Translating out of your native language: Madalina's perspective
Updated: Nov 10, 2021
Andrew Bell is a medical and pharmaceutical translator working from Spanish, Portuguese and Catalan to English, trading under the name Bell Johnson Translations. You can connect with him by using the following links:
Madalina Iosub is currently working as Compliance and Technical Administrator and has extensive experience as a copywriter, graphic designer, video editor, translator and project manager. Find her at:
Following on from my last blog post on translating out of your native language, Madalina got in touch with me to share her views and experience of doing exactly this. We decided to share her views in an interview style blog post. I hope you find it just as insightful as I did!
Q1. Let’s start with your love of languages. Can you tell me a little bit about your experience with them? I’ve had an interest in various languages from an early age. When I think about my first encounter with one of the languages I fell in love with, my memories start with vague images of an old Box TV playing a subtitled episode of Inuyasha: a Japanese animation show. I was falling asleep on the sofa, waiting for my mother to take me to bed perhaps, but I can recall thinking I have never heard anyone speak this way before. It was so beautiful and somehow melodic. From that day onwards, I was hooked. I later found out that the language was Japanese, and a few years later, the internet made its way into our home as well. It was pretty much non-stop searching for means to learn Japanese by myself. Of course, it was only the beginning. I also loved studying my native language: Romanian. While in school, I took part in events every year called the ‘Romanian Language Olympics’, and I often excelled in grammar and creative writing. I also fell in love with the English language, and alongside studying it as a compulsory module in school, I started taking intensive English classes once a week at the age of 9. I still loved Romanian, but Romanian became that childhood friend that you grow apart from. I started reading in English and practicing my writing and grammatical structures on the internet. At the age of 11, I moved to Norway with my family. I learnt to speak Norwegian within 6 months, thanks to intensive classes with my fantastic teachers and prior knowledge of learning English. Once you learn one language, it’s kind of like learning how to drive a car. You struggle at first, but you understand the notions. When you get a new car or learn to drive on the opposite side of the road, you struggle at first, but eventually you see a pattern.
Languages made sense to me. 15 years later, here I am. I am now fluent in English, Romanian and Norwegian, and my Japanese is conversational. Q2. You’re a native Romanian speaker, you grew up in Norway and now live in the UK, and like you said before, you speak all three languages fluently. But even with this high level of fluency, would you say that one of these languages is more dominant than the other ones?
English! Without a shred of doubt. I live in England now, which may explain a lot. I came here to study at university and haven’t yet felt like I wanted to leave. My Romanian is rather rusty; I only speak it with my family and some friends online. I have noticed a lot of grammatical slip-ups along the years too, not to mention that my accent has become rather strange. Norwegian is my next best thing. I spent about 10 years in Norway after all, as well as all my formative years. I immersed myself in the culture so much so that I often forgot I was a ‘Romanian’ living in Norway. To my friends and their families, I was just like them. Norway, my Norwegian friends and my life there have played a gigantic role in helping me become who I am today. Q3. Now let’s talk more specifically about you as a translator, which language directions do you feel most comfortable working with?
I can confidently do any of my languages into English. Which isn’t fantastic for the market because I am expected to be able to do all of my languages into Romanian instead. Romanian and Japanese are the only ones I would not translate in to, for the former, I feel that although possible, it would take me a very long time and I would need to look up terms and double check everything; for the latter, I simply do not possess the fluency needed.
Q4. Given that you don’t actually translate into your native Romanian, what’s your take on the pressure placed on translators to only work into their mother tongue?
I find the concept valid as long as it isn’t a direct expectation placed on the translator. In a perfect world, where justice reigns, such things would be considered on a case-by-case basis. I have personally found this to be problematic, even discriminatory at times, because instead of considering each case as someone’s unique experience with that language, the translator is thrown in the ‘non-native’ pile, and more often than not, discarded. I truly hope and believe that this might change in the next 10 years. Globalisation has taken over and there are a lot more people who, despite being born and raised in one country, have lived, studied and fully immersed themselves in the culture, language and society of a different country altogether. Who has then the right to decide which language they should feel more comfortable with or have more knowledge or expertise in? Without even engaging with the person or testing them in any way, it is pretty much impossible to say. Q5. I couldn’t agree more. Do you think translating out of their native language is something that other translators should consider?
I am not saying that every translator is capable of this, as I do believe it requires a rather time-consuming type of dedication. I can only tell you what it was like for me: I no longer felt comfortable with my native language, and my interest in it paled in comparison to my interest in English, and even my other languages. In sociological terms, I have gone through an extreme form of acculturation, called cultural assimilation. I have been away from Romania for so many years, and I have rarely visited the country in the past 5. It is very hard for me to relate to ‘being Romanian’ as I hardly ever associate with the culture, country or language. This happens sometimes by choice and sometimes by chance. Of course, very few agencies are willing to listen to my life story and how this has affected my relationship with language. They will just ask: what is your native language? So, what should I respond?