Use It, Don’t Lose It!

I was reading an article recently about what they call ‘source language’ or in other words, your native language. This was yet another wake-up call which reminded me how important your native language is when your are a translator or a linguist in general.

Learning a foreign language is great. It enables you to communicate with people from different cultures and traditions – it broadens your mind. It requires a lot of commitment, motivation and passion, it’s a continuous process. But can our focus on foreign language acquisition impact on the knowledge we have in our native language? In my situation, it certainly did.

I spent a large amount of time studying the grammar, spelling, vocab and culture of a foreign language – both at uni and during school breaks through intensive courses abroad. After I graduated, I moved to London where I speak English (not my native language) 90% of the time. I work and live with people who do not speak French. Most of them are not native English either, but English is the language we communicate in.

I read in English almost 100% of the time, on a voluntary basis but also unconsciously as everything that surrounds me is in a foreign language (adverts on the street and on tv, product descriptions…). There is simply nothing “French” to hold on to. In other words, I am no longer in an environment which favors the development of my native language skills. This has proved to be quite frustrating to me for the past few months. It takes me more time to translate and I realized I am writing emails in English to my French speaking clients as it is just easier for me. Words just come more naturally in English now.

This is really bad! And this needs to change! Now! When you are a translator, what matters the most is your native language, simply because its the language you write in.

So, I have decided to take action as soon as today, and to finally read a book in French again. But not a book that just came out. That would be too easy as the style and the words used are still fresh in my mind. As this article explains, in order to improve your native language skills, you need to go backwards – meaning reading old books, books which were written a century ago. So here I am, downloading Le Dernier Jour D’un Condamné by Victor Hugo. This book on its own will certainly not have any major impact on the knowledge I have in my native language and I need to come up with other ways which I could apply in parallel. However, adopting this mindset on an ongoing basis should definitely help you guys improve your proficiency in your native language rather than damaging it.

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