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Do you speak any of your source languages badly? (I do.)
Thread poster: philgoddard
philgoddard
United States
Member (2009)
German to English
+ ...
Jun 10, 2016

If the answer is "no", and you're fluent in four languages, this question is not for you!

One of my language pairs is Spanish to English, which I've been doing for 25 years. I read Spanish fluently, and I think I'm good at translating it, but speak it? Not really. I've just come back from a trip to South America, where I was once again reminded of my limitations.

I learned Spanish out of a book, and reinforced it with extensive travel, but I never got round to the past or future tenses. There are gaps in my vocabulary, and I often find myself unable to say quite simple things.

I can hold a reasonably good face-to-face conversation in my other languages, but I avoid speaking to customers on the phone in French or German wherever possible. I don't always catch everything they say, and I worry they'll assume that if my spoken skills are less than perfect, my translation must be too.

Are you in this situation? And to take it one step further, can you be a good translator without speaking the source language at all?


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Mikhail Kropotov  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 16:10
Member (2005)
English to Russian
+ ...
With certain limitations, sure Jun 10, 2016

philgoddard wrote:
And to take it one step further, can you be a good translator without speaking the source language at all?


I believe this is possible provided that you limit yourself to areas you're 100% proficient with. For example, if you are unable to carry on a conversation in your source language, don't translate movies, fiction or anything to do with colloquial language or direct speech (and certainly don't even dabble in interpreting). You can still handle technical literature in subjects you're competent in, where texts are, as a rule, more processed, formalized and rigid in terms of grammar.

[Edited at 2016-06-10 15:09 GMT]


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Faustine Roux  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 14:10
English to French
Yes Jun 10, 2016

I am glad I'm not the only one!

I have only one source language, English, and even though I've been living in the UK for over 8 years, I still struggle sometimes to express exactly what I mean or to understand what people say.

I am terrible on the phone and often ask people to speak very slowly. And if they happen to be from Liverpool, Glasgow, Ireland or Newcastle, then I tend to just smile and nod politely... which sometimes led to uncomfortable situations...

However, I understand written English perfectly and have no problem translating it.


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philgoddard
United States
Member (2009)
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
I disagree Jun 10, 2016

Mikhail Kropotov wrote:

I believe this is possible provided that you limit yourself to areas you're 100% proficient with. For example, if you are unable to carry on a conversation in your source language, don't translate movies, fiction or anything to do with colloquial language or direct speech (and certainly don't even dabble in interpreting).


That's one of the areas specialise in, and I think you're confusing written and spoken language.

I am hopeless at interpreting, though. I auditioned as an EU interpreter in front of a roomful of people, and it was the most embarrassing experience of my life.


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philgoddard
United States
Member (2009)
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
. Jun 10, 2016

Faustine Roux wrote:

If they happen to be from Liverpool, Glasgow, Ireland or Newcastle, then I tend to just smile and nod politely.


I'm British, but I sometimes put the Netflix subtitles on when I'm watching something set in Newcastle or Northern Ireland. My American wife and I are bingeing on Peaky Blinders at the moment, and she insists on them.


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Michael Joseph Wdowiak Beijer  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 14:10
Member (2009)
Dutch to English
+ ...
It's hard enough speaking and writing one language well … Jun 10, 2016

Although my spoken (and written) Dutch is pretty terrible, I can translate out of it just fine. As long as you understand pretty much everything in your source text, you should be fine. With a bit of googling, and a stack of dictionaries, that is.

In an ideal world, we'd all speak both source and target fluently, and have a perfect command of the grammars of both languages, but in the real world, who really can say that of themselves, without stretching the truth a bit, or being some kind of genius?

Michael


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Michael Joseph Wdowiak Beijer  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 14:10
Member (2009)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Peaky Blinders Jun 10, 2016

philgoddard wrote:

Faustine Roux wrote:

If they happen to be from Liverpool, Glasgow, Ireland or Newcastle, then I tend to just smile and nod politely.


I'm British, but I sometimes put the Netflix subtitles on when I'm watching something set in Newcastle or Northern Ireland. My American wife and I are bingeing on Peaky Blinders at the moment, and she insists on them.


My wife and I are watching Peaky Blinders too, and Making a Murderer, another English-language show with interesting dialects. She always wants the subs on when we watch US shows, and I like them on when we watch British stuff.

Michael


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philgoddard
United States
Member (2009)
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Another question Jun 10, 2016

Is anyone here a good interpreter and a bad translator?

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Niina Lahokoski  Identity Verified
Finland
Local time: 16:10
Member (2008)
English to Finnish
+ ...
Yes, I admit Jun 10, 2016

Yes, I admit that I unfortunately have problems speaking German and Swedish, because I never need to use them nowadays. Both languages were my strongest language at one time; Swedish when I was in a Swedish-speaking agricultural school studying horse care(!) before university, and German during my university years when it was my main field of study and I spent a few summers in Germany.

English and Spanish are no problem. English was the first foreign language I learned, so it doesn't weaken as easily, and it's my main working language. Even in my free time I read in and listen to English all the time. My Spanish is strong, because I studied it some back at uni, and now it's become a language I use daily - my husband is Spanish and I'm currently living in Spain part-time.

So whenever a German client calls me on the phone, I come across as very curt, because I'm desperatly trying to remember basic German words, and/or I might accidentally speak Spanish to them ("sí, sí, gracias" instead of "ja, ja, Danke"). I have a sort of phone phobia anyway, so it's very embarrassing.

I would never even dream of working as an interpreter!

[Edited at 2016-06-10 17:45 GMT]


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Teresa Borges
Portugal
Local time: 14:10
Member (2007)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Yes! Jun 10, 2016

My source languages are: English, French, Spanish and Italian. I must say that my written English is far better than my spoken English. I speak French fluently though you’ll never hear me say that I‘m as fluent as an educated native speaker (I lived and worked for 30 years in the francophone part of Belgium). My written and spoken Spanish are rather poor and the same applies to my Italian (still in the learning stage), though I read a lot in Spanish and in Italian (books and magazines).

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Thomas T. Frost  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 15:10
Member (2014)
French to Danish
+ ...
No Jun 10, 2016

Well, this topic is not for me, then. But I'll gatecrash it anyway.

I feel at ease in my three languages, whether they are spoken or written. That's the result of actively using all of them regularly and having lived in countries where they are spoken for many years, as well what family is concerned as business and work.

I switch between them at the flick of a switch without thinking anything of it. It occasionally happens, when speaking or writing, that I suddenly continue in another language after a foreign noun without even realising it. For example while talking or writing to someone in French and mentioning an English name, I may continue in English because the English name flicked the switch.

My diary contains a mix of English, French, Danish and German, as I just write the note in the first language that pops up, although sometimes I use the language in which the word I need is shortest.

On the other hand, if you ask me why a certain word is placed where it is, I won't be able to go you a linguistic explanation, only tell you if it sounds wrong, and I won't be able to show you a stack of diplomas.


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 14:10
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Depends how I'm feeling Jun 10, 2016

I was used as a guinea pig in the '60s to test foreign language learning at primary school. Don't know how it worked for others but it was great for me. So I learnt French increasingly intensively from age 8 to 20 along with frequent visits to France, then regular holidays and classes over the years. Then I lived and worked in France for 15 years. So yes, I'm pretty fluent, of course. But I never became bilingual and in fact I'm very wary of the word. As an EFL trainer I saw "bilingue" on so many of my students' CVs.

Now that I've lived in Spain for four years I certainly do have a few more problems with French fluency as Spanish words tend to jump into my mouth if I'm not careful. "Sí" is a particularly annoying interference in French. But that doesn't affect my comprehension and usually only a moment's thought is needed for me to compose reasonable (non-native) written French. However, if I'm feeling at all tired, ill, stressed or in any other way under the weather I do have more problems.

philgoddard wrote:
I learned Spanish out of a book, and reinforced it with extensive travel, but I never got round to the past or future tenses.

I'm learning Spanish "in situ" plus private lessons but I just can't get my head round the different verb endings. I mean, "habla" can mean he/she/it speaks, you speak (to anyone, here in the Canaries), and speak!. And "hablo" (I speak) and "habló" (he/she/it/you spoke) are as near identical to me as makes no difference. It all rather saps your confidence when trying to say anything. Actually, for that reason alone I don't think I'll ever try using Spanish professionally as a source language. There can be so much information wrapped up in a single letter that there must be a lot of guesswork involved in translating it accurately into English.

Is anyone here a good interpreter and a bad translator?

I was a totally useless interpreter. I even ended up repeating one party's words in the same language I was so stressed out! I have great respect for those who can switch languages instantly.

Strangely enough, I'm much happier leaving a message on an answerphone in French than I am in English. Perhaps I cope better with sounding rather foolish in French than in my native language.


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TonyTK
German to English
+ ...
Yes, that's real fun ... Jun 10, 2016

Sheila Wilson wrote:

I even ended up repeating one party's words in the same language I was so stressed out!


... particularly if, as in my case, 30 people are all staring at you and you haven't got a clue what you did wrong.

[Bearbeitet am 2016-06-10 17:55 GMT]


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B D Finch  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 15:10
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
Grammar Jun 10, 2016

philgoddard wrote:

I learned Spanish out of a book, and reinforced it with extensive travel, but I never got round to the past or future tenses. There are gaps in my vocabulary, and I often find myself unable to say quite simple things.


I'm fairly sure that understanding written language well enough to translate it as a source language is possible and can even achieve a high professional level, especially in the case of technical subjects that the translator is expert in. I do agree with the reservations, mentioned by others, about not translating texts that are in a colloquial register or transcribed speech.

However, I don't understand how it can be possible to translate adequately without knowing all the tenses and voices in your source language well enough to recognise them and understand their nuances, even if you cannot use them yourself. My understanding of written French is certainly better than my understanding of spoken French, especially as I have a hearing difficulty. I speak French every day in conversations (face-to-face and on the phone), and in meetings, write letters and emails in French, but certainly still make mistakes, sometimes really silly ones. However, I rarely use the past historic/simple past tense, even though I recognise it with no problems when I see it. I do notice grammatical errors in source texts and in my general reading and was astonished when I first discovered that the general standard of writing in France is no better than it is in England, in spite of all the dictée in schools.


[Edited at 2016-06-10 18:36 GMT]


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 15:10
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Absolutely! Jun 10, 2016

It is French in my case. French is my third source language after English and German (two languages which I speak fluently). I daresay I can translate well from French and I had years of classes until I was 14, but very honestly when I go to France I am frequently in trouble whenever I have to speak to the locals.

Before I begin learning the two languages I have in mind (Finnish and Japanese), I will definitely try to improve my French.

[Edited at 2016-06-10 18:50 GMT]


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