Friday, 8 June 2012

Results of multi-lingual living survey and a source language tip

The poll on multi-lingual living, which I ran on my blog a couple of weeks ago, is now closed.

The results are very interesting. The first thing I learned is that I have a thing or two to learn about creating surveys. The questions could have been better phrased to fit more peoples’ circumstances.

My own experience of filling in surveys for various organisations has told me that that they should be short and that there is no ‘one-size-fits all’ response to survey questions. I am very glad therefore that I gave respondents some space to put in their own comments.

I condense the results very briefly here.

Sixty-five people responded and a big thank you to everyone who spent a couple of minutes on this.

There were three questions, two of them were mutually exclusive – or so one might have thought – but in fact one person translates both ways, so answered both.

Q1. What kind of (language) household do you live in?

Twenty-eight people (43.1%) live in a mono-lingual household. I was heartened by this because I had previously formed the opinion that I am very much in minority and that most translators have greater access to language practice that I do. Although 43.1% still represents a minority - it's bigger than I expected. And if you add those who live alone, it actually becomes a majority.

Twenty-four people (36.9%) live in a bi-lingual environment, seven (10.8%) in a multi-lingual household and six (9.2%) live alone.

There were some very interesting comments on this point. One respondent mentioned that she and her husband each have different native languages, neither of which is the language of the country they live in. Most of those who live alone mentioned that they have friends or relations who are natives of their source language. One person pointed out that she was in the same boat as me in that her husband stoically refuses to learn her source language. To be fair, my husband did try once.

Another couple, both of the same native language but both also bilingual, switch to the other language when they don’t want people to know what they are saying. (I do that sometimes with my French friend Michele when we wish to make a catty remark about someone.)

One of the multi-lingual households mentioned that there were three members of the household and between them they had four languages: Arabic, German, English and Polish – not all mutually understood.

One respondent in a bi-lingual household (native language English) speaks Italian to her children. But the children are not very cooperative and reply in English. Another couple (French/Australian) is trying to bring up the children in both cultures and languages.

The second and third questions were:

Qs 2 and 3: If you live in your target (or, for Q 3, source) country, how long do you spend each year in your source/target country?

Again, I’m glad I allowed people to make comments because, inevitably, the options didn’t necessarily fit the circumstances.

Forty of the respondents live, like me, in their target language country, and the vast majority of these (36 - or 90%) spend less than a month in their source language country. Four of them spend between one and three months away from home, and no-one spends longer in their source language country. Some respondents commented, giving further details on how that time is split over the year.

Twenty-six people live in their source language country (one person filled in both questions because she or he translates both ways. The question relating to amount of time spent away from home came out with a slightly smaller majority for those living in their target country: twenty (76.9%) spend less than a month away, and three between one and three months.

One person living in Australia isn’t able to get back to her native France every year and is very grateful to the Internet for making it possible to keep up-to-date with developments in her language. Another, living in her target country, makes an effort to cultivate friends who speak her source language. Yet another points out that travel plans vary from year to year.

By the way, the survey was completely anonymous and I don’t know who the respondents are. If I attribute a gender to anyone in the comments above, it is because the person gave a clue in the comment.

I find these results very interesting. Of course the survey was small, and not very scientific, but it shows that there are very many working translators who are not surrounded by different languages on a daily basis and have to make considerable efforts to keep their language skills up-to-date.

Tip: Free language podcasts from iTunes:
For those residing in their target country here’s a tip for honing your language / listening skills. If you use iTunes (if you don’t you should) search the iTunes store for “Higher Education” “French” (or your desired language) and see what podcasts come up. Most are free. It's a neat way of learning something new about a subject you enjoy, delivered by an academic in your source language. I listen when I can on my iPad where iTunes U is the app to go for. I'm currently watching a lecture on computer science from a technical university in Germany. Thanks to my business partner Sarah Dillon for this tip. She mentioned it on her blog some months ago.

I shall put forward some more ideas on low-cost or free ways of honing language and other professional skills in future editions of my blog. Meantime, if you have any of your own ideas for unusual sources of CPD, please do let me know.