The bulk of what I have been doing at my volunteer position is translating text from German into English. *See note below.
Earlier today I was working on a document that had been partially translated by someone else. I noticed some small errors and phrasing issues and corrected them. The slight mistakes didn't make the text unreadable, but it wasn't quite how you would normally say it in English. It didn't flow naturally.
Shortly thereafter I discovered that those sections had been written by a native English speaker. Although the individual was born, raised and educated in an English language country, s/he has lived and taught at university level in Germany for many years. It seems to have impacted his/her English language skills. Some of the phrasing sounded more "germanic." And the grammar and punctuation was not always quite right. Because this individual has achieved a Ph.D. at one of the top universities in the English-Speaking World, I have to assume that s/he was making small mistakes on things s/he once knew.
I had heard of this phenomenon before today -- an individual who has lived and worked in a second language for so long that they start to lose some of their ability to speak and write in their native language. But this is the first I have personally come across it.
I find it rather fascinating. In essence, they are caught in-between the two languages. On the one hand, unless they learned the second language as a child and from a native speaker, they likely do not sound exactly right. There are many levels of fluency, but the most difficult to achieve in a second language is the level of "Mother Tongue."
But on the other hand they are slowly losing their ability to articulate fully in their native language. Perhaps when speaking they occasionally struggle to find the right word. Likely a word they know, but just cannot bring to mind.
I cannot imagine how this must feel.
What is the impact on cultural identity? Are they caught not only between two languages, but between two worlds?
Along a similar vein, what happens with children who are raised bilingual? Do they belong in both worlds and both languages? Or not fully in either?
Odds are its some in-between. But what determines where on this cultural sliding scale you fall?
I must review the research on this topic.
And I would love to hear from individuals who are experiencing it personally.
I know. My German language skills are not great and there are certainly other native English speakers who could translate faster. But my ability to read German is at the intermediate level, so I am not horrendous at translating. And I not only speak English, but I also speak "Librarian." As with most professions, there is a glossary of terms that only someone who is a member of that profession knows. Plus, I work for free. Always a plus!