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The Native Speaker’s Competitive Advantage

The Native Speaker’s Competitive Advantage

The Native Speaker’s Competitive Advantage 2470 1539 Keith Carr

At Southern Cone Translations, your documents will always be translated by a native speaker of the target language or a translator who has achieved a demonstrable native level. But what is a “target” language? And why does it have to be a native-level speaker?

First, it’s helpful to understand some basic terminology.

Source and Target Languages
  • Source language: The source language is the original language of the text that needs to be translated. If a document in Portuguese needs to be translated into Spanish, Portuguese is the source language. The document may be called the source text or source document.
  • Target language: The target language is the language the text needs to be translated into. If a document in French needs to be translated into English, English is the target language. The document may be called the target text or target document.

When you send a document in Spanish to Southern Cone Translations, a native English speaker–with a bilingual level of Spanish–will write the translation in English. In rare cases when the translator is not a native speaker, an English native speaker will always review your translation.

We work this way because it produces the best, most consistent results. This is a frequent consideration within the translation industry, but is not widely understood from the outside. Unfortunately, some companies will downplay this truth because translators who are not native in the target language are more widely available, and disappointed clients are left with subpar translations, and they often do not have the skills to assess the quality of the work they have paid for.

Professional translators work into their native language… As a translation buyer, you may not be aware of this, but a translator who flouts this basic rule is likely to be ignorant of other important quality issues as well.

Translation: Getting It Right by the American Translators Association

We have a strongly-held conviction about translation: that the best translators have a perfect command of the target language, even more so than the source language. This has nothing to do with a translator’s nationality, and everything to do with their years of experience in the target language. A translator with a standard high school and university education in their native language has more than 20 years of additional experience in that language than in their second language. The advanced writing and speaking abilities of a native speaker will almost always be superior, precisely because they have so much more and varied experience in their native language.  

Have you ever felt that you could understand a second language better than you could speak it? Maybe you took French classes in high school, and you can read a menu in French, but you wouldn’t know exactly how to chat up your waiter. This reflects a basic fact about language acquisition: understanding precedes speech.  Even babies must hear their parents speak many times before they learn to ask for what they want. For that reason, the translator doesn’t need to be native in the source language to understand it, but in order to translate it well, they must be able to express themselves flawlessly in the target language.

Stage of Language AcquisitionGeneral Behaviors of Language Learners
Silent/Receptive Stage
10 hours to 6 months
500 receptive words
point to objects, act, nod, or use gestures
say yes or no
speak hesitantly
Early Production Stage
6 months to 1 year
1000 receptive/active words
produce one-or two-word phrases
use short repetitive language
focus on key words and context clues
Speech Emergence Stage
1-2 years
3000 active words
engage in basic dialogue
respond using simple sentences
Intermediate Fluency Stage
2-3 years
6000 active words
use complex statements, ask questions
state opinions and original thoughts
interact in more lengthy conversations
Advanced Fluency Stage
5-7 years
content area vocabulary
converse fluently, read textbooks
argue and defend points
write organized and fluent essays
Krashen, 1982: “Principles and practice in second language acquisition”

Considering the chart above, based on the work of renowned linguist Stephen Krashen, minimum fluency requires a minimum of five to seven years of second-language acquisition, which is necessary to write advanced prose. A translator who received secondary, university, or postgraduate education immersed in another language may learn advanced writing and speaking skills, but their writing in their first language will likely still be superior. Regardless of education, speakers who reach native-level fluency in their second language require years of immersion. Time and experience, especially on the scale of years, are the most precious resources there are, making this level of second-language fluency very hard to achieve.

Our priority is to provide quality work from translators who are native-level speakers of the target language. These translations sound more natural, require less review, and are produced more quickly, resulting in unrivaled efficiency. The comparative advantage of native-level fluency is indispensable to us. And for your company’s needs, only the best will do.