Many people seem to grant native speakers a professional status.
‘This was written by a native speaker, so it must be good.’
‘My colleague is a native speaker, and says there is no mistake here.’
‘She is a native speaker, so she could easily find work as a [insert linguistic profession here].’
But guess what? Being a native speaker is not a profession. Yes, really.
‘Why not?’, I hear you say.
Well, let’s have a quick look at the definition of ‘profession’, by Oxford Dictionaries:
Exactly. Being a native speaker of any language isn’t a paid occupation at all, let alone one that involves formal qualification.
Being a native speaker simply means, that you have acquired knowledge of a language from birth, and it’s your ‘first language’ or ‘mother tongue’. That’s it. Everyone is a native speaker of a language, and a national of a country, but people aren’t professional native speakers in the same way they aren’t professional Brits or Spaniards. You don’t get paid to be a Brit or a native English speaker per se. You get paid for having excellent English language skills and a sound knowledge of the British market, for example, which is something very different.
However, the fact of being a native speaker shouldn’t, in any case, be proof of possessing excellent language skills. Yes, having English as your mother tongue means you can speak and write in English, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you can speak and write well in English. It doesn’t make you a language teacher, a translator, an interpreter, a writer, an editor, or any other language-related professional. That only makes you a native English speaker.
Falling into the trap of thinking that having X as your mother tongue means that you have excellent language skills is probably due to everyone being able to read and write. But, can everybody read and write well to a professional level? No, they can’t.
Just think for a minute:
Would you ask a footballer to write a book for you?
Would you trust your neighbour, who doesn’t have any formal qualifications, with proofreading your personal statement for a university application?
Would your local hairdresser be a good English teacher to your teenage children?
Would your foreign cleaning lady be able to translate your Engineering-related research project?
Why not? They are all native speakers!
Because, writing, proofreading, language teaching and translating require much more than just knowing a language (or several). To carry out each of those tasks you need specific skills that can only be acquired through prolonged training and/or formal qualifications. They are professions.
And being a native speaker is not a profession.
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IRENE CORCHADO RESMELLA is a Spanish translator and content writer based in Oxford. A Spanish sworn translator and Chartered Linguist, she specialises in Legal, Marketing and Travel translation. Irene combines her linguistic skills with her knowledge of content marketing and a creative mind to help you get the right message across to your Spanish clients.
Blogger at Piggy Traveller and The Curiolancer.