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What is a Native Speaker?

By Stephanie Ciccarelli

October 26, 2013

Comments (6)

3 male cyclists talking on the road - Santa Clara, CubaIn a world that seems to keep getting smaller and smaller, the need for localization has never been greater.

You may have heard the term "native speaker" being used, particularly in translation circles or when spotting a job posting targeted to people living in a specific geographical area.

Why should companies hire native speakers? What sort of an edge do native speakers have over other voice talent who, while capable of communicating in said language, were not raised speaking it?

Find out why your mother tongue can make all the difference in today's VOX Daily!

I Love Native Speakers

You might be wondering why I'm so excited about Native Speakers. Here's why.

In a recent conversation with Spanish voice over talent, Simone Fojgiel, I learned that 70% of the projects she receives from her clients that were translated from English into Spanish required revisions. Some even needed complete overhauls due to poor translation work. For the record, we're not talking the odd script here and there...we're talking nearly three quarters of all submitted scripts!

Before we start pointing fingers at translators in general, we need to take a deep breath and consider why some translations may be poor, inaccurate or altogether baffling. My dear friends, it all comes to down to whether or not the translator is a native speaker of the language they're translating in.

To give you an example, I am a native speaker of the English language, and more specifically, English as it is spoken in Canada. Drill down further still, I speak English in the Province of Ontario. On a regional level, I come from the southwest. The language I was raised speaking was English, I'm fluent in English, understand colloquialisms, proper intonation and the like. To put it succinctly, I am a native speaker of the English spoken in Southwestern Ontario, Canada.

Habla Español?

When writing a feature on Voice Over Times called "Is Your Spanish Getting Lost in Translation?" I came to learn that are a great many, indeed more than two, designated varieties of Spanish.

Most of the time, we think about the Spanish of Spain and then the Spanish spoken in Latin American countries. Can you even name three dialects of Spanish actively employed today? Here's a list:

  • Bolivian Spanish
  • Caribbean Spanish
  • Central American Spanish
  • Andean Spanish
  • Chilean Spanish
  • Colombian - Ecuadorian Spanish
  • Mexican Spanish
  • Northern Mexican Spanish
  • Paraguayan Spanish
  • Peruvian Spanish
  • Puerto Rican Spanish
  • Spanish from the River Plate or Buenos Aires Spanish or Montevideo Spanish

Let's not forget Neutral Latin American Spanish. It's a great bridge dialect so to speak that is recognizable to a wide spectrum of Spanish speakers.

To Serve and Protect

Something I love about Simone is that she's made it her mission to protect, preserve and propel the brand image of her English clients as they step out boldly in effort to communicate to Spanish speaking audiences.

She'll stop at nothing to keep bad translations at bay in order to shape the client's message to match the heart language of those meant to hear it. After years in advertising and broadcast radio, Simone found an opportunity to use her linguistic gifts to serve as a voice director for Spanish productions.

In addition to reviewing, prepping and even writing copy for her clients, Simone is actively involved in directing the voice-over talent to guarantee their performance is just right for the target audience. Performance means their ability to phrase well, to have good diction, know where to inflect and how as well as grasp the copywriter's intent. Having a native speaker directing a session is just as important as having a native speaker voicing in the booth. After all, getting the message right is a team sport.

6 Reasons Why Native Speakers Are Awesome

  • They understand their audiences
  • Their audiences understand them
  • They connect on a different level with their audience
  • They require less technical coaching
  • A native speaker "gets" the script
  • Native speakers can catch and correct errors in the script

Do You Embrace Your Native Tongue?

If you're actively promoting your native tongue, good on you! Authenticity in voice-over is a great thing and exactly what is required.

Comment to let me know how you position yourself as a native speaker and how that's worked out for you.

Best wishes,
Stephanie

©iStockphoto.com/Emilie-Duchesne


Comments


    Living in Istanbul, Turkey, I am always identified as a "native speaker" of English. It's interesting how this phrase has become both a part of my identity, and is central to my local marketing of my voiceover services.
    More often than not there is an implicit expectation that my role in a recording session is not just to give my best vocal performance, but that I will "tidy up" the script, if necessary. It is, however, essential to do this sensitively and check for permission before changing anything. Here knowledge of the original language (in my case, Turkish) is helpful as in making a correction the purpose not just to correct a simple error, but to properly convey the intended meaning.
    I'm sure we have lots of great experiences to share, my recent favourite was the translator (of a documentary) who apologised to me saying, "I'm sorry, I don't know English very well". I'd already understood that!
    Thanks for highlighting Simone's work. She is a true ambassador for Spanish, with a voice that makes angels sing...

    Posted by:

      Simone is awesome!
      And should be commended for her efforts to strive for excellence on her clients' behalf.
      ;-)

      Posted by:

        There was a similar discussion about "native" in one of my LinkedIn groups just this week!
        My mother-tongue is German - born and raised in Switzerland - but I've been living in the US for so long that my German has an "accent creep". Although I am a "native", I don't always book the German (or French) jobs due to the American English melody and tone that has snuck into my German. So I struggle with the definition of "native".

        Posted by:

          I am a Bermudian-American Voice Over Performer, born while my Bermudian Mother was a foreign student. I was raised both places. Spending my earliest years and every summer in Bermuda and educated in the U.S., I find that I am most often hired for work with my Bermudian accent, or a British accent and least of all hired to speak as an American. This was also true in my early days, when I worked on camera. I spent time and money in college taking classes to neutralize my "accents," only to find them an asset in the voice over world! This was a great article!

          Posted by:

            Hi Stephanie!

            Lovely reading your article on Native speakers. I have experienced much what you write so it all rang a bell very close to home!

            In my case, I can say I am as bi-lingual as it gets (English-somewhere along the trans-Atlantic belt) and Spanish (ranging from Castillian down to my "native" Canary Islands). So often I have received texts in English (from Spanish clients) and Spanish texts (from English clients) and had to spend hours trying to make sure the texts not only were grammatically correct, but flowed smoothly. Of course, clients often don't appreciate the extra effort involved, and neither does extra compensation for the task occur to them.

            But, as a professional I loathe having to voice a script if the grammar, or sentence structure isn't just right. But the client's the boss, and as the saying goes, when they say jump, you say how high!

            Posted by:
            • Ramesh Mahtani
            • October 31, 2013 12:20 PM

              Okay, but who decides who's a native speaker then?

              As Professor Deborah Cameron famously pointed out, UK statistics suggest that the test for British citizenship applicants advantages those native speakers of white European ancestry, as if they were more native than their black counterparts...

              Moreover, so-called "foreign" accents and dialects are as legitimate as so-called "native" accents and dialects. The world is always more diverse than what we think. It's not because we don't recognize an accent that it is foreign. It's just foreign to "us" (but who is "us" then?)

              "It all comes to down to whether or not the translator is a native speaker of the language they're translating in."

              No it doesn't. It has nothing to do with identity.

              It all comes done to whether the translation fits its purpose - nothing more, nothing less.

              Posted by:

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