Expats and updating their native language
Thread poster: Ruxi

German to Romanian
+ ...
Oct 30, 2006

I had today an experience who leaded me to the idea that I may not be up to date with my native language.
First of all I want to say that living in another country is, from the translator's point of view, usefull, as you can learn very well the foreign language, but what happens to the native one?
As we know languages are dynamic, they change both in grammar and in vocabulary.
Not using your native language can lead to not being aware or up to date with the changes or even to forgetting it.
In time I have seen people who stopped using their native language and as a result can not talk it properly any more, or at all.
I would say that at least the basic language you should always remember, by having contact with people from your native country.
As a translator you actually have to be up to date with changes in your native language, because you use it in translation.
My questions are now:
1. which language is more important in a translation and must be always up to date (source or target language i.e native)?
2. did you experience such problems, being an expat?
3. can you manage to follow and be up to date with all languages you are using?

I dare to say that an expat person and translator has more difficulties than one living in his native country from more points of view (languages update, finding jobs, aso).

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Marie-Hélène Hayles  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:06
Italian to English
+ ...
can be tricky... Oct 30, 2006

I must say I have no problem in keeping my written English up to scratch, although spoken English is a different matter. I was fortunate enough to have an English friend staying with me for several months this year, which got my spoken English back up to scratch.
to answer your questions:

1) I think it depends on what type of translation you're doing. In technical translations, it's not important to have a knowledge of the latest buzz words and slang in your target language, but you do need an excellent knowledge of the latest terminology in your source language (as well as in the target language, of course). Whereas in literature, current knowledge of the common usage of your target language may be more important.

2) Yes, see above!

3) It's possible (at least with two languages), but you do need every-day contact with both of them. I also think that one or the other will always be dominant at any given moment. in my experience, it takes up to an hour to "switch" from thinking in one language to thinking in the other, or vice versa. For example, after chatting with my English friend, my Italian was more stilted - to the extent that both I and my Italian friends noticed it - until my brain "re-set" into Italian mode.

[Edited at 2006-10-30 15:06]

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Sonja Allen  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:06
Member (2005)
English to German
+ ...
No matter where you live, either the foreign or the native language suffers Oct 30, 2006

As a German, I have been living in England for 8 years now and in the beginning, I was concentrating on learning English and I was working only with English people. Therefore, I lost all the contact to the new developments in the German language. But when I started to work for another company in England that required me to speak and write to German clients, I had to make an effort to brush up my German again. So I read more in German, bought a satellite to watch German TV programms etc., and soon it all came back to me. I found it easy to get up to date again in my own language while living abroad. But I think it is much more difficult to keep up with the new developments in a foreign language if you live in your native country as new developments might not say so much to you. The foreign language is not so ingrained in you and always weaker than your native one, so I suppose, you also forget things in that language easier if you are not constantly surrounded by it.

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Local time: 11:06
3 languages (1 native + 2 foreign) at a time Oct 30, 2006

From my long-term stays in foreign countries (Italy, Germany, and the UK) I have experienced that I can only keep 2 foreign languages + 1 native language at a high passive and active level. I have 2 native languages (Spanish and Galician), but now that I haven't lived in Galicia for almost 2 years, I feel that my Galician has become so poor that I have decided to remove it, for the moment, from my ProZ language pairs. It is easier to keep my Spanish because it is the language I use with my family and I don't have many problems to find newspapers, books or films in this language (as opposed to Galician). The funny thing is that I still write in Galician every day (creative writing I mean, though of an extremely poor quality as well), but I can't imagine translating a technical or marketing text to Galician! It would take me years and would sound weird!

As for the foreign languages, one, of course, is the language of the country I live in (Italian in Italy, German in Germany, English in the UK), the other one depends on other circumstances. For example, in Italy it was English because I did an internship which involved extensive use of this language; in Germany it was French because it was the language I spoke at home; I don't know which one will be in the UK as I've been here only for a few weeks. I try to keep alive my other languages by reading extensively in them, but I know that my knowledge will be mostly "passive" and if I have to speak it, I will be very ashamed!

So 3 languages (1+2) at a time is my limit, but I don't know for others.

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ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:06
English to French
+ ...
5 - 2 = 3 Oct 31, 2006

I speak five languages. Of course I don't get to practice all five of them every day - right now, my German is a little rusty

I do manage to speak, read and write three languages on a daily basis. I fortunately live in Quebec, where you almost need to speak English and French in order to survive. I mean, if you want a better job than McDonalds, you have to speak both. This helps me practice both at an equal level. I also have family to practice the third one (Hungarian) - and boy, does my mom ensure I practice it (the phone keeps ringing all the time).

I have some smaller troubles. Like when I fill out a form and I have to check English or French as the language I prefer to be contacted in. I never know which one to check - I am no better in one than in the other and I don't like one more than the other. I can't make up my mind! I have the same problem with bilingual websites...

I get to speak 3/5 of the languages I know. I have the privilege to be in a bilingual country and to have people around me who speak more than just the local languages. If I removed these factors, maybe I wouldn't speak three languages. But then again, maybe it would not have an effect... One thing I know is that the ability to speak several languages at high levels doesn't depend on the capabilities of the person as much as it depends on their environment. I truly believe it is possible to speak more than three languages at once - provided you have the drive for it and are ready to nurture it, and make the necessary efforts. Oh, and necessary effort doesn't mean taking language courses!

And here's a thought: with all the anglicisms taking over like pest in all languages presently, I don't regret that my Hungarian did not "evolve" with the rest of Hungary. Even ideas they have their own words for are being expressed using anglicisms. Trendy is "trendi" in Hungarian, and a single is a "szingli". Thanks, but no thanks.

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Paul Lambert  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:06
Member (2006)
Swedish to English
+ ...
Get a shortwave radio! Oct 31, 2006

Some languages are more prevalent than others. If you live in Northern Europe, like I do, you will readily hear German, Chinese and Arabic most, but also other languages. English language broadcasters like BBC and VOA are less and less prevalent today on Shortwave, but they can be heard on Internet.

Listen for about 2 or 3 hours to your own country's national broadcaster. The topics of discussion are usually quite dry and the purpose often propagandistic, but the quality of the language and pronunciation is superb.

At night, try the MW (AM) radio. In Europe, every language can be heard. Besides, radio is a fascinating hobby so for me, I am mixing work and play!

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Rafa Lombardino
United States
Local time: 03:06
Member (2005)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
2 + 1 + 1/2 = ? Oct 31, 2006

I'm not that good at Math, but let's see...

My 2 main working languages are Portuguese and English. Being in the U.S., having an American husband and American in-laws, and using English as my business language to communicate with national and international clients, I spend 99% of my time speaking English only.

Having lived in Brazil for 22 years, attending High School and Journalism College there, I don't see myself losing my Portuguese any time soon. Besides, we try to go there every 18 months to visit family and friends who only speak Portuguese and, whenever time allows me to, I try to talk to my Mom on the phone (over the internet) at least once a week. I'm too critical of my writing and speaking that I "mentally slap" myself every time the wrong word wants to come out... So I believe I won't be losing my Portuguese because I've had a linguistic grasp of it for a long time now, meaning that I wasn't merely speaking it as a native speaker, but studying it at another level while working as a translator, ESL teacher, and studying Journalism. I believe such grasp is what makes a language follow you throughout your life, as long as you're willing to follow it as well.

My husband is slowly learning Portuguese, so we do get three Brazilian channels on the dish and watch it from time to time. I do notice new slangs and even "new meanings" that I must catch up with (my younger brother is the one that keeps me on my toes as far as slangs are concerned...) But that's the cultural aspect of language development and I'm the one who has to be constantly working on it, because the language won't stop and wait for me to catch up... I have also noticed those words that I wasn't aware of in a way that they are literal translations of the English words and are becoming more and more popular in Brazilian vocabulary, sometimes unfortunately to the detriment of those Latin-rooted ones which had long been in use.

My 3rd working language is Spanish, even though I only work with it as a source language into my two target languages. I've been going to the University of California, San Diego to become an EN-ES certified translator, but I don't intent to actively work on EN>ES. I only speak Spanish to some of the people I met there and they're great in helping me out with my level of fluency in Spanish, so I'm aware of the fact that I could only be 100% verbally fluent in my 3rd language if I went to live in a country where only Spanish were spoken. Yeah, I'm in Southern California and Spanish is very strong here (some people even start speaking Spanish to me on the street because of my Latina looks), but I only have what I call an artificial contact with it; in other words, I mostly "get ready" before going to class, meeting up with Spanish-speaking colleagues, watching a movie or listening to talk radio in Spanish, or reading the source text I have to translate into my target language(s).

Anyway, besides having two target languages and deep knowledge of a 3rd working language that I can speak to a certain level, I've been trying to study Italian on my own. I say "trying" because I cannot dedicate enough time to studying it properly and because Spanish is the language on which I'm mostly concentrating my development efforts. Again, I know I'll never speak it fluently or spell it properly (unless we moved to Italy), but I do intend to study it enough to be able to work on the IT>PT and IT>EN language pairs in about 10 years... As of now, I can understand written Italian pretty well (75%) and spoken Italian well enough (50%) on a student's level.

Portuguese and English are not gonna be slipping through my fingers anytime... I hear and speak both on the same level, without thinking too much about them and as naturally as I can. However, in order to further my knowledge and keep myself up to date in Spanish, what I'm able to do is watch tv and movies, besides listening to talk radio and reading the news. I've also been reading some novels to acquire more vocabulary. Let's see if in about five years I'll be able to read a novel in Italian and understand 99% of it as I've been doing in Spanish. Vocabulary will be in constant development tough, but hey I haven't memorized Portuguese and English dictionaries either!

Final verdict: 2 native languages + 1 source language + 1/2 a language in progress...

P.S.: sorry for the long post, but I love throwing ideas at my colleagues and getting their feedback to learn more about what we do, which is "breathe" languages...

[Edited at 2006-10-31 21:08]

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