjective view is that you are either a native speaker or not and you will know and it is a confusing label to use. If you are proficient enough and consider yourself native then declare so but saying "I can speak/write/understand this language like a native but I am actually not" seems to send a mixed message. It will be a consistent position only if native is taken to mean to have been born in the country, which may not hold given the increased mobility and more educational opportunities.

So the problem is that the tag native is not the most felicitous because of the etymological link with birth and origin. Any ideas?

[Edited at 2005-06-04 08:46]
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eileengreen
French to English
+ ...
Interesting discussion Jun 3, 2005

We moved to Israel 22 years ago when my children were in their early years of elementary school. They speak English at home. They studied English in special classes for native speakers while the other children studied in classes for Hebrew speakers. I asked them which language they feel more comfortable in. They told me they prefer Hebrew. They have translated material from English to Hebrew but wouldn't even attempt to translate in the other direction. Most of their reading at the university is... See more
We moved to Israel 22 years ago when my children were in their early years of elementary school. They speak English at home. They studied English in special classes for native speakers while the other children studied in classes for Hebrew speakers. I asked them which language they feel more comfortable in. They told me they prefer Hebrew. They have translated material from English to Hebrew but wouldn't even attempt to translate in the other direction. Most of their reading at the university is in English. We always speak English at home. I wonder how much your environment outside the home influences how comfortable you feel in a language.Collapse


 

Sara Freitas
France
Local time: 05:45
French to English
You know what they say about assuming... Jun 3, 2005

Esther Pfeffer wrote:

That didn't strike me as an environment for native English, but whatever...



Esther,

As someone who, like me, works in extremely common language pairs, I think it is wrong to apply our standards of what our "native language" is to someone like Can who works in rare language pairs.

As someone familiar with the Turkish-English language pair, there are generally two types of translators...Turks living in Turkey who, through bilingual education, have achieved a high level of fluency in English, or people like me (foreigners who, through living in Turkey, have learned Turkish--I personally don't work from Turkish because I don't have the level required). Because of his background (Can is a man's name, not a woman's BTW) Can can offer something that is quite rare on the market (and I hope he gets top dollar for it!) even if his level of "nativeness" in the target language is not something we would accept in the French to English pair, for example, due to the sheer numbers of native speakers available in our pair.

In short, I don't think it's fair to judge based on assumptions. The world is a big place and people have a wide range of multilingual/multicultural experiences. I think it's best to let the translator (and his customers) decide what level of "nativeness" is good enough.

Cheers!

Sara


 

Can Altinbay  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:45
Japanese to English
+ ...
In memoriam
Thanks, Henry Jun 3, 2005

I speak both without an accent, so I'm "Native" by that definition also.

 

Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 05:45
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Clients often don't know either... Jun 3, 2005

Henry wrote:
When an outsourcer requires a "native" speaker, and does not provide more information than that, we can not be sure of exactly what they seek.


The client often does not know either... all he knows is that he thinks a "native" speaker will somehow be better, and as long as the translator truthfully declares himself as such, regardless of definitions, many clients will be happy with the outcome.


 

Francis Lee (X)
Local time: 05:45
German to English
+ ...
this is not a defnition of "native speaker" Jun 3, 2005

Can Altinbay wrote:

I speak both without an accent, so I'm "Native" by that definition also.



Speaking without an accent by no means qualifies someone as a "native speaker." You might well be, Can - but not solely on account of your genuine-sounding pronunciation.


 

Konstantin Kisin  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 04:45
Russian to English
+ ...
any definition is subjective Jun 3, 2005

All definitions are subjective; they are all expressions of our views of this concept which, as we have already seen, differ drastically.

Personally, I find definitions such as "a native language is the language one learned first" to be rather misleading. For example, I recently met a man who left Ukraine when he was 18 years old (during the WWII) and who can barely speak Russian/Ukrainian. So, he's a native speaker...but he can't speak his "native language".
Surely, in our bu
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All definitions are subjective; they are all expressions of our views of this concept which, as we have already seen, differ drastically.

Personally, I find definitions such as "a native language is the language one learned first" to be rather misleading. For example, I recently met a man who left Ukraine when he was 18 years old (during the WWII) and who can barely speak Russian/Ukrainian. So, he's a native speaker...but he can't speak his "native language".
Surely, in our business definitions like this are misplaced. We have to remember that we're talking about professional services here.

Without question what interests the agency/customer is our ability to do the job. Yes, jobs differ and require different aspects of being a "native speaker" but they nonetheless require an ability, not a specific background. They require us to write well, have "no" accent (an amusing concept in itself, in the UK at least), be able to express certain things etc, NOT to have been brought up in place X, to have learned the language before others, to have Y years of schooling in this language etc. This is why claiming that you're a native speaker of a language because you have lived in a certain country for a certain amount of time is nonsense. I can give the example of my grandparents who came to Britain in 1990. My grandfather (a translator/sim interpreter with 50+ years experience) speaks and writes English far better than 99% of native English speakers, has a much more developed vocab. and so on. Yet, sometimes he may make a mistake pronouncing a certain word - nothing horrific but noticeable. My grandma on the other hand speaks good English but with a very very strong accent.

As Rita says, it depends on the person. Some people have more linguistic ability than others. I learned Russian first, I only started learning English when I was nine and I only came to the UK when I was 11, however, I speak English without an accent and find it much easier to use than Russian. I have absolutely no hesitation about calling myself a native speaker of both languages and I have not had anyone doubt my skills in either language. If someone claims that "I can never be native because I didn't learn English at the age of 5" they're welcome to give me a call and see for themselves





[Edited at 2005-06-03 18:10]
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Harry Bornemann  Identity Verified
Mexico
Member (2002)
English to German
+ ...
Time can change anything Jun 3, 2005

Being native is like having a diploma or a driving licence: it means that you have had a certain ability at a certain date...

It is not solely your responsibility to declare yourself as what you actually are (to prevent surprises), but it is also the responsibility of the outsourcer to make sure that you still have this ability, or at least the part of it which he needs for his project.

...
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Being native is like having a diploma or a driving licence: it means that you have had a certain ability at a certain date...

It is not solely your responsibility to declare yourself as what you actually are (to prevent surprises), but it is also the responsibility of the outsourcer to make sure that you still have this ability, or at least the part of it which he needs for his project.







[Edited at 2005-06-03 23:21]
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Can Altinbay  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:45
Japanese to English
+ ...
In memoriam
Sorry, but I never said that it does. Jun 3, 2005

Francis Lee wrote:

Can Altinbay wrote:

I speak both without an accent, so I'm "Native" by that definition also.



Speaking without an accent by no means qualifies someone as a "native speaker." You might well be, Can - but not solely on account of your genuine-sounding pronunciation.


I didn't repeat what I had already pointed out in other posts. I read, write and speak English at a very high level. Many Americans do not do these things as well as I do. Many will confirm this. I am actually at a level that would be more than acceptable for the target language in French to English. I do not translate this pair because with my high school French, I can read French books, but I don't consider my *source* language ability good enough for the task. At best, it would take me forever to do.

I think when I claim that I am a native speaker of Japanese that most clients understand that my name is not Japanese, and hence there are unusual circumstances. I point out in my CV and in my cover letter what my circumstances are. I have had a good number of people accept this and allow me to help them.

Someone else in a different post said that I would be lying if I called myself a native English speaker. I do not appreciate being called a lier. I am honest with my dealings, and I answer honestly any concern clients may have about my abilities.

As Henry pointed out, what matters is that we represent ourselves for the best interest of our clients. I am highly qualified to translate between Japanese and English - both directions, and well qualified for Turkish to English or Japanese. I do not attempt to translate from English or Japanese into Turkish, because Turkish is not my native language. It doesn't matter if someone grew up in the U. S. with American parents, went to American schools and lives in an English speaking environment. If that person's English abilities are not at a certain level, that person should not be translating from any language into English.


 

Can Altinbay  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:45
Japanese to English
+ ...
In memoriam
Agreed Jun 3, 2005

Konstantin Kisin wrote:

I speak English without an accent and find it much easier to use than Russian. I have absolutely no hesitation about calling myself a native speaker of both languages and I have not had anyone doubt my skills in either language.



[Edited at 2005-06-03 18:10]


From reading what you wrote both here and in KudoZ, I definitely agree with you (on the English side. I only know a few words in Russian, so I can't judge that side ).


 

Özden Arıkan  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 05:45
Member
English to Turkish
+ ...
'Native' and 'mother' Jun 4, 2005

are terms that fall too short of being adequately descriptive when it comes to professional skills. And Can is a living example of this. I am a native speaker of Turkish, and I know that Turkish is not his native language. Moreover, it is not the native language of his parents, either, because if I get the geography he describes right, the community he refers to, the Kazan people, speaks a Turkic language which is surely related to Turkish, but is yet another language. I would probably have zero... See more
are terms that fall too short of being adequately descriptive when it comes to professional skills. And Can is a living example of this. I am a native speaker of Turkish, and I know that Turkish is not his native language. Moreover, it is not the native language of his parents, either, because if I get the geography he describes right, the community he refers to, the Kazan people, speaks a Turkic language which is surely related to Turkish, but is yet another language. I would probably have zero success at communicating with a member of this people. So, maybe Can's grandparents were speaking Kazan Turkish, but his parents adopted the Turkish spoken in Turkey somehow, and passed it on to Can. That part is a mystery the clarification of which is entirely at Can's discretion. So, I testify that he is not a native Turkish speaker, and it seems some don't think he could be native to English or Japanese on grounds that are again a mystery to me - does this gentleman with remarkable linguistic skills lack a 'native' language now? How come?

Honestly, I don't think native language or mother tongue could be limited to the language one has acquired from their parents, or early childhood references in the first years of life. In addition to Can, there are thousands of 'native' Turkish speakers in Germany, where I live, to rebut this. (Why, oh why does this always happen to Turks? ) Many acquired Turkish in the first years of life, then began learning German at kindergarten, or at school, that is from the age 6 the latest, and many never had even one year of schooling in Turkish. We are talking about the purposes of our profession here, but even outside the context of the language profession, I would have a hard time describing them 'native Turkish speakers'. Even in the language profession, those with fully accomplished skills in Turkish as a target language are rare birds. With a colleague of mine, I speak Turkish on the phone, but in e-mails we have to correspond in English, because he's got a lousy written Turkish, I've got a lousy written German. And I bet people keep telling him that his 'native' language cannot be German, on mysterious, or perhaps not so mysterious grounds. I think it's about time to set the criteria for the purposes of our profession without resorting to emotional and worse genetics-is-destiny sort of tags like 'mother' and 'native', and of these criteria I guess schooling, especially early schooling has some precedence. If you haven't had any schooling in a language, you cannot be its "native speaker for the purposes of the language profession" even if your ancestors have been speaking it for a few dozens' generations.


And, Sara, as you might know, there are many unisex names in Turkish, and while 95% of all Cans born after the 1970s would be male, it shouldn't surprise you to meet a female Can someday, just as it shouldn't be a surprise to meet a male Özden.

The-not-surprisingly yours,
Özden

[Edited at 2005-06-04 02:49]
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Balasubramaniam L.  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 10:15
English to Hindi
+ ...
It is proficiency that counts Jun 4, 2005

MarcPrior wrote:

Some people can manage that in more than one language, some in none.

Marc


Very true.

It is proficiency in the language that counts. Proz should discontinue the "declare native langugae" feature in profiles and replace it with a proficiency-indicating feature.

Consider dead languages like Sanskrit or Latin. Suppose a person traslates into or from these languages. How would you define "native" in this case? There can't be any native speakers of these languages, yet there can be very proficient writers and translators of these language. They acquire their proficiency by constantly immersing themeselves in the existing corpus of literature in that language and using it among themselves whenever possible.

The same technique can be applied for living languages too, and a person who is not a native speaker can acquire perfect command over the nuances of a language by perseverence and a little bit of natural talent.

And, all languages have a standardised form, with clearly defined grammar and rules which are more logical than the welter of common usage, and which can be learned easily. This standardised form of any language is what is used in newspapers, books, magazines, and the TV. Acquiring full proficiency in the standardised form of any language is not as difficult as acquiring proficiency in the undocumented dialects of any language.

Dialectical versions of any language have a limited communication potential, which is why we have the standard forms in the first place.

Most translations are undertaken for the purpose of communication and it is the standard form of the language that is used.

Therefore, barring very specialized areas like literature or film dialogues, where a little bit of local flavour is required, non-native, proficient users of a language can do as good a job, and in many cases better than, native speakers.


 

Can Altinbay  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:45
Japanese to English
+ ...
In memoriam
In case anyone is interested Jun 4, 2005

Xola wrote:

are terms that fall too short of being adequately descriptive when it comes to professional skills. And Can is a living example of this. I am a native speaker of Turkish, and I know that Turkish is not his native language. Moreover, it is not the native language of his parents, either, because if I get the geography he describes right, the community he refers to, the Kazan people, speaks a Turkic language which is surely related to Turkish, but is yet another language. I would probably have zero success at communicating with a member of this people. So, maybe Can's grandparents were speaking Kazan Turkish, but his parents adopted the Turkish spoken in Turkey somehow, and passed it on to Can. That part is a mystery the clarification of which is entirely at Can's discretion. So, I testify that he is not a native Turkish speaker, and it seems some don't think he could be native to English or Japanese on grounds that are again a mystery to me - does this gentleman with remarkable linguistic skills lack a 'native' language now? How come?

[Edited at 2005-06-04 02:49]


You constantly amaze me. My people are indeed Kazan Turks, a people who are increasingly being referred to as Turkish-Tatars. My people now have a political entity within Russia called Tatarstan. My grandmother spoke Kazan Turkish and some Japanese with me. My father, who claims to have arrived in Japan at age 4 (not unlikely given a recent article by a professon at Ankara U, which I translated gratis, concerning the history of Tatars who live in Japan), spoke Japanese. He went to Japanese schools, and is a graduate of the prestigious Keio University med. school. My mother, who, like me, was born in Tokyo, spoke Japanese with me until she enrolled me in an international school. After that, she spoke with me in English. Today, we speak a curious mixture of Tatar, Turkish, Japanese and English.


 
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