Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Writing in Two Languages at the Same Time

The past year and a half I've filled out more profile forms than ever before. The editor in chief of a Dutch Cultural Agency requested I'd sign up with Wiki, Twitter, Linkedin to name a few. I managed to put off FaceBook for a while, that is, I was invited by an IRL friend, but flooded by news from his virtual friends I quit after two days. Took me a year to sign up again, and this time I kept a low profile, meaning I remained invisible until I thought I had enough of a handle on keeping the flood gate under control, keeping myself from being swept away, off on a tangent. Oops, where's this going, what did I just say, where did I want to go with all this? Oh, yes, something about profiles and writing in two languages.

Stating in a profile that you're a bilingual writer suggests you write fluidly in another language beside the one that's your mother tongue. Does that make you a translator? Yes and no, or not necessarily. That is, I don't translate in one or the other language, I think in both, depending on the subject that's on my mind (I learned yoga and cooking in English), the location I find myself in, or the person I'm with.

What if I want to tackle the same subject in both languages? Writing one and then the other makes sense, but not to yours truly, at least not always. Just yesterday I came across a photograph I made in 2006 when I was working on the factual biography of Jake in my dedicated writing studio at Luna Park ActivSpace .

In order to see whether I was covering every fact with the same attention I made sure each paragraph had the same length. Those of you who are familiar with the length of Dutch words understand what a feat that was. Aside from word length there's the issue of content. Some things that may be crystal clear to a Dutch reader aren't to an American, and visa versa. I thoroughly enjoyed being forced to cut words and add meaning while staying within the parameters of space. Crazy? Possibly, but I dare say these rules I set for myself worked as well as a stern editor might.

Do you apply certain constraints when writing/ translating and how do you benefit of such parameters?

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This work by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License