Tomorrow, I’m going to France until Tuesday. This is not a holiday, and in fact, I’m taking a laptop with me, as I’m still working on that 45,000 word project, and I’m planning on working in the mornings. I’m going to France to keep up my French.
When you’re a translator living abroad, it is desirable that you regularly go back to your native country, to take a linguistic bath, so to speak. Of course, it’s probably easy for me to say, as I only have the Channel to cross, but I do think it is extremely beneficial. One of the biggest dangers looming on my horizon, and that I am very aware of, is that I’ll lose touch with the French language, which could easily happen if I didn’t make a real effort, every day, to escape from my English environment. I don’t want to end up with two less-than-perfect languages but this is a real risk when you are completely immersed in another culture. I don’t think there is any danger of me having problems understanding my native tongue, but I definitely notice a reduction in the quality of my spoken French (variety of vocabulary, tendency to use English grammatical structures) if I don’t read or speak French for long periods of time.
I do several things to combat this potential slow erosion of my French capabilities:
· I read French novels and the weekly current affairs magazine Le Nouvel Observateur, which allows me not only to read well-written French but also to keep in touch with what’s happening in France.
· I visit a lot of French Web sites – French blogs are great to get a feel of what expressions are popular. I’ve even tried to lurk in teenage chatrooms to keep in touch with ‘cool’ (read young) French, but it was unbearable. Call me old-fashioned, but I think SMS spelling should be restricted to mobile phones.
· Finally, much to the annoyance of my Loved One, the radio in the kitchen is permanently set on Europe 1 – a very “chatty” French station.
In short, my work as a translator doesn’t limit itself to spending eight hours a day in front of my computer screen. If I want to keep providing quality translations, it’s not enough to put in the hours. The main thing is that I mustn’t take my first language for granted.