The Couch

The Couch – Guidance required: Maintaining My Mother Tongue

The Couch is a learning place, not only for its contributors but also for our readers who engage in the ensuing discussions. How well can you command your mother tongue? Would you feel comfortable reading a modern novel written in it? Well, our colleague needs help.


I hope I am not the only one in this situation. I really need help.spices market
I decide to grab a book to read in my native language and lo and behold, I am having a hard time understanding some of the concepts and imagery. It never crossed my mind that I could become so out of touch with my culture. And I am afraid of the impact it can have on my performance.
What do you suggest I do to at least mitigate this situation?
Thank you.

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10 Comments
  • AJ Elterman
    Posted at 20:37h, 17 January Reply

    I find it very useful and educational to go to my native country regularly to be immersed in the culture and engage in live conversations with the local people, keeping current with the news and issues in my native language, reading printed newspapers with all the domestic and international news, historic background analyses, essays, opinion pieces by columnists, watching TV news, debates and discussion forums, as well as films — while jotting down new or potentially useable vocabulary that I can use in my translation and/or interpreting work, covering whatever subject matter of interest I can find.
    Some words and phrases may be familiar but not in my active memory yet due to having lived in the U.S. for so long, while some may be totally new, even though I may know their English equivalent, but have never seen or registered them in Turkish, and others may be very culture-dependent unique terms or idioms that give insight to my native language, its values, philosophy of life, its unique perspective, but are truly challenging or impossible to translate into English. It is an engaging and pleasant endeavor.

    In the process, one can accumulate quite a collection of interesting terms, cultural information, anecdotes, technical, political, legal, financial terms, while adding onto one’s knowledge of history, current affairs, and specific subject information.
    Reading both fiction and nonfiction refreshes one’s linguistic proficiency — native and non-native. The notes can be reviewed in random order periodically to move them into long-term memory.
    My personal ideal is to make these terms easily accessible by organizing them in a system of index cards and/or notebooks (alphabetized A-Z) according to subject field (legal, political, idiomatic expressions, etc.)

  • Irene Radillo-D.
    Posted at 21:29h, 17 January Reply

    Yes! I think that all of us who have moved to a country where our native tongue is not the official language, eventually lose some of the freshness and depth of it because it may be mostly used for work, as in the case of translators and interpreters. Think about it… We are immersed in our B language every day to the point where it may even become our A language. One important factor in how quickly this may occur could be at what age we moved away from the country where we spoke our A language. Our A language may also become more narrowly focused as translators and interpreters who mostly deal with complex medical or legal terms, for example. However, since we’re lucky enough to live in the 21st century, we have a world (literally) of options at our disposal for keeping it fresh. I’d like to share a blog entry I wrote for The Confident Interpreter recently, specifically providing suggestions to help: https://www.theconfidentinterpreter.com/2019/09/20/keepin-it-fresh-by-irene-radillo-fcci/
    I’d love to hear additional ideas any colleagues may have!

    • Maribel PINTADO ESPIET
      Posted at 22:03h, 17 January Reply

      Excellent entry and excellent article. Thank you for sharing.

  • Maribel PINTADO ESPIET
    Posted at 22:01h, 17 January Reply

    More reading. Newspapers. Blogs. Social Media. Specialized publications. Fiction. Non-fiction. Missing from your comment is your specialty area. I will assume you work in the courts for this comment. If your only contact with your working languages is limited to such interactions you will find yourself isolated. You don’t have to travel back home to cultivate and preserve your language. I have resided in the US mainland for 40 years and my Spanish is better today than what it was 4 decades ago. Speak.ing, reading, and writing.

  • Kate Jankowski
    Posted at 22:24h, 17 January Reply

    I noticed the problem a few years ago. Polish spoken in the U.S. was very different from the one in my native Poland. I volunteered at a Polish school for a number of years to be close to a Polish speaking community, but also had Polish Fridays, when I read news from Poland and watched Polish TV. Keeping up with the native language requires a consistent effort, but today’s technology makes it easier.

  • Dee Shields
    Posted at 23:14h, 17 January Reply

    I find podcasts to be very useful – not music, but whatever else you can find. There’s a lot to be said for listening to them while you’re driving, walking, exercising — it’s all good. You don’t have to be paying 100% attention all the time to get the benefit, either.

  • Janis Palma
    Posted at 02:01h, 18 January Reply

    If you were reading literature (fiction/creative writing) be mindful that this genre is often the most challenging because it is intended to provoke readers to expand their intellectual and emotive horizons. Literature also tends to have several layers of contextual significance that readers can discover with each reading of the same text. I would encourage you to explore those aspects that baffled you by looking for other sources that also make reference to those unfamiliar concepts and imagery (online is a good place to start), and by all means, “enjoy the ride”.

  • Daniela Schmidt
    Posted at 03:56h, 18 January Reply

    Same here. More than 20 years ago after I spent almost two years in England, I found myself that could not remember a simple term in Romanian. I spent about one year in Romania before immigrating to the US and the Romanian came back while the English improved. Once in the US, my spouse and all relatives were anxious to “correct” my British English: vacuum for hoover, ride for lift, accent etc. This is one of the reasons I chose to be an interpreter. I realized that the only way to keep up both languages was to keep in touch with my family and friends back home, watch/listen all genres in Romanian, and read everything. Because Romanian is very rare in courts, and also because we speak American-English at home, besides the interpreter continuing education classes I develop and teach, I always think what everything would translate into Romanian or whether there is an equivalent. I also talk to family and friends via internet, and think about Romanian vernacular. Knowing linguistics, including the history of your mother tongue and English also helps. Teaching your mother tongue language is good too. One never really forgets one’s mother-tongue. It just gets a little rusty, which becomes a big deal only if it happens during interpretation because the accuracy suffers.
    Finally, colleagues take heart: one faculty that improves with age is language. It just needs to be exercised like any other muscles, bones, organs and systems in our bodies! Since the brain does not pay attention to boring things, have fun with mother-tongue games and interesting conversations 🙂

  • Gio Lester
    Posted at 04:14h, 18 January Reply

    When I realized that my written Brazilian Portuguese had a very strong accent, I looked for an online translation course in Brazil. That’s how I worked at it. And I have not stopped since. I am currently taking an online course on Comparative Law – in Brazilian Portuguese. This year I presented at the 10th International Conference of the Associação Brasileira de Tradutores e Intérpretes – ATA’s Brazilian counterpart – of which I am the General Secretary. I try to be as involved as possible with my language now. A colleague mentioned a broadcast on the internet which I now listen to on my phone whenever I can. It’s fresh Brazilian news, full of colloquialisms and sentence constructions I had forgotten about. That’s my recipe to deal with this type of problem.

  • Gabriela E Siebach
    Posted at 21:22h, 31 January Reply

    I would love to travel, not just to the region I am from but to other regions where the language is spoken, however, travel is not always possible. Instead I make it a point to watch recent TV Series and research references made in the Series. I also read and research. Maybe some things may seem foreign, but it is only foreign until you research it.

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