Native vs Non-native
It’s a never-ending debate which is still raging within the international community of translators and interpreters. It’s unhealthy and sterile because the position of a wide majority is only based on personal belief and prejudice. Sure, there are some people who will have had the misfortune of experiencing terrible situations which only reinforced these beliefs. However, considering that only a native speaker can deliver a proper translation into the target language in his pair is being unreasonably narrow-minded. (Note that I used the word “only”.)
Native speakers of a given language are not created equal when it comes to language capabilities. On top of that, many factors will (over time) influence the level of mastery one will display using that language throughout their adult life, both in their personal and professional interactions.
And if I may say so, a native speaker does not necessarily a native writer make.
In each and every language there are brilliant users of the spoken word, brilliant users of the written word, some who combine both skills and others who are clueless when it comes to speaking or writing properly. Some people can write a decent letter (not a descent letter as I’ve seen some folks write…) and spot mistakes or problems in the work of others while they are totally unable to write something complex.
Nowadays, the issue of native speakers who can’t compete with foreign users of their language in terms of level of mastery seems to be getting worse.
There was a time when people relied on encyclopedic books or dictionaries to make sure they had the right word when writing or to check the spelling of an unfamiliar term. With the rise of technology, people have been feeling more and more confident about their language skills. Spell-check, autocorrect and the likes can be helpful, don’t get me wrong. Still, they can’t replace human knowledge and the human eye and forgetting that simple fact often leads many writers astray.
So far, only a human can make the difference between a proper word which is still out of place, a proper word in the appropriate sentence which makes perfect sense and the sentence which, in spite of having a perfect structure, will ring weird to most literate native users (and I’m talking basic literacy here).
A person who came into contact with a language which is/was not spoken by their own parents or by anyone in their direct environment is considered a non-native speaker. But the definition beyond that is pretty vague. Too vague, in fact, to be the determining factor which will be used to judge a person’s language abilities before any interaction of any kind could take place.
Non-native speakers of a given language come in all shapes and sizes, or so to speak. The personal experience factor will