The risk of losing our real first language when we live in a foreign-language country for a long time.
February 13, 2012 § 3 Comments
A few weeks ago I was on an airplane getting ready to take off, it was business as usual, a passenger trying to fit an incredibly large bag above the seat, the smell of fries and burgers, the crying babies, and the safety video where they teach us how to buckle a seatbelt. I don’t know why, but I found myself watching the video. It was in English with Spanish subtitles. Of course, you know what happened next: I began to interpret the video in my head.
To my surprise, the translated text had some serious mistakes! Instead of using the Spanish word for buckle (hebilla) it used the Spanish word for lapel (solapa). It literally translated into Spanish the term “water landing” despite the fact that there is a word in Spanish for “water landing” (acuatizaje).
I wondered why the largest airline in the world with all its financial resources would pay for this translation. Then it hit me: The airline probably hired a very well-known translator who did what she believed to be an impeccable job. She probably had it proofread and edited, and after that she probably reviewed it ten more times. The real problem in this case, as it happens a lot with those of us who have been living in a foreign language country for decades, is that we stop thinking in our first language, we adopt grammar, expressions, and bad habits from the foreign language (in this case English) and start translating and interpreting into poor Spanish or any other target language.
It scares me and I try to minimize this tendency by reading newspapers and watching TV and movies from Spanish speaking countries. Never from American publications or networks in “Spanish.” It is not easy. My questions to all of you, regardless of your language pair, are: Do you have this problem? And if you do; Do you have any suggestions to avoid this pollution of the target language?