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How long did it take you to master a new language from zero to working knowledge?
Thread poster: Camila Gough

Camila Gough
United Kingdom
Local time: 16:22
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Nov 14, 2012

I'm interested in hearing from people who were already working as translators in one language pair when they decided to learn another language from scratch, ideally those who didn't/weren't going to live in a country speaking that language. Or their first language for that matter!

I'm a Brazilian in Australia, translating EN>PT. I'd quite like to master another language and was hoping to get some insight into the time commitment and the approaches of those who have done the same (who actually then started translating from that other language, maybe went on to get a certificate etc.).

It doesn't count (sorry) if you learned a bit of that language back in school and then decided to take it up again

Many thanks!


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Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 16:22
Hebrew to English
A few variables... Nov 14, 2012

...What language are you considering taking up?

Will you have sustained/sufficient access to the language's native speakers? (i.e. unless you plan on uprooting to the country in question, is there a community of the language's native speakers in Australia?)

I decided against picking up another language personally, I briefly flirted with the idea of trying to acquire Greek, but decided I was happy with my source language for now.


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xxxwonita
China
Local time: 13:22
Depends largely on Nov 14, 2012

how intelligent you are!

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Camila Gough
United Kingdom
Local time: 16:22
English to Portuguese
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Italian, maybe French... Nov 14, 2012

Hi Ty,

The reason I thought I'd learn a new language is because my pair can be quite frustrating, with EN-PT translators a dime a dozen. As most of my peers live in Brazil, they seem to be able to work for much lower rates than I could, and many clients, especially those based in Brazil, will only look at prices when hiring (or will try to force everyone to accept the same low rates; publishing houses are the worst offenders).

So I figured I'd pick something else that would also be a source of cultural enjoyment for me. I love all things Italian and mother's side of the family is from Italy, so I gave that a thought. Have considered living in France one day, too, so that would be another one. And, finally, Arabic, because I like the sound of it (great informed reason for pursuing a language, I know...). But that one I know would be a crazy option, especially in Australia!

I think my next step would probably be to find out about the Italian and French speaking communities here, as you say.

Cheers!


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Camila Gough
United Kingdom
Local time: 16:22
English to Portuguese
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
You know... Nov 14, 2012

Bin Tiede wrote:

how intelligent you are!


Bin, I'm a friggin' genius


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Annett Hieber  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 17:22
English to German
Language Area Nov 14, 2012

I think that you can't say generally how long it takes to learn a language from scratch. There are several decisive factors:

a) What language.
b) What languages you already know, e.g. a language from the same language area (i.e.
you already know French and Italian and want to learn Spanish).
c) Your personal ability to acquire a new language.
d) Availability of source materials and media (TV, radio, etc.)
e) Opportunity to talk to native speakers of the language.

I, for example, am a native German speaker, translate from English to German, also can speak, write and understand French and have started learning Egyptian Arabic two years ago (as a hobby). However, it is very difficult for me to learn Arabic, because this language is from a completely different language area and the opportunity to exercise speaking is very rare.

Annett


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Camila Gough
United Kingdom
Local time: 16:22
English to Portuguese
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
You're absolutely right Nov 14, 2012

Annett Hieber wrote:

I think that you can't say generally how long it takes to learn a language from scratch.


I completely agree with you, Annett. I'm just interested in a few case studies, out of curiosity. Someone who started from scratch and added French to her working pairs within two years, someone else who took seventeen years to feel like he could finally translate from Russian and so on. I think what I'm really looking for is inspiration

Interesting to hear about Arabic as your hobby, because that's something that really interests me. But I've only ever been to Egypt once and will probably not go back very soon, and definitely not very often. I think I would really struggle to find Egyptians in Brisbane who'd want to spend time helping me practice!

Cheers.


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Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Finland
Local time: 18:22
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
Difficult question Nov 14, 2012

If the language is related to you native language you don't need much time to get ready. So a German native will not need much time to learn Dutch, Swedish, Danish or Norwegian to be able to translate from these. A year's stay in the resp. country should be sufficient. I had tuition for three years in Russian when I started to translate Russian patents related to my professional field in chemical industry. But otherwise I would think 5 years living in a country and using the language would make you fit.

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Camila Gough
United Kingdom
Local time: 16:22
English to Portuguese
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
The country issue Nov 14, 2012

Heinrich Pesch wrote:
I would think 5 years living in a country and using the language would make you fit.


Hi Heinrich,

This is my biggest obstacle. Moving is not an option at the moment - I am put in Australia for the foreseeable future.

Thanks for sharing your experience!


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Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 16:22
Hebrew to English
Don't knock it! :-) Nov 14, 2012

Camila Gough wrote:
Arabic, because I like the sound of it (great informed reason for pursuing a language, I know...). But that one I know would be a crazy option, especially in Australia!


That's exactly the reason why I chose Hebrew all those years ago (I love the way it sounds, I also liked the alphabet! )...and that didn't turn out too badly

I think it's more important to be passionate about a language, or to possess anything (even a liking for the way it sounds) in order to generate motivation, which you'll need for learning any language beyong the plateau stage.

so,...maybe not so crazy and with Arabic.....

+ I'm sure there must be communities of Arabic speakers in Australia (I was under the impression that Australia has a rather robust Lebanese population)

- Learning a Semitic language can be hard (trust me, I know! ). If you choose Arabic, be prepared for it to take a lot longer than it would to learn French or Italian (or any other Romance language)...but well worth it if you perservere.

Good luck!


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Teresa Borges
Portugal
Local time: 16:22
Member (2007)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
It depends! Nov 14, 2012

As Heinrich said: If the language is related to your native language you don't need much time to get ready.

Some years ago, I decided to study Italian and it took me circa 3/4 years to start translating. Then I thought why not learn Greek? But after 10 lessons I had to give up, it was really too hard and my brain just refused to cooperate!


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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 11:22
Russian to English
+ ...
I agree with Ty, here. Nov 14, 2012

It is better to know two languages really well, than four "so so". I learned most of the languages I speak in my childhood, or early adolescence (Swedish). I think it takes years for an adult to master a language to the extent so he or she cold translate from it. My guess would be at least ten years of quite intensive exposure. To translate into it -- more like twenty years of learning and living in the particular linguistic environment where the language is spoken.

One more thing -- in fact, in my opinion, it is just an illusion that it is easier to learn very close languages. It is actually very hard to speak too very close languages well and be aware of all the smallest details that are different in each language, including all the false friends.







[Edited at 2012-11-14 11:17 GMT]


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XXXphxxx  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 16:22
Portuguese to English
+ ...
A few random thoughts Nov 14, 2012

As others have said, the time taken to acquire a new language depends entirely on which language you choose.
As for which language you should choose, I was under the impression that the demand for PT was very high (although I realise my language pair is the reverse to yours) so I decided to conduct this little experiment and work out how many PT jobs I’d had in the last year compared to French or Spanish. Bear in mind that this is very unscientific because a “job” could be 20,000 words or just a very small minimum charge job. FWIW, the breakdown was as follows:
French: 85
Portuguese: 44
Spanish: 63
The rest were English to English, i.e. proofreading or U.S. to U.K. localisation.
So, it would seem the impression I had simply came from the fact that PT is now in higher demand than it was a couple of years ago, but in my case the figures are still overall lower than for FR or ES. The PT>EN market is flooded with people offering cheap translations and who are not translating into their native language; you just need to look at the KudoZ pages on this site to see how many are at it. Over time, one hopes that things will settle down, quality will win out and the market will self-regulate and become more professional. Since your native language is PT, you will have to look carefully at the volumes from your proposed new source language into PT. In terms of Arabic, as you know, there are large and old Syrian and Lebanese communities in Brazil, but whether this is reflected in modern-day trade you'd have to research. The one country that does, very obviously, jump to mind and that is fuelling Brazil's boom is of course, you guessed it, China.


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 16:22
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Important point Nov 14, 2012

Lisa Simpson, MCIL wrote:
Since your native language is PT, you will have to look carefully at the volumes from your proposed new source language into PT.

It seems your sole (or at least, your principal) motivation is for professional reasons, so that's perhaps the most pertinent consideration. No point spending years learning Swahili, only to find you'll never get a job in Swahili to Portuguese because there simply are no jobs in that pair!

There's a large Chinese immigrant population in Australia (don't know if there are many in Brisbane, though), so maybe Chinese would be a good bet. It would take a long time, I imagine, but it might actually be worth it.

What were you thinking of doing? Learning from text books? From the Internet? Going to college? If you're thinking of tackling a language from scratch, with no active correction or feedback, and nobody to practice with, you're in for a difficult time, IMO.


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svenfrade  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 17:22
French to German
+ ...
Difficult question indeed Nov 14, 2012

I think the amount of time you will need to master a new language also depends on how much time you will be able to devote to learning it and also on how keen you actually are learn that particular language. I am convinced that if you are really enthusiastic about a language you will find it much easier to learn it, if you are more or less indifferent you will find it much harder to motivate yourself and will find the learning process probably rather tiresome.

For example, I started to teach myself Finnish a couple of months ago because I find the language absolutely fascinating. I try to read my textbooks and practice a little every day and I think that although in comparison to the other languages I know Finnish is fairly difficult to learn I am quite satisfied with the progress I am making. (BTW, I am not planning to translate from Finnish but, as I said, I find the language absolutely fascinating and I enjoy the challenge.)

So basically I think that purely economic considerations for learning a new language might not be motivating enough and trying to learn a language you don't really want to learn might be perceived as a bit of a drudgery.


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