Just in case you were wondering…

I know that in the translation world – especially in the English-speaking translation world – translating out of your mother tongue is frowned upon. Whenever I tell people that I translate from German into English (and only in this direction), despite being German by birth, I can almost hear the raised eyebrows. So, every now and then, I have to ask myself this question:

How can I write in a tongue that’s not my own?

Because I’m madly in love with it, that’s why. I fell in love with it so long ago – it’s been the most enduring love affair of my life. No one knows why, but that’s not the question. Who knows why we fall in love with someone – or something…

All I know is that I felt drawn to it. The English language has always been like music to my ears. Wanting to speak it fluently, master it, pronounce it right, hear its words coming out of my mouth: it’s been my long-held ambition since I was a young child in primary school.

And now, 40 years on, it does feel like my mother tongue. I think in English, I dream in English, I write in English, I make my living turning German words into English words. It makes me very happy.

I also earn my living making English texts better. English texts written by others whose native tongue is not English. But also by those whose is.

How can I improve the writing of native speakers of a tongue that’s not my own? I don’t know, but I know I can. Maybe my love for it has made it my own.

3 Responses to Just in case you were wondering…

  1. Thank you for this post! I too translate into English even though technically my mother tongue is Flemish. However, having spent 2/3 of my life in the UK, I too feel much more comfortable in English now. I love its richness, nuances and expressiveness. It’s the only language that allows me to write well and be truly creative. Hence, I think of it as my “2nd” mother tongue.
    With regards to your last comment, I can well imagine this to be true. Perhaps an advantage that you might have over a native speaker is that you were forced (or you forced yourself!) to study the grammar, nuances and structures of English until you knew them inside and out. I think this is what makes you a more careful and therefore a better writer. Ultimately, you’ve turned yourself into a native speaker with extra advantages! Judging by the writing in your blog, this is most certainly possible.

  2. Betti

    Thank you for your comment, Eline. It’s really reassuring to know that I’m not alone and that others feel the same.

    Yes, I definitely write more fluently and find it easier to express myself in English (which is why this blog is in English and not in German).

    I still can never quite express myself as fluently and eloquently as I would like to. But I think that’s an entirely separate problem that many writers suffer from and that probably comes with the territory. Maybe another blog post for another time!

  3. I stumbled across this post really late, but I liked it so much I wanted to comment! If people only wrote in their (original) mother tongue, we’d have no “Heart of Darkness”, no “Lolita”…Samuel Beckett and Oscar Wilde wrote works in French although they were not “native speakers” of the language. You don’t have to be a native speaker to be able to produce great writing in a given language! Thanks for pointing this out again!

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