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the loss of mother tongue
Thread poster: Tetyana Lavrenchuk

Tetyana Lavrenchuk  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 13:50
Italian to Russian
+ ...
Aug 16, 2010

Our first language is a gift from our mother. It's not only a part of our culture but also a part of our spirit and mind. But when we arrive in another country for any reason the foreign language inevitably interferes with our first language and if it's not practised for years it may even be forgotten. Studying a foreign language in a foreign country might make us forget our language and we might end by not knowing well either the former or the latter.

For a professional translator, an immigrated one or not it's of utmost importance to have a good knowledge of his or her mother tongue. But due to this problem of interference of the foreign language in our mother tongue when living for years in a foreign country some translation agencies employ only translators who live in the country of the target language.

But is this true that an immigrated translator is not so good at translation as the one living in the country of the target language (as soon as the most part of translators translate into their mother tongue)? Can we really forget our language? I know there are a lot of translators on this site who do not live in their countries of origin, what are the advantages in being an immigrated translator? What do you do in order not to forget your mother tongue? Or this problem is not relevent to you?

I'll be happy to hear the opinion of all people interested in this topic!

Tetyana


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Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 13:50
English to Croatian
+ ...
Pro's/ non pro's Aug 16, 2010

Tetyana Lavrenchuk wrote:
But is this true that an immigrated translator is not so good at translation as the one living in the country of the target language (as soon as the most part of translators translate into their mother tongue)? Can we really forget our language? I know there are a lot of translators on this site who do not live in their countries of origin, what are the advantages in being an immigrated translator? What do you do in order not to forget your mother tongue? Or this problem is not relevent to you?



I've reviewed translations done by immigrated translators that contained some cardinal errors in the language that's supposed to be their mother tongue ( the type of errors indicated to me very precisely that these translators had been from immigrant families). But not only that, immigrants who didn't have any formal training in translation, but instead can only "speak and understand" both languages.

One thing is true in your post and that's that the mother tongue is given to us by our mother ( hence the name), and it's a part of our being and soul. However, not all people master their mother tongue perfectly, and this can be irrespective of where they are located. It is more related to who they are speaking to and the amount of readings they had in their mother tongue, which greatly improves their chances of improving their vocabulary, syntax and general linguistic awareness in their mother tongue.


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Tetyana Lavrenchuk  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 13:50
Italian to Russian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
thanks Aug 16, 2010

Thanks a lot for your answer. Just for future posts "an immigrated translator" in my post I mean the one who has lived at least for 20 years in his/her country of origin not the one who was born in a foreign country and grown up in an immigrated family. I think these are different things.

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Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 13:50
English to Croatian
+ ...
Yes, it's different. Aug 16, 2010

Tetyana Lavrenchuk wrote:

Thanks a lot for your answer. Just for future posts "an immigrated translator" in my post I mean the one who has lived at least for 20 years in his/her country of origin not the one who was born in a foreign country and grown up in an immigrated family. I think these are different things.


Definitely, it's different. That latter will have a worse command of their mother tongue, definitely.


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:50
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Interesting question Aug 16, 2010

Tetyana Lavrenchuk wrote:

rs in a foreign country some translation agencies employ only translators who live in the country of the target language.

But is this true that an immigrated translator is not so good at translation as the one living in the country of the target language (as soon as the most part of translators translate into their mother tongue)? Can we really forget our language? I know there are a lot of translators on this site who do not live in their countries of origin, what are the advantages in being an immigrated translator? What do you do in order not to forget your mother tongue? Or this problem is not relevent to you?

I'll be happy to hear the opinion of all people interested in this topic!

Tetyana


Hi Tetyana - I lived in Italy for more than 20 years and there was one period of about 10 years when I never visited the UK and never spoke English to anyone and never read or wrote anything in English. I began to deeply miss my mother tongue, and missed hearing it spoken.

Then people started to visit me from the UK, and I started visiting the UK myself. I found that the language had evolved a long way and that new expressions were being used; other expressions had fallen into disuse or sounded "passé" when used by my Italian friends who thought they were up to speed with their English. Even the ways in which sentences were constructed had changed, and so had nuances and allusions, as had the ironic subtexts that are never explicit in English but which are so important for full comprehension.

Now that I live back in the UK, I find that my translations are much fresher and use current English, not the slightly stale English I was using when I had stopped speaking it.

So I very strongly believe that living surrounded by one's one native language is very important for a translator. It certainly gives me an advantage.

All languages are evolving all the time, none more than English, and it's very easy to fall out of step unless you're there !

At the same time (and for the same reasons) it's important to keep up to speed with the language you're translating from - but a little less so, since you're not translating into that language.

[Edited at 2010-08-16 13:42 GMT]

[Edited at 2010-08-16 14:25 GMT]


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Jeff Allen  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 13:50
Multiplelanguages
+ ...
existing threads on mother tongue attrition Aug 16, 2010

Hi,

There are a few good threads on this topic in the Multilingual families forum.

Jeff


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Lindsay Spratt  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 13:50
Member (2011)
Portuguese to English
+ ...
on losing your mother tongue Aug 16, 2010

I am British and have lived abroad for 4 years. I try to read English-language media and blogs online to keep my English up to date, as well as keeping in touch with friends. I've also asked my family to point out if I say anything that sounds strange! I never thought I would forget my mother tongue, especially because I studied English Lit at university, but I do sometimes have to force myself to translate things in my head, to remind myself of how things are actually said in English! For example, yesterday in the toilets at the cinema I saw a sign which would be 'Avoid throwing paper on the ground', and I tried to think how that would be written in English, because things are often worded totally differently. I think these are things you start to forget. Of course, sometimes when I go home I marvel at the uses of English!

One thing which I would say is an advantage with having English as a mother tongue is that your exposure to it is pretty high, so even living in Brazil, I can watch TV in English and buy books in English. Another advantage is that it's not very similar to the languages I speak, Portuguese and Spanish. When I was in Spain I met quite a few Brazilians who had lived in Spain for so long that they couldn't speak Portuguese properly anymore. This fascinated me, and I think it has to do with the two languages being so similar. In most cases they could speak neither language properly, because their Spanish had crept into their Portuguese and yet the Spanish they spoke everyday was still accented with Portuguese cadences. I also met an Argentinian here in Brazil who has been here for some 20 years and speaks a hybrid of Portuguese and Spanish, and is unable to speak either without interference. I think this is quite a sad situation!


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Edward Vreeburg  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 13:50
Member (2008)
English to Dutch
+ ...
temporary loss? Aug 16, 2010

I did find when I was living in France and visiting the Netherlands every 6 months or so, that I had to get accustomed to the sound of Dutch (when coming out of the station I could not understand people at the bus stop for 10 minutes or so)..
I also remember my mum actually telling me" You do realise you are now speaking French to me?". (and my mother tongue is Dutch)...

I can also see it in translations and feedback I get from certain US clients, they went to school in the 50-70 and that shows, the comments they give no longer apply, and
"their" language has evolved!...

Ed


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Soonthon LUPKITARO(Ph.D.)  Identity Verified
Thailand
Local time: 18:50
Member (2004)
English to Thai
+ ...
I suffered a lot Aug 16, 2010

Tetyana Lavrenchuk wrote:
----------
But is this true that an immigrated translator is not so good at translation as the one living in the country of the target language (as soon as the most part of translators translate into their mother tongue)? Can we really forget our language? I know there are a lot of translators on this site who do not live in their countries of origin, what are the advantages in being an immigrated translator? What do you do in order not to forget your mother tongue? Or this problem is not relevent to you?

Hello Tetyana. I totally agree with you. I has been blamed for bad translations by Thai translators not living in Thailand for many times. Many of them were professional graduates from Thai universities but contemporary language sense is not updated. Yesterday I did a big volume translation proofreading job of a New York translation agency. I commented that the translator is not likely to be staying in Thailand since many basic grammars were mistaken. The agency agreed [but they continue hiring those translators due to their convenient time zone!] with my comments. Is this a bad point of Internet based translation business?

By the way, I studied abroad for over 10 years and rarely chats in my native languages. But I seldom forget my native language regarding grammars. Yes, I did not learn new native idioms/slangs during those day. But my behavior, not my native language, that changed significantly due to influence of foreign countries, and I was frequently against due to my rough verbal language usage!

Best regards,

Soonthon Lupkitaro


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polyglot45
English to French
+ ...
the upside Aug 16, 2010

As one who was born in one country but has almost always lived in another, I have to concede that I often have to make a concerted effort to keep up what has to be classed as my original mother tongue. I do so by insisting that only English be spoken at home, reading the UK press, contributing to sites such as this, only watching films in original English and reading novels or other books in the language on a regular basis. I seem to get by pretty well on that, although I will admit that I'm probably a bit behind with the latest slang!

The upside is that, when translating from French, I have a much better grasp of the underlying meanings and a far greater knowledge of the cultural issues than many of my peers based in English-speaking countries but who do not live, sleep and breathe the source language way of life on a daily basis.

A good case in point is my current job which is all about HR and requires a very good understanding of how the French system works. I defy anyone who hasn't lived in France recently to even recognise the potential translation pitfalls. Indeed many of the questions that crop up on this and other similar sites are posed by people whose ignorance of such issues is immediately obvious from what they ask....

As in most things in life: you win some, you lose some!


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xxxwonita
China
Local time: 08:50
More problem with vocabulary Aug 16, 2010

Soonthon LUPKITARO(Ph.D.) wrote:

Hello Tetyana. I totally agree with you. I has been blamed for bad translations by Thai translators not living in Thailand for many times. Many of them were professional graduates from Thai universities but contemporary language sense is not updated. Yesterday I did a big volume translation proofreading job of a New York translation agency. I commented that the translator is not likely to be staying in Thailand since many basic grammars were mistaken.

Being away from my home country for more than 15 years, my command of the Chinese grammar is as good as before and I can still write beautifully fluent Chinese sentences without giving away my location. What my language most suffers is my vocabulary, which stays at the 1990s. I haven't been able to build a real native feeling to some Chinese words I learned later, and they are as foreign to me as my second language. As a result, I never use these words actively.

A few years ago I installed a satellite receiver at home, which enables me to get TV programs directly from China. Since then I have been watching Chinese news so long every day, until I get really fed up with those political propagandas.

If being a good translator were the utmost goal in my life, I would have moved back long ago.

[Edited at 2010-08-16 16:47 GMT]


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Dragomir Kovacevic  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 13:50
Italian to Serbian
+ ...
the advantages Aug 16, 2010

Tetyana Lavrenchuk wrote:

I know there are a lot of translators on this site who do not live in their countries of origin, what are the advantages in being an immigrated translator?


There have to be those circumstances where translators live as immigrants in other countries and make use of their native language(s) for the benefit of community. Yes, that is the primary attribute that explains why good translators, like italian and french architects projecting a place like St. Petersburg, german shoemakers and carpenters in Russia, professors on all sides of the world, did to fill the need for their services abroad. Even those relatively rudimentary craftsmen had to renew their mastery, acquire new techniques and follow trends, travelling back to their originating countries.

What do you do in order not to forget your mother tongue? Or this problem is not relevent to you?


Reading constantly, keeping in company of native language speaking friends. Specially, if one's family is completely immigrant, there are less hopes for a complete immersion into a local language. Sometimes it is that helps in keeping you well stitched to your mother language, when you are not surrounded with people speaking an excellent local language, but a doubtful colloquial jargon.
Another chapter of this one, as far as my situation is concerned, is that so many illegal transformations occurred with my country of birth, alongside with political violences against language. Therefore, my native languages are somehow in a state of neglect, or passing through some pseudo-metamorphosis.

Therefore, some slight losses that might occur to a translator in his/hers less vivid mother languages, are greatly overcome with the social necessity of the function in the country of immigration.

Dragomir

[Edited at 2010-08-16 18:29 GMT]


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Neil Coffey  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:50
French to English
+ ...
You're unlikely to lose the very fundamentals... Aug 16, 2010

Tetyana Lavrenchuk wrote:
Our first language is a gift from our mother.


Just as an aside -- I assume you mean very very very metaphorically speaking. Children acquire the language(s) they're exposed to, not that of the mother/parent per se. And even when the language that the child is exposed to is that of the mother, it's not clear that they give any privileged status to the speech of the mother/parents (and actually there's some evidence that children may disregard aspects of the mother's speech and that what counts more is the speech of the "community at large" to which they're exposed).


But is this true that an immigrated translator is not so good at translation as the one living in the country of the target language (as soon as the most part of translators translate into their mother tongue)? Can we really forget our language?


There's *limited* evidence that in *extreme* cases very fundamental aspects of a native language can be forgotten (those interested may like to Google a recent paper entitled "“Die Muttersprache vergisst man nicht” – or do you? A case study in L1 attrition and its (partial) reversal"). But it's probably fair to say that losing very fundamental features of one's native language is hugely rare and occurs in fairly extreme cases, where the person is isolated from other native speakers/written instances of the native language over very many years.

So the kinds of things you might lose over time are likely to be cultural aspects as you say (is the most trendy French word for a mobile phone "portable", "GSM", "zéro-six"...?) or language usage issues that are somewhat "on the fringe" of the core language, and which may well vary from native speaker to native speaker (is knowing whether to write "reneged from..." or "reneged on..." really an issue about being a native speaker or not? if you asked 100 "average native speakers" for their instinctive opinion, what level of consensus do you think you'd get?).

Whether you're in the country of a native or non-native language most of the time, you should ideally be trying to "absorb" as much of the culture and language of both "native" and "non-native" countries. Or put another way: the need to "make a special effort" with your native language isn't restricted to cases where you're not living in the country to which that language is native.


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John Rawlins  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 13:50
Spanish to English
+ ...
Abroad is not what it used to be Aug 16, 2010

When I moved to Spain some 20 years ago it felt like I had left the UK far behind. In those days, i had no phone (in the 1990s you had to marry a Telefonica engineer if you wanted a telephone installed) and so I did feel rather isolated from my friends, family, and the English language.

My only links were the occasional phone call from a draughty Telefonica cabin and the intermittent BBC World Service on shortwave radio.

In comparison, I now receive all the BBC TV and radio stations on satellite, I can chat all day long to my family on Skype for no cost, and I can rent any DVD and choose to watch in either English or Spanish. The Daily Telegraph is also now printed in Spain and on sale in my village kiosk.

I was once in danger of losing some of my native English, but thanks to technology that threat has vanished.



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Suzan Hamer  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 13:50
English
+ ...
I have to agree with Neil on this. Aug 16, 2010

Neil Coffey wrote:

Tetyana Lavrenchuk wrote:
Our first language is a gift from our mother.


Just as an aside -- I assume you mean very very very metaphorically speaking. Children acquire the language(s) they're exposed to, not that of the mother/parent per se. And even when the language that the child is exposed to is that of the mother, it's not clear that they give any privileged status to the speech of the mother/parents (and actually there's some evidence that children may disregard aspects of the mother's speech and that what counts more is the speech of the "community at large" to which they're exposed).



I'm a native speaker of US English. My daughter and I moved to the Netherlands when she was about 2 years old. I have always spoken only English to her. When she was 4 she began school in the Netherlands. When she played with her dolls, they always "spoke" Dutch.... So even though the first language my daughter heard and learned was English, and it was the only language she heard at home, apparently the language she thought and played in, her interior language, was Dutch, the language of the community around her.


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