Writing or Translating into Your Second Language

Why do you translate only from your second language into your mother tongue?

I have a very valid reason to have chosen so, but first, let’s start by stating a distinction is to be made between writing in a second language and translating into a second language.

Wait a minute! Don’t you write when you translate?

Of course I do!  However, there is more to translating than just writing.

Let me explain. Let’s see the difference between writing and translating.

When you write, you choose every aspect of expression and you use your own ways of expression (your vocabulary, your style, your voice, etc.). When you translate, you are working with someone else’s. Your job as a translator is to create in the readers of the target text the same feelings and thoughts the author was able to create in his readers. The higher your level of mastery is, the closer to achieving this goal you get. Your ability to achieve this goal depends proportionally on the level of mastery in your second language, hence why choosing to translate only in your mother consists in the wisest choice. As a translator you need to know and master a wide array of styles of expression and building this skill in your second language is not as easy as it looks.

Let me ask you this: which language do you master the best? Is it your mother tongue or your second language? The answer to this question should be: your mother tongue. Why, you ask? Because the language that develops your brain is the first one you acquire. Everyone has a dominant language, and this impact language acquisition and fossilization. Learning a language usually takes months or a few years depending on the complexity of the language. Language acquisition depends on your use of the newly learned language and it is achieved over time. Language fossilization refers to bad habits in the learned language which stem from a dominant language. We all have a dominant language and the system we master so well inevitably impacts on the way we write in our second language.

Think of it this way: would you rather be operated on by a seasoned surgeon or a surgery intern? Most probably you opted for the seasoned surgeon. Translating into or from your mother tongue follows the same reasoning. The best results will come from the choice where you find the highest level of mastery and the greatest amount of experience. The intern might do a fine job, but you will be more confident about the results if the surgery is performed by the seasoned surgeon.

I obviously can write in English; you were able to grasp my meaning, were you not? But could it have been written better?  Most probably. Whether I like it or not, there is always a hint of French (my dominant language) in the way I write in English, much like one can tell by listening to me that English is not my mother tongue. There is a hint of natural accent that I cannot get rid of. I can write in English, but I do my best translation job in French, hence why I can only guarantee the quality of my work when I translate into my mother tongue.

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