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Do you think it is important to live in the source language country?
Thread poster: Elisa Noetinger

Elisa Noetinger  Identity Verified
United States
English to Spanish
Oct 29, 2009

Good morning,

I am in the process of deciding on a topic for my MA dissertation and would like to know your opinion on the importance of living in the source language country.

Do you consider cultural awareness as important as linguistic competence?

What impacts did living in the source language country have in your work? If any?

Do you feel your approach and/or quality improved after spending xxx amount of time in the source language country?

I am all ears!!

Regards,

Elisa


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 22:36
Member (2008)
Italian to English
no Oct 29, 2009

I think it's more important to live in the target language country - because in the modern world, languages evolve very fast - every day, indeed. Those not living in their target language country can quickly become rusty and their translations will reflect that.

I discovered this some years ago when after having lived in Italy and only used Italian for many years, I returned to the UK and found people speaking an English that was quite new to my ears, and which had acquired new idioms and nuances that weren't there before. My own English had become very stiff. But now that I'm mainly in the UK, my English is totally up to speed.

At the same time you also need to keep in tune with developments in your source language - but since you're translating into your target language, that's the one that needs to read well and sound fresh.

[Edited at 2009-10-29 10:36 GMT]


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Giulia TAPPI  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 23:36
French to Italian
+ ...
Definitely yes! Oct 29, 2009

I am native Italian, but have been living in France for almost 30 years. When I translate from French, I am aware of a lot of idiomatic/slang expressions thai I am sure somebody living in Italy would never understand. In some cases, you can see that with KUDOZ also!

On the other hand, I would never translate into Italian (which is still supposed to be my mother tongue) in fields like IT, because I have learnt how to use computers in France, so I know much better all the related vocabulary in French!

Giulia


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Louise Souter  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 22:36
Spanish to English
+ ...
I agree with Giulia Oct 29, 2009

I think it is preferable to live in the source language country. While Tom is right about languages evolving, I think it is easier to keep up-to-date with your target language. Although I live in the UK at the moment I definitely plan on returning to France and Spain in the near future.

Cultural awareness is definitely as important as linguistic competence.


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Hossein Abbasi Mohaghegh  Identity Verified
Iran
Local time: 02:06
English to Persian (Farsi)
+ ...
Very Important Oct 29, 2009

Living in the source country is very important for translators. Acquaintance with the social culture, folklore, myths, regulation, political and social life of the country, gesture and habits, the way they treat translated literature are all significant advantages of living in the source country which can affect the quality of translation. Furthermore, there are lots of things that do not exist in dictionaries and only those who have great knowledge of the source country or have lived there can comprehend.

Good thesis topic!

Good luck.


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Amy Duncan  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 20:36
Portuguese to English
+ ...
Yes, I think it's important Oct 29, 2009

Having done it both ways, I greatly prefer living in the country of my source language, for all the reasons other posters have pointed out. As for keeping up with English in the USA, I find this easy through my activity on Facebook with a group of people who vary widely in age, cultural background, interests, etc.

Anyway, I just find Rio de Janeiro such a wonderful place to live...


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Edward Vreeburg  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 23:36
Member (2008)
English to Dutch
+ ...
Mother tongue target country here... Oct 29, 2009

Although you won't run into problems every day, you do see that people translating or correcting text which have not kept in contact with their target (mother tongue) language do tent to make mistakes and interpret things differently (school system, polical parties, new spelling rules, general "modernity" of the language)... it's all slightly more difficult.

On the other hand you will only learn certain expressions if you live in the country (whether it is target or source)...

My guess is: if it works for you, (and your clients) it's OK.

===
Ed


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Carla Selyer  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:36
Portuguese to English
+ ...
Keeping up with both source and target languages is important Oct 29, 2009

No matter where you live, keeping up with developments in both source and target languages is important. The only way to do this if you are not constantly in touch with the language is to read newspapers, listen to the news and also participate as much as possible in language fora such as kudoz.
That being said, I think it is important to live in an environment where you are constantly in touch with your target language.


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xxxLatin_Hellas
United States
Local time: 23:36
Italian to English
+ ...
Slight specific nuance Oct 29, 2009

Elisa Noetinger wrote:


Do you consider cultural awareness as important as linguistic competence?




From the point of view of sector specialisation, as a practical business matter, more important is mastery of one's sector, forming bonds with customers who pay, than awareness of culture in general which is probably too broad. Culture, to be sure, but of which community in a given country: no one can be an expert on everything.

In general, I agree with all those who said yes, while at the same time keeping up with target language developments, especially in one's field(s) is equally important.


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xxxAguas de Mar
I could not have said it better than Carla... Oct 29, 2009

Carla Selyer wrote:

No matter where you live, keeping up with developments in both source and target languages is important. The only way to do this if you are not constantly in touch with the language is to read newspapers, listen to the news and also participate as much as possible in language fora such as kudoz.
That being said, I think it is important to live in an environment where you are constantly in touch with your target language.


... and I completely agree with her. I would only add that it would be desirable to have an excellent grasp of the target language culture (more than that of the source language, IMO) because, as Tom said, it is in the target language that your texts need to sound natural and fresh.


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 23:36
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Important for interpreting, but not for translation Oct 29, 2009

Elisa Noetinger wrote:
I am in the process of deciding on a topic for my MA dissertation and would like to know your opinion on the importance of living in the source language country.


I agree with most other posters that it is important for a translator to live in the target language country, but I can imagine that it would give an interpreter an edge if he lives in his source language country.


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Elisa Noetinger  Identity Verified
United States
English to Spanish
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks! Oct 30, 2009

I agree with most of you about the fact that we can keep up to date with both languages regardless of where we live, thanks to the internet, TV, magazines, newspapers, conversation groups, etc.

But I also think there is an aspect that you can´t get with all that, which is the daily interaction with the culture, situations, conversations...

On the other hand, if you are an interpreter, especially liaison, there is no doubt that it is definitely useful to have a first hand experience in both countries. But I was actually talking more about translation;)

In my personal case I translate from English into Spanish and I live in London but I work at the Spanish Embassy;) Although I have studied English language for many years in Argentina (my native country), moving to England made all the difference and my world (and mind!) opened up. Having a first hand experience with the culture added an enormous amount of non-linguistic "knowledge", although I have to say that I learn new idioms and words all the time!


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Monika Elisabeth Sieger  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 22:36
Member (2009)
English to German
+ ...
It is very important Oct 31, 2009

As a native German and having graduated in Law in Germany and England I now live again in England after returning to Germany for a few years. We moved to England when my husband started studying law here in London.
Although I am working here in England and study for a MA in Legal Translations in my spare time I think it is important to stay in contact with your native language and culture.
My husband and I are both German and at home and in the office German is our main 'working' language.
Whenever I travel to Germany I see the difference and the experience the changes since my last visit. Nowadays, I am feeling like a stranger there and I am always happy to be back 'in my own culture' which I understand better than my native one.
When Michael had to start to speak English or to argue and discuss in English even normal themes were a problem for him as he felt uneasy and got the imagination that he sometimes did not know enough about his new life and environment. Nowadays, he thinks more or less English, understands the reasoning in judgments not only by understanding the words but also the underlying social culture and reasons.
The same experience I have made when I started sudying here in England.
I am mainly working as a legal translator and proofreader but from time to time I have to translate reports in Medicine as well.
And very often I have the impression and the feeling that some translations I get from time to time are verbally excellent but somehow miss the real point as the translator obviously knew the legal facts but did not see the context or the aim of the text. And as a translator you are forced to play with language and you need to transport culture and argumentation with your translation. Otherwise, I am afraid, the translation will be in danger of becoming soulless and meaningless.
To make it short: Living in the other culture is very important! It broadens your mind and your understanding!


[Edited at 2009-10-31 15:48 GMT]


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xxxBrandis
Local time: 23:36
English to German
+ ...
I do not think it is important... Nov 1, 2009

Hi! As long as you have specialized on certain domains of expertise. It may be important to keep in touch with the right language writing people. Speaking goes easy, but these are cultural touches. For example, whereever I go I try to move in engineering groups, because this gives me insight into what is happening, and that is most nourishing. The rest being your work. There is already much terminology on the web one could resort to. Brandis

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KSL Berlin  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 22:36
Member (2003)
German to English
+ ...
Living in exile, keeping in touch with "home" Nov 1, 2009

What a can of worms. This is a subject for which you'll get plenty of passionate, well-reasoned and authoritative opinions, which are largely useless, because they cannot be generalized. The "right" answer will depend very much on the individual and the type of texts with which that individual works. I'll be heretical enough to say that in some (rare) cases, the influence of the source language (not the text) can have a certain positive synergy to avoid a result riddled with trendy clichés.

Here's my "right" answer: I think it would be idiotic for me to try to do what I do in the country of my target language. This is more than a matter of language, it also has a lot to do with market access. Many of my customers in Germany and Switzerland like to work with someone in a time zone close to their own. Yes, yes, there are advantages for certain rush texts if you are sitting in California, 9 hours behind Frankfurt, and someone realizes at 7 pm (CET) that he needs a big translation at 8 am the next day. But my routine has less and less to do with such insanity, but focuses more on well-planned work or attracting the same. And for every rush job I'll get because of time zone differences, I can get a dozen more in my time zone and charge bigger premiums for good service.

One translator I know had a thriving business here in Germany and lost all of it over the course of a year when she moved back to California. The time zone difference was a killer for her clientele, even with e-mail and fax.

As for the linguistic issues, I've never really been part of the mainstream. In younger years I lived in my books, with a small circle of friends who spoke and wrote in their own way (with heavy influences from other languages), off in the mountains alone seeking fresh air or off on my farm with neighbors only at extreme rifle range. I can read newspapers and magazines and much else to "connect" with the popular culture just as well in Germany as I can in the US. In fact, here I had more time to keep up with business jargon by reading the WSJ because I take trains everywhere possible and can relax and read, something not possible when forced to drive nearly everywhere on the Left Coast. Living in Germany (or beforehand with a German wife and speaking German at home), I get a lot of critical information that solves problems in difficult translations, texts which would be impenetrable in places to most professors teaching German at US universities unless they happen to be familiar with the dialects or vocabulary of certain cliques here. Sometimes I review the work of an excellent translator (DE>EN) who has never visited a German-speaking country. He's really great. I often find myself saying "I wish I could have phrased it like that myself" when I read his texts. Then I find a sentence that is völlig daneben. I wonder what went wrong until I realize that the Swabian engineer who wrote the text used a dialect word or another author wrote phonetically (for his region) and came up with a written word whose meaning is utterly different. Even the best translators hardly have a chance with such stuff in their source language unless they are natives of that source language and its culture or they live there a lot.

But my reasons for living here have nothing to do with all of that. I'm here in Germany for personal (family) reasons, without which you'd probably find me in a hut on the tundra somewhere. And I suspect that many of us who argue the necessity of living in the source or target language culture are, consciously or not, selecting our arguments to justify a choice made for entirely other reasons, reasons which matter far more.


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