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Are you equally competent in all of your source languages?
Thread poster: Jessie LN

Jessie LN  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 00:03
Spanish to English
+ ...
Oct 22, 2013

I'm looking for a bit of insight from translators who have multiple source languages. Any information you could provide would be greatly appreciated!

If you have more than one source language, do you consider yourself to be equally competent in both/all of them in terms of productive and receptive skills?

Have you spent extended amounts of time in each source language country or countries?

Do you translate from any languages that you have an 'intermediate' (or even basic) knowledge of?


Many thanks for your help!


 

Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 01:03
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
I suspect... Oct 22, 2013

Jessie Linardi wrote:
If you have more than one source language, do you consider yourself to be equally competent in both/all of them in terms of productive and receptive skills?


I suspect you'll get more useful answers if you exclude translators who translate only a single pair, and in both directions. I think that their answers and experiences would be different from those who have a single target language but several source languages.


 

Kirsten Bodart  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 01:03
Dutch to English
+ ...
see below Oct 22, 2013

If you have more than one source language, do you consider yourself to be equally competent in both/all of them in terms of productive and receptive skills?


No. Dutch, Herman and English are by far the best. French is a little lower, but that's compensated by my partner whose French is better than mine. Although I read books in French, so it's not bad as such.
I personally believe that translation is as much about comprehension as it is about translation ability. I've learned a lot of German in the past few years, because the German you encounter in daily life is not of the standard you get in translation.

Have you spent extended amounts of time in each source language country or countries?


I worked for years in Belgian environments, so with French thrown in. But we have both lived in Germany for a while and we lived in my home country Belgium for 8 years too. Personally I (the Belgian) have never lived in the UK. I would like to, but it's just too expensive over there. Not feasible. However, I spend nearly all my free time in English (including talking to hubby), so I guess that compensates slightly.

Do you translate from any languages that you have an 'intermediate' (or even basic) knowledge of?


We did a translation from Spanish early this year, because my husband's Spanish is extraordinary and they desperately needed a translator. We decided to give it a go, but it was our comfort zone. So we did. They still ask us back for translations from Spanish sometimes, so it can't have been bad. I was quite proud of that. But I would never take on anything that was really complicated or punching above my comprehension weight.


 

xxLecraxx (X)
Germany
Local time: 01:03
French to German
+ ...
hard to tell Oct 22, 2013

Jessie Linardi wrote:
If you have more than one source language, do you consider yourself to be equally competent in both/all of them in terms of productive and receptive skills?


It's hard to tell. My receptive skills should be equal. I can understand both languages very well, written and spoken. My active French vocabulary is a bit bigger, I guess. But when it comes to fluidity of speech, I guess my English is a bit more fluent!


Have you spent extended amounts of time in each source language country or countries?


It depends on how you define "extended amount of time". I live at the French-German boarder and attend a bilingual university. I've never been to England.

I don't think it's always necessary to live abroad in order to become a translator. You can spend a year abroad watching TV in your mother tongue and sitting at home, coming back with almost the same level of language knowledge. You can stay home and study for 10 hours a day and achieve wonderful results. I know many students who studied abroad for a semester, and although they tend to speak a bit more fluent than before, their writing skills are usually not much better. Going abroad is not a linguistic miracle pill, although it is often praised as such. It takes time and hard work to acquire excellent knowledge in a foreign language. I don't think you can easily "add yet another language" as a translator. You really have to plunge into the language and the culture, and this takes quite a while, let alone broad and deep knowledge in one or several technical languages.

It also depends on what you want to translate. Learning the everyday colloquial language abroad (and this is what you will learn there first and foremost) will be beneficial e.g. for translating films, but studying abroad for a semester will be of no real avail when it comes to translating financial statements.


Do you translate from any languages that you have an 'intermediate' (or even basic) knowledge of?


No, I would not do this.

It seems to me that translators who translate from several languages have a favourite language or a language they're slightly better at. Especially when it comes to productive skills this should be the norm. There are also cultural preferences.


 

EvaVer  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:03
Member (2012)
Czech to English
+ ...
Of course not Oct 22, 2013

I live in Eastern Europe, and we translate in all directions here. I have 3 languages that are both source and target to me, and 3 others "source only". It would be impossible to maintain the same level in so many languages (although I can imagine it in 2 "source" languages). I just read my "source only" languages (well, I get about in them on a "tourist" level, of course), and a lot of my understanding of these is based on their similarity to my main languages (all of it in the case of Slovak). Even among my "main" languages, my English level is lower than my Czech and French level, although it depends on topics - there are subjects that I have never dealt with in French, or even, in some cases, in Czech. And as I live in the Czech Republic and not in France, there is a difference in cultural understanding between Czech and French.

 

Teresa Borges
Portugal
Local time: 00:03
Member (2007)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
See below Oct 22, 2013

Jessie Linardi wrote:

If you have more than one source language, do you consider yourself to be equally competent in both/all of them in terms of productive and receptive skills?

I translate from English, French, Spanish and Italian to European Portuguese. I consider myself equally competent in English and French. My Spanish is fairly good. I'm still learning Italian.

Have you spent extended amounts of time in each source language country or countries?

I have been living in Belgium (francophone part) since 1985. I have never lived in an English-speaking country, but I have made frequent visits to the UK (London, Glasgow, Edinburgh), to Ireland (Dublin) and to the USA (New York).

Do you translate from any languages that you have an 'intermediate' (or even basic) knowledge of?

No



 

Tim Friese  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 18:03
Member (2013)
Arabic to English
+ ...
Differences not just in overall level but also in specific fields Oct 22, 2013

Jessie Linardi wrote:

I'm looking for a bit of insight from translators who have multiple source languages. Any information you could provide would be greatly appreciated!

If you have more than one source language, do you consider yourself to be equally competent in both/all of them in terms of productive and receptive skills?

Certainly not. I learned Spanish starting from a young age and have had a variety of experiences from then until now - classes, friends, work, movies, tourism, etc. I learned Portuguese later on and have had very few opportunities to use it, especially in speaking. The result is that my receptive Portuguese is quite good but I wouldn't trust myself to speak it currently - a Spanish word always finds its way out!

I likewise have the problem that my Arabic is primarily from Syria. I've lived in Egypt as well (where the dialect is like a different Romance or Slavic language compared to Syrian), but I struggle to produce coherent Egyptian Arabic. Better for me to produce one Arabic variety well than try to produce another and end up with some 50-50 junk.

Comparing my Spanish and Arabic, I would say they're approximately equal but each is stronger in different areas. I spent a lot more time with Arabic literature, and so I read quickly, I have the 'novel vocabulary' down well, and I can engage with critical theory and what not. I also spent more time in Arabic-speaking countries and so I think I'm faster with jokes and all that.

In contrast, I've worked more in Spanish, and so sentences like "can you send me the X report and can you please cc Y on the e-mail" just roll off the tongue...
Do you translate from any languages that you have an 'intermediate' (or even basic) knowledge of?

Yikes! No.

Hope the answers are illuminating!


 

Triston Goodwin  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 17:03
Spanish to English
+ ...
Only one source language Oct 22, 2013

I find that LAm Spanish is easier for me to translate than Spanish from Spain.

 

Kay Denney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 01:03
Member (Apr 2018)
French to English
only one source Oct 22, 2013

I only have one source language, that of the country I've been living in since the age of 19. When I proofread other people's translations I often come across cultural references that they haven't twigged, or see that they have misunderstood certain nuances. They don't pick up on mistakes in the source either and will translate literally rather than trying to figure out what the author really meant. I think these issues are often caused by inadequate knowledge of the source language.

Given how obsessively I have studied French (it's probably my longest ever love affair...) I just don't see how anyone can do as good a job from three different source languages!
Of course the stuff I do is often quite high-brow, calling on literary devices and references, and thus requiring a very strong command of not only the language but the entire culture. I suppose those churning out manuals can get away with a lesser grasp of source and even target come to that.

I do have knowledge of three other languages, but I can barely get by in them let alone translate from them.


 

Daina Jauntirans  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:03
German to English
+ ...
DE>US EN, LV>US EN Oct 22, 2013

Jessie Linardi wrote:

I'm looking for a bit of insight from translators who have multiple source languages. Any information you could provide would be greatly appreciated!

If you have more than one source language, do you consider yourself to be equally competent in both/all of them in terms of productive and receptive skills?


No. My source languages are German and Latvian, and my target is English.

My German comprehension in my specific subject areas is far above my Latvian comprehension in those areas. I translate a wide variety of business/financial and legal texts DE>EN. Conversely, my everyday Latvian is better than my informal German because I speak/write Latvian to my family and friends every day, plus teach children in the language, write some articles for a community publication, etc., but use German mainly for translation purposes (source lang. and writing e-mails to clients). I only translate personal documents, correspondence and similar texts LV>EN.

Have you spent extended amounts of time in each source language country or countries?


No. I was born in the US and spoke Latvian as my first language growing up here, but have never lived in Latvia. I have had some formal education in the language, but not at the university level. I would be considered a "heritage speaker" of Latvian. In contrast, I have a BA in German and an MA in Translation German & English and spent a total of 6 1/2 years living in German-speaking countries - one year at a boarding school (although the language of instruction was mainly Latvian), one year at a university, one year teaching, 3 1/2 years working.

Do you translate from any languages that you have an 'intermediate' (or even basic) knowledge of?

No, I have my hands full with three languages!

[Edited at 2013-10-22 16:36 GMT]


 

Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 00:03
Hebrew to English
I was going to comment but.... Oct 22, 2013

Texte Style wrote:

I only have one source language, that of the country I've been living in since the age of 19. When I proofread other people's translations I often come across cultural references that they haven't twigged, or see that they have misunderstood certain nuances. They don't pick up on mistakes in the source either and will translate literally rather than trying to figure out what the author really meant. I think these issues are often caused by inadequate knowledge of the source language.

Given how obsessively I have studied French (it's probably my longest ever love affair...) I just don't see how anyone can do as good a job from three different source languages!
Of course the stuff I do is often quite high-brow, calling on literary devices and references, and thus requiring a very strong command of not only the language but the entire culture. I suppose those churning out manuals can get away with a lesser grasp of source and even target come to that.

I do have knowledge of three other languages, but I can barely get by in them let alone translate from them.


...you pretty much said what I was going to, mutatis mutandis ...of course.icon_smile.gif


 

Václav Pinkava  Identity Verified
Czech Republic
Local time: 01:03
Member (2013)
Czech to English
+ ...
An imprecisely worded question :) Oct 22, 2013

I guess "all" is a superset of "both", but perhaps you *had* meant to exclude those of us who list only one pair of languages, (to repeat the point made here before me.)?

Is your emphasis on equally, or on competent? How about equally semi-competent, or equally incompetent?

I only listed the two languages I am completely fluent in, so my answer is yes!

Had I included other source languages (e.g. for a Czech or a Slovak speaker the other language of that pair is an obvious option) I would say no, not up to my own dizzying standards of what competence in a language ought to mean.

(Take the above with a copious pinch of salt)


 

Tatty  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:03
Spanish to English
+ ...
Not entirely Oct 22, 2013

I don't know French as well as I do Spanish, even though I have made concerted efforts over the past 4 years to improve my knowledge of French. As a result I find it more difficult to translate from French but the result is the same as if I had translated from Spanish. And I have lived in Spain for a lot longer than I lived in France.

 

Kay Denney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 01:03
Member (Apr 2018)
French to English
how can you know about what you don't know? Oct 23, 2013

Tatty wrote:

I don't know French as well as I do Spanish, even though I have made concerted efforts over the past 4 years to improve my knowledge of French. As a result I find it more difficult to translate from French but the result is the same as if I had translated from Spanish. And I have lived in Spain for a lot longer than I lived in France.


I'm sure the quality of your writing would be the same, but how can you be sure that you have grasped every last nuance of the text in French? You don't know what you don't know!

Please don't think I'm picking on you in particular, this is something that has been bugging me for a while. I nearly didn't get a job because I "only" speak one source language... the PMs in that agency prefer to hire multi-lingual translators to get more mileage out of the database entry. And although they eventually decided to give me the job, it set me thinking.

I also remember that when studying for my Masters, students with one combination had to get an average of 14/20 whereas those with two only had to get 12/20. Apparently they had to do that otherwise nobody ever bothered to do more than one combination.
Just imagining the scene: client rings up, furious that a translator has made a silly mistake. "I thought you had qualifications" "well yes but you know I only had to get 12/20 in translation school. That term was in the other 8/20."


 

Kay Denney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 01:03
Member (Apr 2018)
French to English
Talk of the devil Oct 24, 2013

And my inbox this morning contained a ppt to be proofread.

Beautifully written in English, but then checking against the French, the translator had confused basic terms like "temps" (translated as weather not time), and misunderstood various other expressions, to the point of actually contradicting the source.

Quite a challenge in fact and it certainly makes a change from having to rephrase lazy word-for-word translations. I get the impression that it's a talented but as yet unknown writer doubling up as a translator because they waited tables in Cannes over the summer.


 
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