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I posted this question in the English SE but I guess the discussion got a bit off-topic so someone suggested I post a similar question on this SE.

I am originally from the Philippines and I work as an editor for a research center in Germany. I also speak Filipino, the national language of the Philippines, but for all intents and purposes English is my first language. I can honestly say I cannot remember a time when I didn't speak English, and my Filipino is nowhere near as good as my English (I could never write or edit Filipino texts or speak in Filipino without codeswitching). But whenever I meet someone new (and in academia there's a great deal of networking), I always get comments like "wow your English is so good!" Most of the time people drop the topic when I say English is my first language and talk a little about Philippine history. But there are some who say things like "I'm surprised they hired a Filipino for this job" or "But English really isn't your native language, right?" or "But your Filipino is still much better than your English, right?" and that's when things get awkward. Some clients have asked my co-editors to go over my work and would only accept my edits upon verification by my British and American colleagues. Worst case scenario would be explicitly asking my boss not to pass on their draft manuscripts to me.

I love editing and would love to stay in this field, but I'm afraid I will never be good enough because of something I have zero control over. How do I handle situations and comments like that without misrepresenting myself? I know people are curious, but it's exhausting having to justify myself constantly and "educate" people. Plus it puts the pressure on me to be perfect all the time, lest it casts any doubt on my "claim" as a native speaker. At the end of the day, I would like my colleagues to accept that English is my first language (irrespective of their views on "native speaker-ness") and that I am perfectly qualified for this job, not simply "good enough" to keep up with my US/UK co-editors.

EDIT: By "misrepresenting" I mean having to say that English isn't my first language to conform to their ideas and avoid awkward situations altogether.

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There are a couple of things here to note in your question. Firstly:

"But English really isn't your native language, right?" or "But your Filipino is still much better than your English, right?" and that's when things get awkward.

I would simply reiterate that English is your first language and you know a little Filipino. I doubt a history lesson would help too much, just a simple statement of fact.

Some clients have asked my co-editors to go over my work and would only accept my edits upon verification by my British and American colleagues. Worst case scenario would be explicitly asking my boss not to pass on their draft manuscripts to me.

This is the crux of the problem, and this is something that you need to address with your boss and your HR department. Your boss needs to reiterate to the clients that English is your first language. Keep repeating it. You are being discriminated against here, based on your nationality and the perception of your language skills.

So where you do go from here? You talk to your boss, and you talk to HR. You inform them that you feel you are being discriminated against on the basis of your nationality, and that you need your boss and co-workers to tell clients directly about your high level of capability in English.

If necessary (and this is perhaps too brave for many organisations), your boss or co-workers could imply that the request to have someone else review your work is discriminatory. I don't know how big your organisation is or your clients, but simply mentioning that it seems to be discriminatory to assume your English is poor may be worthwhile. I'd take this as a last course of action.

Mostly, just make sure that your boss and co-workers back you up. If they don't, then I can't see too many other options with this organisation.

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    Yes, this is really a management problem. I'd like to add that being a native speaker is neither necessary nor sufficient for language competency, so the very idea of insisting on a native speaker is already misguided. For example, professional translators often translate into non-native languages, and still produce professional results. – sleske Nov 18 '15 at 10:01
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    Most native English speakers do not have sufficient command of English to work as an editor. I wouldn't worry about distinctions between native and non-native speakers but just keep demonstrating your competence in English. – TheMathemagician Nov 18 '15 at 10:24
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    +1 for getting manager and colleague support. If they are requested to double-check your work, they should simply say that they trust you and don't want to waste their time doing something again. They could even request more money for the extra time spent. – David K Nov 18 '15 at 13:37
  • If you are on good terms with your co-editor: The next time a request comes in that he or she should review your edits, they might reply along the lines that this would be pointless because your English is much better than theirs. – gnasher729 Nov 18 '15 at 19:46
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This is a problem (good) management shouldn't let you face. If you're work's good enough, and I'm assuming it is, then your manager should be refusing these requests from your clients - they don't get to decide who works on a translation, your manager does. Your manager should be prepared to defend the quality of their employees.

I'd approach this by having a chat with your manager - make it clear that you're feeling that you're not being judged on the quality of your work, but on who you are. At least initially, I'd wouldn't mention the "race" word, although it does sound very much like you're being judged on your race.

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You can't help what you look like, if you look like a Filipino then you need to expect this sort of thing. Or any non European group I guess.

To mitigate against it (you'll never get rid of it entirely) have a close listen to your accent and do what you can to improve it. I speak English with a New Zealand accent, so people just assume I'm a New Zealander born and bred of some exotic foreign extraction and that English is my first language, whereas in fact it's not. It's only the first impressions hurdle you need to take care of, once people recognise your competence it doesn't matter what you look like or where you were born and raised.

I don't even mention where I am originally from unless asked, and I work in a few languages, two of which everyone in those countries probably thinks is my first language if they think about it at all.

  • Most people, even Americans, think I'm Asian-American. I think that adds to their curiosity ("wow you speak with an American accent!"). With peers I just say jokingly "I know what I sound like," but I can't say that to everyone. I don't mind getting asked, but people tend to prod for more information I cannot provide. Is there any polite way to say I don't want to get into the specifics of my linguistic background or the socio-linguistic history of the Philippines? – iamnarra Nov 18 '15 at 8:29
  • unsure what you mean, I would think there are at least a million asian americans as there are plenty of asian germans or asian French etc,. so I can't see what is unusual in it. Nor can I see why they would question your competence in English if they assume you're American. It sounds like they're just interested in you as a person. – Kilisi Nov 18 '15 at 9:18
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    I think you're attracting downvotes because of the phrasing of your first sentence. I'm assuming you meant it in the sense of "there will always be people discriminating against you, even subconsciously" rather than "just accept it". That said, I'm not sure fixing the first impression is the way to go, at least not for this OP. – Lilienthal Nov 18 '15 at 9:57
  • @Lilienthal I'm philosophical on the downvotes, I think my answer may be useful for many people so I'll leave it although it might not be what the OP wants to hear. It's worked for me in several countries and I'm a heavily tattooed brown chap who looks like he just stepped out of a jungle. – Kilisi Nov 18 '15 at 18:11
  • @iamnarra I assume you meant to ping Kilisi instead of me? – Lilienthal Nov 19 '15 at 8:36

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