Is it enough to just be a native speaker? Public  

Being a native speaker alone does not necessarily qualify you for being a translator or an expert in the language services industry

So, you want to enter the language services industry. After all, you are a native speaker in your own language, so why not?

We have all heard about the science behind left-brain, right-brain dominance, just as we have all undoubtedly subjected ourselves to the fun, online tests that claim to reveal which side our unique brain favors. Believe it or not, there is clear scientific evidence that suggests our brains may be more logical, scientific, and mathematical while other people’s brains may side more on the creative and artistic. Some of us enjoy writing poetry for instance, while others spend hours – even days – trying to solve a mathematical equation or complete a very involved puzzle. Yes. We are all gifted in our own unique ways, and it is for this reason that being a native speaker alone does not necessarily qualify you for being a translator or an expert in the language services industry. Sure, you can intimately understand what someone is saying in your native language, but do you have a command of your language’s highly-complex linguistic structures? Are you an expert in the morphological, syntactical, phonetic, and semantic aspects of your language? If even reading this makes you want to run for the hills or lose yourself in that puzzle you started, then the answer is likely no.

In the language services industry, it is simply not enough to just be a native speaker – in fact, being a native speaker can ironically pose problems

Growing up with our native language is like keeping the same snuggly blanket well into our adult years – you know the one. It’s now a little tattered and torn, but we love it. Come on, you know you have that blanket. And if you don’t, you’re thinking of it right now.

The point is, we become very complacent in our native tongue. We speak ridiculously fast with other native speakers, we regularly use slang, and when it comes to writing things down, let’s just say we aren’t the most grammatically conscientious. But it’s ok because the receiver of this gobbledygook is likely another native speaker who can easily decipher our message.

When it comes to the language services industry however, this simply won’t do. For language services providers, it is simply not enough to just be a native speaker – in fact, being a native speaker can ironically pose problems. Native speakers – although masters of their language – speak and write somewhat subconsciously. That is, they don’t really need to think about what they are saying or writing – it just flows.

Another example of this is in mathematics – one of the latest educational approaches to teaching mathematics is getting students to not only think about what they are doing, but to communicate their logic in a step-by-step fashion. Similarly, when individuals formally study a language, they are intentionally taught all of the linguistic elements of that language – from grammar and syntax, to phonics and semantics. They are taught to think about these aspects of their second language, and are challenged to communicate their understanding.

It is a common misconception in business to think that simply hiring a native speaker will solve all of their translation and localization challenges. To be fair, some native speakers may be more left-brain dominant than right. And if that is the case, they may be in a prime position to enter the world of language services since part of the left brain is believed to make up your brain’s language control center. But if they are more right-brain dominant, just because they are native speakers of a language, does not necessarily make them a language expert – even in their native tongue. They can certainly work to become an expert, but it may require a conscientious decision to think about what they are saying, the discipline to learn how to apply the proper language structures when writing, and the determination to effectively communicate with a larger audience, not just native speakers. Not so easy when we put it that way, is it?

Still not convinced? Check out some of these common mistakes from native English language speakers:

  • I did really good on my test!
  • My friend and me are going out for dinner.
  • I need to lay down and close my eyes.
  • The Robertson’s bought a new car.
  • The amount of people in the room was overwhelming.

Can you spot the errors? Language geeks like us spot these a mile away – and we cringe every time…

Worldvice, a professional proofreading and editing services company, took 12,000,000 words that were submitted to them from 9,000 English-speaking clients (researchers, students, writers, and business owners), and analyzed the most commonly made mistakes. This is what they found:

Want to take a closer look? Grab all tables in Google Sheets!

The English language contains well over a thousand different ways to spell 44 distinct sounds

9,000 clients represented in this study were all well-educated, professional English-speaking individuals. So why do so many professional English-speakers have such difficulty with basic English-language writing skills? Well, for starters, the English language contains well over a thousand different ways to spell 44 distinct sounds. Consider the following six different vowel and vowel/consonant combinations to create the one, distinct, /oo/ sound:

  • Threw
  • Through
  • Shoe
  • Sue
  • Too
  • Who

So, it would seem that the combinations, /ew/, /ough/, /oe/, /ue/, /oo/, and /o/ create the unique /oo/ sound, right? But let’s not forget that the English language always makes room for exceptions:

  • Sew
  • Cough
  • Oboe
  • Argue
  • Door
  • So

Want to take a closer look? Grab all tables in Google Sheets!

Whether you are a native English speaker or you have formally studied the English language, it is fairly safe to assume you’d agree – English is a very complicated language. And while it is true that English is made up of several different languages which account for some of the complication, many European languages are made up of many languages as well. It isn’t necessarily the influence of different languages over thousands of years that complicates English, it is the fact that English isn’t phonetic and is filled with contradictions and exceptions. By and large, English Second Language programs (ESL), concentrate on these contradictions and exceptions. They concentrate on the thousands of sight words that do not follow the standard spelling rules, and they focus a great deal of attention on grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Let’s be fair – English language arts classes for native English speakers concentrate on these aspects of the language too, but native speakers have the advantage of being fluent. They can understand English writing even if it is filled with errors, and they can afford to get by with their commonly used spelling, grammatical, and punctuation mistakes. And because they have this luxury, the errors often become commonplace and more difficult to correct over time.

Don’t automatically hire LSPs just because they hire native speakers – put them to the test

So, if you are considering hiring a translator or language services provider for your company, don’t automatically close the door on non-native speakers, and certainly don’t automatically hire LSPs just because they hire native speakers – put them to the test. You may just be surprised at what you find.

 

 

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