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Is it better to live in country of source language if possible?
Thread poster: Joanna Coryndon

Joanna Coryndon  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 20:19
French to English
Dec 10, 2013

Dear All

I'm aware that this post might generate some heated exchange (or maybe not, I don't know, which is why I'm posting, because I'm interested). My question is: is it better to live in the country where your source language is spoken, if your circumstances permit it?

I ask because I'm a French > English translator, living in France, but I do miss friends and family in the UK and sometimes wonder if I ever moved back, whether I could keep translating to the same high standard I try to aspire to now and maintain the same business that I have now. I don't exactly get out and about much as a translator, but at least when I do, I'm exposed to French.

Personally, I feel I may not be able to keep up with French in the same way if I lived in the UK, but so many of you have more than one language pair, so must be addressing this problem for at least one of your languages. What do you do to keep up with your source language? (Travel to the country regularly, read, watch films?) Does *not* living in the country of the language you are translating from affect your work, do you think? Does it "handicap" your business at all?

One agency I contacted asked me how long I'd been living in France, so I assumed it was a criterion for them.

I'd be interested in your views, which will probably be as diverse as you are, but an overall consensus might emerge, which would be interesting generally and help me personally take a view on my long-term future.

Regards,
Joanna

PS I'm sorry, I think perhaps I should have posted this in "Getting Established" actually

[Edited at 2013-12-10 08:53 GMT]


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neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 20:19
Spanish to English
+ ...
It depends Dec 10, 2013

It works out for me, as my source language is Spanish and my standard of living is much better here than it would be back in the UK. And it's only a couple of hours flight away after all - am now looking forward to going back at Xmas for a couple of weeks, which I'm sure will be more than enough to quell any incipient homesickness!

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Rob Prior
Germany
Local time: 20:19
German to English
I'm in the same position. Dec 10, 2013

Hi,

I live in my SL country too, in Germany. There are plenty of issues to consider. From a linguistic standpoint it is probably better, as you are exposed to the language daily (I will never cease to be amazed how much my German improved just by watching TV). If you were living back home, you would have to find some kind of French club or society to practice with. Not bad, but not ideal.

Another benefit, at least in theory, is that you can visit direct clients if you have any. I am lucky to be living quite close to a number of potential direct clients in this part of the world and just as in any walk of life, it is often better to do things face to face than over the phone or through e-mail. I know of people who have had factory tours, etc.

Bear in mind that as a translator, you do have a degreee of mobility. You can go back home for a feww weeks and continue to work.


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Texte Style
Local time: 20:19
French to English
Wherever you are, a language will suffer! Dec 10, 2013

I have the same combination as you and have lived in Paris all my adult life. While I am obviously exposed to a lot of French, I do also have plenty of contact with native English speakers.

I do feel any time I go back to the UK, that French and France practically cease to exist, like a mild version of "go to the States and watch your country disappear", so I'm desperate to get back to a place where both my languages get regular use. I feel like if I lived in the UK for anything more than a month, my French would shrivel up and die.

Living away from your target language country also has its drawbacks. For a while I had no English-speaking friends and realised that I was losing my knack for saying exactly what I meant in English (the point where ex-pats start littering their native language with expressions from the local language). While I was juggling mothering and translation I was also rather out of touch with English apart from discussing nappies and breastfeeding with a couple of other English mothers I ran into in a local park. So I have since learned to keep up my English via lots of reading and staying in contact with plenty of English speakers through various channels.


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Neil Coffey  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 19:19
French to English
+ ...
Depends, but you have to make practical decisions Dec 10, 2013

Joanna Coryndon wrote:
I ask because I'm a French > English translator, living in France, but I do miss friends and family in the UK and sometimes wonder if I ever moved back, whether I could keep translating to the same high standard I try to aspire to now and maintain the same business that I have now.


Unfortunately, that's life: you can't be everywhere at once. While you're in France and your knowledge of French is improving and being kept "on the cutting edge", your English will be subtly declining in some respects and the reverse will be true while you're in the UK.

On the other hand, the two countries you're talking about aren't Botswana and Australia. There are a plethora of short, cheap flights between the UK and France and we even spent 20 billion quid on a tunnel between the two countries at one stage to help you solve this very problem. Also, it's not 1973. So, I would say decide where you feel happiest spending most of your time and take advantage of the privileged level of freedom of movement that there is between France and the UK. Take advantage of Skype, France 24 and the fact that you can easily track down local French clubs etc via t'Interweb...


[Edited at 2013-12-10 09:36 GMT]


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Karen Stokes  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 19:19
Member (2003)
French to English
Opposite position Dec 10, 2013

Hi Joanna,

I work in the same language combination as you but am based in the UK. For me, at least, it's an advantage to be surrounded by my target language as that's what I'm producing every day. It certainly hasn't caused me any problems as far as getting business is concerned – in fact the vast majority of my clients are in France.

Karen


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Marion Plath  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 19:19
Member (2013)
English to German
+ ...
Advantages and disadvantages Dec 10, 2013

I live in the country of my source language and while this is definitely an advantage regarding my source language skills, some agencies seem to think this is a disadvantage. A few times I have come across websites where it was stated that the agency's translators were all living in the country of their mother tongue. The reason for this is that they suspect that translators could lose touch with their own native language after having lived in another country for a long time.

I don't think it's very fair to automatically exclude translators who don't live in their target language country, but I do agree that it is important to pay attention to both languages equally. I personally see it as an advantage to live in the UK, my source language country and I make sure to keep up to date with what's going on in my native country by reading German news and books, watching German programs and last but not least, keeping in touch with German friends.


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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 20:19
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
If your target language is English, it is an advantage Dec 10, 2013

There are always pros and cons.

One client dropped me when they changed their policy to only working with translators who live in the country where their target language is spoken. I have practically never been short of work from other clients.

After nearly 36 years as an ex-pat, I know my source language in and out, read the newspapers and keep up with current affairs, and know as much about the country as many natives, more than some!

I have heard those little idioms and allusions that no one can look up or explain - I can usually cope with the generation gap when younger people's creative language is inevitably different from mine, not to mention things I learnt from my mother-in-law....

With a 'small' language like Danish it is not so easy to keep up from abroad, but I am sure it applies to a large extent to many others. At the same time you can't escape English, and with just a little effort and a broad band connection, you can keep in touch with lots of quality English in all genres and subject areas.

In Europe at least you can phone relatives and colleagues without worrying about the cost - it really was EXPENSIVE to ring my parents when I first came to Denmark, and prohibitive from many parts of the world. With e-mails and other forms of instant communication that we did not have then, it makes less difference which country you live in.

I am assuming that you can travel to the real thing a couple of times a year from France - there are always some things that don't come across in the virtual world!

That said, you can probably do it all in reverse - so live where it suits you and your family best.

[Edited at 2013-12-10 15:02 GMT]


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Erik Freitag  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 20:19
Member (2006)
Dutch to German
+ ...
No - au contraire Dec 10, 2013

My very personal opinion is that it's just the other way round: It's actually much better to live in a country where your target language is spoken. At least, it's your target language in which you need to produce flawless and idiomatic texts, which might be difficult if you're exposed to a different language in daily life.

Your ability to understand a written text in your source language will not suffer very much just by not being exposed to your source language in daily life.

That said, it certainly helps a lot to live in a source language country for some time on your way to becoming a translator, but that's a completely different issue.


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Laura Delia
Italy
Local time: 20:19
English to Italian
+ ...
Agree Dec 10, 2013

efreitag wrote:

My very personal opinion is that it's just the other way round: It's actually much better to live in a country where your target language is spoken. At least, it's your target language in which you need to produce flawless and idiomatic texts, which might be difficult if you're exposed to a different language in daily life.



I am working as a proofreader and not very long ago I had to ask the PM in charge to remove one of our Italian translators from our database. Since he had been living in the UK for many years, he wasn't able to write in a correct Italian anymore, making serious mistakes even as far as basic grammar was concerned.

[Modificato alle 2013-12-10 10:32 GMT]


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 19:19
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
You have a life as well as a job Dec 10, 2013

Christine Andersen wrote:
live where it suits you and your family best.

I think that's the most important recommendation you could ever give. Your life is more than just your job, however much you love your job. Once you get the really important decision made, you'll be able to concentrate on making it work for you. The biggest problem I can see when moving from France to the UK is the currency; some clients won't want to pay in GBP and if a large proportion are from France it might be best to keep a French bank account open for them.

I'm currently living in a country where I don't actually speak the language well. I made the move here after 15 years in France, for personal reasons (I just fell in love with the place), and I lost just one client in that move, the only one I ever met in person. The others had never met me, so why not continue? It may be that one day my French will deteriorate to a level where I can't do a good enough job, but it isn't happening 18 months down the line. Our TV broadcasts in our 3 languages and there's a thriving French community here. If I went back to the UK I'm sure I'd find native French speakers there too; my best friend from the UK is one!

Some jobs are restricted to those living in the target language country, others to those in the source, so it's "swings and roundabouts". I do lose out by being in neither, but there are an awful lot of jobs out there in our pair. Then again, if you're ready to change country, maybe you're ready to diversify: I'm doing more and more monolingual English work, alongside some translation.


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Texte Style
Local time: 20:19
French to English
not knowing what you don't know Dec 10, 2013

efreitag wrote:

Your ability to understand a written text in your source language will not suffer very much just by not being exposed to your source language in daily life.

That said, it certainly helps a lot to live in a source language country for some time on your way to becoming a translator, but that's a completely different issue.



I would say it depends on the type of translation you do. As a PM/proofreader in an agency, I often outsourced to FR-EN translators in the UK, and sometimes the work they produced showed a lack of knowledge about all things French. They sometimes missed jokes and sly cultural references, simply because they were not exposed to it all the time.

As a translator of art exhibition and museum material, I do find it easier to translate the stuff when I'm right there. I find that being in the thick of the culture means I don't have to do so much research. And I know stuff that I simply wouldn't know I didn't know if I were in the outer Hebrides.

As a PM, I only ever chose translators who had spent a considerable amount of time (minimum 1 year preferably more) in all the languages they would be using while working for me, but I had no criteria re current residence.


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Agnes Lenkey  Identity Verified
German to Spanish
+ ...
Living in the country of the target language Dec 10, 2013

Like Texte Style said, wherever you are, one language will suffer. It is a sad fact and something we always must consider and try to improve with the help of lifelong learning. Our time is quite limited and we cannot read the same amount of newspapers or watch TV etc. in both languages to the same extent, we cannot have the same amount of important friends speaking our working languages, not to mention that usually we speak only one language in our home (not my case, since I speak Spanish to my husband, but not to my children). For me, it is definitely better to live in the country of your target language. I completely agree with efreitag:

efreitag wrote:

Your ability to understand a written text in your source language will not suffer very much just by not being exposed to your source language in daily life.



[Edited at 2013-12-10 11:39 GMT]


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Joanna Coryndon  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 20:19
French to English
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks for some super replies! Dec 10, 2013

Dear Everyone who has replied so far

Thanks so much for some great replies: all interesting, sensible, generous and helpful.

I can see that there are pros and cons to each scenario, and certainly no hard and fast rules.

But what you've all said has clarified the issue for me personally. While I'm in France - lots of trips to the UK to keep the franglais at bay and to see loved ones, but it doesn't have to be permanent exile unless I want it to be.

Thank you again. It's so nice to know that we all face the same issues, working alone in our little boxes around the world!

Happy Christmas to all!

Joanna

PS Hello Sheila! You gave me some wonderful advice on this forum about setting up - almost a year ago now. Things are going strong - I can now say I'm a translator!


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 19:19
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
"I'm a translator!" Dec 10, 2013

Joanna Coryndon wrote:
PS Hello Sheila! You gave me some wonderful advice on this forum about setting up - almost a year ago now. Things are going strong - I can now say I'm a translator!

Indeed you can, Joanna. And I'm sure you'll be able to keep saying it, whichever side of the Channel you're on.


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