To the rescue of Aestheticism In language learning
But, is it really a matter of inexorable fate, learning a language with the intended purpose of widening your service offering?
Ah… Languages… How we like to dote on them, to call ourselves (near) experts in them, to seduce with and be seduced by them…
For people like us, languages are our past, our present and, hopefully, our future; they are the means to several ends, one of our greatest passions, the object of endless scrutiny, the subject of ever-lasting conversations, the path to one or two pots at the end of the rainbow, a source of never-ending interest and genuine excitement, and perhaps the cause of an unquenchable thirst for learning.
While many translators work on more than one language pair, I have seen only few attempt to learn a language with the sole purpose of learning it. I believe these days we are so obsessed with learning for a reason—for a practical, cost-effective reason—that there’s a growing tendency among translators to learn a language only with the idea of adding it, as soon as possible, to the range of linguistic services they may offer in it. Not that there is anything wrong with that. In fact, I know most people would argue that ‘practical’ (pioneer, realistic, artistic, critical, tactical, imaginative, ceaseless, ambitious, lucrative) is the new ‘smart’ (simple-measurable-attainable-realistic-timely), and no, one does not necessarily imply the other.
But there is something special about learning for the sake of learning. If you’ve ever done it, you’ll know what I mean: the smell of new everywhere, the sound of something different, that soothing feeling of pleasure for pleasure itself, of sheer mindfulness, of giving free reign to our musings without caring to consider if we are making a notorious grammar mistake, of rambling in a language that is not our own, that is perhaps far from our own mother tongue or any other language we already master, if you believe in the absolutism of the term…
For me, learning a language I don’t have to translate is a very rewarding, inspiring experience. It gives me the chance to revive that sense of innocence, of naivety, typical of my early beginnings in the first language I learnt as a foreign one, which was English.
Learning a new language for the mere sake of learning is almost as challenging as riding a bike for the first time. I ride everywhere ever since I can remember, but even if my memory may have erased the pictures of my initiation in the Cyclists Club, we all know the transfer from a kids bicycle to a proper bike can be tough for your chin, elbows, knees and general self-esteem. However, it also entails the promise of independence, of something bigger, new, different and quite exciting; the experience itself may begin as a fall, but deep in side we know it will give rise to such pleasure.
So it is with languages, learning a new one is like a slap on the face of Ms Comfy Routine. Don’t get me wrong—I do translate and edit and write copy for a living, and I absolutely LOVE my work routine. But I also love the adrenaline that comes with diversity and change, don’t you?
Restless spirit, beautiful mind?
I don't know whether it's got to do with the fact that I'm a Scorpio or a little bit prone to boredom, but I’ve come to realise my freelance business would not be the same without the innovation ingredient I willingly and unconsciously add to it. Sometimes that ingredient comes in the form of music, sometimes in the form of drama and, many times, in the form of a new, foreign language merged with other forms of art.
Indeed, adding certain routine-breakers outside your translation business will do nobody any harm—they spice up your life, give you a mentally refreshing chance to see and feel differently about everything (not just languages and your business) and, of course, they boost your productivity and brush up your language skills in general.
I’m not saying it would be out of the question to capitalise on your knowledge of that new language in the future. Perhaps you can and you will do so, and that’s awesome! For instance, people will be very much surprised to hear you are learning Russian, Chinese, Japanese or Korean where I live. And if you can use that knowledge to provide professional translation services in the long (or not so long) term, why refrain from doing so? You may even find your niche out of a hobbie, and we translators can’t miss out on such an opportunity where we find it, can we?
That’s precisely why I think learning a language you don’t need to translate does already pose a big challenge from the beginning: can we resist the temptation of wanting to translate from and/or into it? Hm... I'm finding it hard myself when it comes to French, which I learn as a foreign language, but at least I know that, for the time being, I'm not planning to become a translator there.
No matter how devoted you are to the language pairs you work in, they belong to the land of work and study with a marketing and commercial purpose—everything you do in and with those languages will, either directly or indirectly, have an impact on your business, so you must be more than just passionate about it, you need to be as careful and proactive as possible. While, if you choose to learn a language you don’t need to translate for a living, you can pretend you are in absolutely no hurry to get anywhere in particular, come to terms with spelling mistakes and perhaps focus on supplementary learning through a wider variety of alternative means and fields, where a detailed knowledge of the foreign language in question may still be quite useful, yet not compulsory as it is in translation, such as reading, watching films, listening to music, taking part in drama clubs, writing for your own pleasure, and of course, travelling—aww… if only we could just teleport!
So, how about trying a language that is not at least directly connected with your business, one that provides a different sort of challenge, one that does not feel a bit like work yet implicitly boosts your professional profile by definition, one that makes room for going back to the role of the instinctive—though mindful—learner, if you like?