In our efforts to keep up with a language that is not our own, we sometimes forget to take care of our native language, something which is particularly important if you no longer live in your native country. Depending on your native language and the country you have moved to, you may have to go the extra mile to keep up with your native language.

It is probably easier for people whose native language is English or another major language, because they will always find ways to listen to their language, but it is much more difficult if your native language is rarely spoken outside of your native country. I can imagine, for example, that it is fairly easy for a native speaker of English to keep up their native language in my country, the Netherlands, because we have plenty of access to TV and radio channels, newspapers and magazines, journals and books in English. If, however, I would decide to move to the UK or the US, it would be a lot harder for me to find sources in Dutch.

Also, it may be less of a problem if you mainly translate highly technical texts with their own language and terminology, which you can keep up with by reading specialized journals. But being up-to-date with your native language is essential if you translate more creative texts.

There are several problems which can arise if you don’t keep up your native language. For one, language changes all the time: new words are created, other words are no longer used. Spelling sometimes changes. And then there’s the problem of the target language interfering with the native language. When people have lived in another country for a while and don’t get the chance to hear their own native language on a regular basis, their second language tends to interfere with their native language. The result: translations that are too literal and read like translations, rather than a text written by a native speaker.

How to keep up with your native language
Here are a couple of tips to help you keep up with your native language:

  • If possible, try to watch TV channels from your native country, preferably programmes such as talk shows. They will help you keep up-to-date with the latest news and developments and the latest language use. If you do not have access to TV channels, try the internet; many TV channels make their programmes available on the internet. If you can’t find a way to watch TV programmes, watch DVDs of recent films or TV series. DVDs can easily be ordered online.
  • Listen to radio shows from your native country. This is very easy to do these days via sites such as www.tunein.com, which allow you to listen to digital radio stations from all over the world.
  • Read in your native language. Not just journals and articles on the subjects you specialize in, but anything from newspapers and magazines to contemporary literature. There are plenty of (free) online newspapers and magazines to be found on the internet and books can be ordered online, or you might even be able to get them from a local bookshop or library if your language isn’t too “obscure” in the country you live in.
  • Use websites of businesses, organisations or the government in your native country as a reference. They can be especially useful if you want to keep up with the kind of language and tone of voice used for a specific target audience (e.g. informal language for a young audience, more formal language for a wide audience).
  • Visit your native country on a regular basis, preferably once a year. That is the only way to “soak up” everyday life and notice what has changed, both in society in general and in the language. And of course to speak your native language.

All these tips can, of course, also be used to keep up with your source language!

Newspapers
Newspapers at a newsagent in the Netherlands: available in English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Greek, Turkish, Polish, Russian and Chinese