So, you're a translator?

Whenever anyone asks me the reason I chose to become a translator - which is a frequent occurence - I have trouble pinpointing exactly when and why. When did I first want to be a translator? I certainly don't recall ever wanting to be a fireman or an astronaut.

I can remember being fascinated with language from a very young age, wondering if French was in fact English backwards. I remember learning to count to ten in German around the age of five from a record my uncle would listen to because he was off on a cruise down the Rhine. I used to love language lessons at school, and couldn't quite grasp why my classmates were much less enthusiastic. With the benefit of hindsight, it's now clear I've always been a bit of a language nerd.

By 18 I already had German, French and Italian under my belt, and it was then at university that I turned my attention to Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese, later followed by Catalan. These latter languages are the ones I now concentrate on professionally.

A lot of people (particularly those from the Netherlands) are astonished that I speak Dutch despite not living there, and their follow-up questions are invariably always either the intriguing "So is one of your parents Dutch?" or the classic "Why did you learn Dutch, when everyone in Holland speaks perfect English?". The answer to the first one is no, in case you were wondering. I'm a huge fan of Dutch/Flemish literature and culture, and take every opportunity to visit; it baffles me why a language spoken by millions of people in two major European nations is often viewed as "exotic". When it comes to the second question: while it's true the people of the Netherlands in particular speak a high level of English, in terms of professional writing, even the most skilled speaker can all too easily fall foul of Dutch-language interferences, also known as "Dunglish". While the two languages are very similar in many respects, there are still a whole host of grammatical and semantic subtleties and, above all, stylistic points that deserve the attention of a native English speaker.

People are certainly less curious about why I speak Spanish, particularly since living in Barcelona. However, the truth is I'm quite fond of rain and I wilt in hot weather: I'm here for the people and, in turn, their language and culture.  And did I mention the food..? Living in Barcelona, I also thought it was only polite to reach a high level of Catalan; and so of course I live in both these languages on a daily basis. I am also surrounded by Portuguese speakers, and I try to pop over to my old haunt Lisbon as often as I can.

I'm also convinced, as a native speaker of English, that having an intimate knowledge of both Latin-based and Germanic languages provides me an even deeper understanding of my own language, itself a hyrbid of these two linguistic families. When required, this in turn helps me to tone down the "ornateness" when translating from, say, from Spanish; but also to find just that right Latinate alternative when rendering from Dutch.

As much as I have a passion for the languages I speak, my first and greatest love is and will always be English. Despite not living in an English-speaking country, this is my go-to language for information, culture and entertainment, and the language in which I can really be be creative.