Living in two languages
Thread poster: Tom in London

Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:42
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Sep 15, 2016

Tim Parks is an English writer and translator who, for many years, has lived mainly in Italy.

Having done the same myself, I find that some of his comments chime with my own experience as I watched my own mother tongue slip from my grasp:

"I worried about this. Going home for holidays I noticed that buzzwords had come and perhaps already gone—nerd, dink—without my ever using them. Editors were forever picking up Italianisms in my writing. Setting a new story in England I began to feel vulnerable. Often Italian expressions came to mind when what I needed was English. Even Italian situations. Often English expressions came to mind that quite likely no one was using any more."

Here's a very interesting article for anyone who is exiled from their native language:

http://www.nybooks.com/daily/2016/05/10/expat-writing-how-italy-improved-my-english/


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 12:42
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Thanks so much for sharing, Tom Sep 15, 2016

I can certainly identify with every word. I'd lived abroad (in the Netherlands and then France) for seven or eight years before I finally got access to the Internet.

I spent 12 years in a French hamlet among the vines and, although I was there with my English husband and son and I taught English, my own version of the language was stuck in the 1990s. My short phone chats with my step-daughter and other family back in the UK were often quite confusing for me (I remember 'anal' being particularly so) and sometimes for them, such as when my brother finally cottoned on to the fact that I was using 'portable' as a noun to refer to my mobile phone. Well, how was I to know? They hadn't been around when I left the UK! Nor had I had 'wee-fee' there.

I didn't find my English came bang up to date until I moved to Fuerteventura. Post-Internet in France, I still wasn't really living this "21st century English", just observing it. My English has changed a lot since we moved into this multilingual environment with a large number of native English speakers. To be honest, I now realise how little exposure I had during 38 years in Surrey to the English of Newcastle, Glasgow, Dublin etc.


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:42
Member (2008)
Italian to English
TOPIC STARTER
Careful though Sep 15, 2016

Careful though, Sheila: the kind of English-speaking people you run across in Fuerteventura are not necessarily a good guide

[Edited at 2016-09-15 11:27 GMT]


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Giovanni Guarnieri MITI, MIL  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:42
Member (2004)
English to Italian
Great article... Sep 15, 2016

I moved to England in 1990 and there was no e-mail, no Internet, no Italian TV... eventually, I got Italian TV (only one channel - Rai Uno), then came the Internet and all the rest... I didn't feel isolated anymore, even though I left Italy because I wanted to. I can relate to the article, obviously and I too wonder whether I would have been a better translator if I hadn't left Italy. Who knows?

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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 12:42
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Allsorts Sep 15, 2016

Tom in London wrote:
Careful though, Sheila: the kind of English-speaking people you run across in Fuerteventura are not necessarily a good guide

They're a real cross-section, Tom. Local British residents I know well include several retired teachers, mechanic, chemical engineer, butcher, master mariner, builder, radio DJ, director of a supermarket chain, insurance salesman, ... two architects too, and of course lots of intrepid small business owners. The holidaymakers are just as mixed.

I like my English to be accessible to all. I would hate to be surrounded by just one type of speaker.


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Kelly Neudorfer  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 13:42
German to English
Difference between author and translator Sep 15, 2016

Giovanni Guarnieri MITI, MIL wrote:

I moved to England in 1990 and there was no e-mail, no Internet, no Italian TV... eventually, I got Italian TV (only one channel - Rai Uno), then came the Internet and all the rest... I didn't feel isolated anymore, even though I left Italy because I wanted to. I can relate to the article, obviously and I too wonder whether I would have been a better translator if I hadn't left Italy. Who knows?


As an author I can see where it might be a problem (?) to live in a country that does not speak the language in which you write. But translators have a different situation - our language skills need to be up to date in 2+ languages, so either you live in your source language country and risk your target language not following all the new trends, or you live in your target language country and risk your source language getting rusty. I don't know that one is necessarily better than the other. (Of course there are people who live in third countries, as well, which might be more comparable.)

Thankfully, with all the modern technology I find it much easier to stay up to date in my target, native language than it was even 15 years ago when I went abroad for the first time.

I am in the generation that moved abroad as the internet age was getting a foothold in Germany. I e-mailed my parents my first year as an exchange student, but otherwise I was pretty well immersed in German. Now I feel that while I live my life outside of the house in German (bakery, children's activities, colleagues at work, etc.), once I'm inside the home I have almost constant exposure to English: I speak it with my children, read English children's books and magazines from the US, watch children's shows in English, prefer to watch my TV ad-free and in English, read English novels, keep up with all my relatives and friends back in the US on Facebook, am active in US-based online social groups, etc. At this stage of my life, I feel that I have a pretty even balance of current German and current US English input, but that really is all due to new technology.

[Edited at 2016-09-15 12:44 GMT]


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Robert Rietvelt  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:42
Member (2006)
Spanish to Dutch
+ ...
What about your native tongue while abroad? Sep 15, 2016

I second Tom's and Sheila's experiences, but what comes to mind is when I was for 2 years in South America.

I am from Amsterdam, and although I don't speak the "city accent", I understand it, but didn't grew up with it. In Honduras I met a lawyer, also from Amsterdam, and normally, also speaking without an accent, but the funny thing was that while we were spending more time together, we gradually started to speak in really "flat Amsterdam" with each other without noticing it. I guess that is the flip side of the coin.

[Edited at 2016-09-15 13:29 GMT]


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Jasmina
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:42
Italian to English
Yes Sep 15, 2016

I can definitely relate to this. While living in Italy, and working as a translator, I'd often ask myself "would an English person say that?"
I hardly ever spoke English, didn't have English TV, and began to find it difficult to recognise whether or not a phrase sounded completely natural in English.
I find translating much easier now that I'm back in the UK.


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Merab Dekano  Identity Verified
Spain
Member (2014)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Not an issue Sep 15, 2016

My wife still comes back with this question: “Why did we actually leave Spain?”

We moved from Tenerife to Brussels in 2007. Our kid was two. However, I do not think we lost any skills in the Spanish language other than sometimes asking each other “¿en qué “stage” lo ponemos?” instead of asking “¿a qué campamento lo apuntamos?” Spoken language and its written form do not suffer in the same way nor are they subjected to the same degree of “pressure”.

Also, I presume Tom’s worries are more personal life-related. Because I doubt “modern” texts in the field of architecture have experienced any serious changes from the language standpoint. The same goes with law. So long we stick to our fields of expertise, our translation skills will be unaffected.

Now we spend more and more time in Spain (I am now in Tenerife), but even when I am in Belgium, I kick off my day with “Canal 24 Horas”, read articles from at least two Spanish newspapers, work, and round up the day with 20 to 30 pages of a novel by, say, Galdós. It doesn’t really matter if in between I have to say to the cashier in the supermarket “C’est combien, s’il vous plaît ?”

And if I am to answer my wife’s question, we came to Belgium and acquired two different cultures and, to some degree, two different languages: French and Dutch. It makes us richer than we were.


[Edited at 2016-09-15 20:25 GMT]


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