Are Translators Living Abroad Better Translators?
Why Living Abroad Can Make You A Better Translator
Living abroad is a great experience for many reasons. You meet new people, you see the world from a different perspective, and you become more open and flexible.
But if you want to work as a translator or interpreter, you will find even more good reasons to pack your stuff and leave.
Living abroad makes you dive into another culture. Studying a language and “living” a language are two very different things. When you live abroad, your understanding of the local language improves much more rapidly than if you were staying in your country and studying from books. This is quite obvious, right? Well, not for everyone.
But let’s see in details why living abroad can make you a better translator and interpreter.
- 1. You get used to accents. This can be a shock for people who travel for the first time, but the language they teach at school is not the language you will hear when you travel. Such a thing as “the pure English ” or “the pure Spanish” does not exist. Every language is spoken in several variations and accents, with notable differences from town to town, region to region, country to country. This is a difficult challenge for a non-native speaker, but it can be won with patience and training. You must train your mind to become flexible enough to flow with the accents.
- 2. You start understanding cultural references. Do you know why in Italian we can say “He swallowed his coffee and left?” If you don’t come to Italy and see how ridiculously small a coffee can be, you probably think it is a typo in the text, especially if you are used to the American size of coffee. It is not a typo: an Italian coffee can be literally swallowed in one second. These real life references are what makes you a better translator when you are dealing with texts.
- 3. You understand idioms and fixed expressions. This is something that you can’t learn otherwise. You simply can’t. There is no way you can understand jokes, idioms and fixed expressions if you don’t live in the country where they use them.
- 4. You will improve your spoken language. This is not very important if you want to be a translator (a quick reminder for people who don’t work in the industry: a translator deals with written texts, an interpreter with oral speeches), but it is vital if you want to become an interpreter. There is the stereotype that interpreters have to only interpret into their mother tongue. Not only is this a stereotype, it is in fact what they teach at university and it is among the profession’s best practice. Interpreting into one’s mother tongue is certainly easier and produces more accurate results. But if you want to be a community interpreter (namely to work in tribunals or hospitals) you will work as a bilateral interpreter. A bilateral interpreter works with two people who don’t understand each other and has to interpret what they say into the language of the other person. So you must be able to understand and speak quickly in your second language. It is really rare to find interpreting jobs where you will be asked to interpret only in one direction (from a foreign language into your mother tongue). Most commonly you will work in both directions, and living abroad trains you day by day to become more confident in your second language
In addition, if you like to travel, you can easily work as a freelance translator from anywhere in the world while improving your languages skills. If you want to learn more have a look at this article and find out how to become a location-indipendent freelance translator.