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Beef or Chicken …



...or maybe you prefer the vegan dish. This is what I hear on a flight when the steward or stewardess is trundling a food cart down the aisle. I used to go for beef, but now maybe I would go for chicken.


This has everything to do, and perhaps nothing to do with living in either your source or target country. Just a quick explanation for those who have never heard the term source and target: simply put, the source language is the language that you translate out of, in my case Spanish. The target language is the language that you translate into, English.


As you probably have guessed, I live in my source language country. Chile is a Spanish-speaking country, and as I have said, my source language is Spanish. I am happy that I live in the country where the language I translate out of is spoken. This way, I am in close and intimate contact with the language all day long. Not only am I familiar with many useful terms, I also walk the walk. If I have to translate a notarized document into English, I have been to a notary office here and have gone through all the steps to have my documents notarized, so I evidently understand the document beyond its cursory meaning.


On the other hand, there are translators who swear by the benefits of living in their target language country, which it definitely does. You are in constant contact with idiomatic language and are a witness to language change, that could affect your work if you don't assimilate and embrace it. Now, you could say that as a source country translator, you can always watch videos on YouTube and participate in video chats to achieve this effect. However, this does not diminish the virtues of living in the source country.


Now, I see to it that I translate mostly formulaic language such as legal and some medical texts. This does not involve any slang or idiomatic expressions, or very few. I don't have to bother with rendering words and phrases creatively but rather just the facts.


However, if you are translating marketing texts or perhaps a magazine article, it would be a plus to be able to live in the source language country. I should also add that sometimes, clients require translators to reside physically in the United States due to security reasons. I don't know if you want to learn about top-secret information, but then again, not everyone can move back to the United States to take a job. What I do not accept is questioning whether or not a person is a native speaker based on how many years he or she has been absent from his or her own country. I have read that if a translator has been away for over six years, then native speaker status is practically revoked. I don't agree with this at all. You are not going to forget your own language if you are in contact with it every day, especially for us translators who are always writing in, well, their native language.


So, whichever status fits you, don't worry about it too much. If you're living in your target language country, be sure to beef up on your source language to understand not only the words, but what lies behind them. For those living in their source language country, make sure that you stay updated as best you can with your own country and language.


Oh, and before I close, I read that when translators get old, they become out of touch with current language trends. To that, I say, if they are good translators, that should be the least important aspect to worry about.


Remember, this is a recurring topic throughout this blog: human beings are limited in both perception and output. This goes for anyone who translates, and therefore, no matter where you live, you're going to face this. The best action to take is to expand your translation universe as much as possible, no matter where you live or how old you are.

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