Lost in translation...

July 4, 2018

As you may know if you've been reading my posts, I'm an American who lives in Germany.  I speak fairly passable German, which tends to shock Germans.  A joke I once heard goes like this: "What do you call someone who speaks three languages?  Trilingual.  Someone who speaks two languages?  Bilingual.  A person who speaks only one language?  American."  It's mostly true, though, and for understandable reasons.  If a person living in Oklahoma travels to Europe, it's a really big deal.  Once, possibly twice in his or her lifetime.  That person may go on annual jaunts to exotic places like Washington (state or D.C.) or the Grand Canyon.  But a trip abroad is a rare treat, if it ever occurs at all.  A big percentage of the German population travels regularly past its national borders, so the universal language of English is understood quite well by the majority, and some speak a decent amount of the language of their vacation destiny (often Spanish).

 

But knowing that I can speak conversational German, some of my German and Polish friends have asked me to translate my books into German.  Translating literature is an art unto itself.  I've attempted to read novels in German, but it's a bit more of a task on my brain than reading train schedules or recipes.  So writing in German would require a skill set I don't possess.  Most likely my books will remain solely in the English language.  The only way at present to get my work translated is by publishing with a traditional publishing company, becoming popular in America and Britain, and garnering interest from foreign markets and publishers.  I've tried that route long ago, and I realized that my books will never be published unless I do it myself.

 

This reminds me of the skills required to learn a new language, especially past the teenage years.  Children (and the younger, the better) just need regular exposure to other languages in order to develop fluency.  One of my colleagues at my school told me that I should learn to speak Polish when I said that I wish I could understand my Polish acquaintances during their gatherings.  They're great hosts and wonderful friends, but they tend to speak their language to each other, leaving me to get the mere gist.  I understand many nouns, but Slavic grammar is something that you have to either grow up with or intensely study in order to learn and know one of the Slavic languages.  I hear someone say the nouns car, dog, bottle, and vodka, and immediately I piece it together that the speaker was drinking a bottle of vodka and hit a dog with his car.  I'm proud of myself for working out the obvious.  My face goes blubbery soft, and I tell him that I'm sorry in my best Polish.  The gathering stare at each other and shrug, then one explains in German what the speaker said.  As it turns out, the story is a happy one.  The speaker had said that he was driving in his car sharing a bottle of vodka with his dog.  My former sorrow turns into joy.

 

Like Americans, Poles love their dogs.  We have that in common, even though we can't express it to each other.  Poles love reading, too, but I doubt they'll ever be able to read my work.

 

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