This post focusses on language development and maintenance (source languages). Language exchanges, newspapers, podcasts and Tweeting: that’s the last you’ll see of these options here. What other ways are there for professional translators to keep their source languages shiny and bright? The third in an occasional series on CPD.
An approach to maintaining languages
As professional translators, our language skills include both our source and target languages. Of course it’s a given that we have an excellent understanding of our working languages. Many of us have already invested a great deal of hard work to acquire them in the first place. But we need CPD to keep our languages in tip-top shape.
Your CPD focus will vary depending on your professional and personal circumstances. But it’s important to be clear on your specific needs and priorities. We all have limited resources, and discriminating choices are essential if we’re to get the most out of the CPD process.
For example, I translate into English only and live in an English-speaking country, so my priorities are to maintain the following language skills:
- Written English-language skills, in various domains and styles
- Speaking skills in my source languages to a sophisticated level, for in-person negotiation, networking, etc. (a business rather than purely translation-related skill)
- Reading and listening skills in my source languages, in various domains and styles (the rest of the post will focus on this point)
However, if I were to live in a country where one of my source languages were dominant, then the challenge might be to maintain my target language skills instead.
By the way: of course I’d like to maintain good writing skills in my source languages too. But it’s just not as important for me to be able to write beautiful prose in French as it is in English. (And by “good writing skills” I’m referring to a level that’s far more sophisticated than general client emails.) So I maintain these skills out of a sense of professional and personal pride rather than any real business necessity – and I (try to) allocate my time, money and energy accordingly.
That’s the approach that’s been working for me, and here are some of the (perhaps) less well-known resources I use to do this.
an alternative to reading newspapers
Many universities now make their lecture series freely available online through iTunes. iTunes itself is free to download and install on either Windows or Mac, and you don’t need an iPod to use it. (Short video overview here: paid subscription required). It currently provides free access to about 350,000 lectures, videos and handouts for exercises, notes and reading lists, delivered by some of the top folk in their field.
At first glance, the material on iTunes may seem unhelpful from a translator’s point of view. Much of the language-learning material tends to be aimed at lower-level learners.
But a bit of digging will reveal that there are plenty of lectures delivered in languages other than English, on extremely interesting and often topical issues. And if there’s one thing an aborted attempt at the Applied Languages Europe (ALE) programme taught me way back in 1997 (aside from how not to roast a chicken – but that’s a story for another day), it’s this: deliberately following courses not aimed at language learners is a great way to maintain a language at a level more suited to the needs of a professional translator.
So for example, bypass the language courses and use iTunes to download law lectures in French aimed at French law students, geology classes in German aimed at prospective German geologists, etc. Quite apart from any attempt to actually specialise in these fields, the trick is to use this material with a view to gleaning language, rather than subject, knowledge per se. (How you actually chose to use the material will depend on your individual learning style).
If English is one of your source languages, then you’re in luck: there’s a wealth of material on iTunes U. In addition to the preponderance of material from English-speaking universities, the French business school HEC Paris, for example, has posted almost all its lectures in English. And it seems that almost every computer science course from the German- and Spanish-speaking universities are delivered in English too.
You have to look a bit harder if you’re looking for material in languages other than English, but they’re probably there somewhere. And if they’re not, they soon will be.
What’s your approach to maintaining your source-language skills? What works particularly well for you?
This post was inspired by Serena Dorey’s great round-up of ideas on maintaining source-language skills, which she based on a poll of fellow translators. I’ve only recently discovered that Serena has hung up her translating boots, so check out her blog while you still can… Serena, you’ll be sorely missed!
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