When I tell people I speak fluently about 5 languages, moderately in another 2 and understand and read another two or three, they usually find this astonishing. I’ll hear things like: “That’s amazing!” and “The things you can do with so many languages!” I always thought so as well, until I started working and realized that most of the languages I had in addition weren’t much of an advantage in everyday life.
Now that I’ve started writing, I’ve found it to be helpful, sometimes, but most often, confusing and frustrating. I will think about a dialogue or particular sentence in my story and find the perfect wording for it – only it doesn’t work in the language I’m currently writing in, which for the novel for example would be English. I’ll spend hours to try and find the right translation for it, the one word that will say exact the same thing and… I won’t find it, because it very often just doesn’t exist. There will be some words with similar meanings, but they just won’t trigger that same feeling of “yes, that’s it, that’s exactly what I wanted to say!”
If I’m writing a scene that is in a setting of another country, and that the word I like is in that language, I might smuggle it in there (see what I just did there? I was thinking of the word “schmuggeln” in German, and translated it into the luckily similar English word “smuggle” – maybe not the best editorial choice, but definitely the wording that expresses exactly what I feel). And then again, like in this exact instance, it’s great because when you know exactly the word you need in another language, you sometimes get lucky to find the best expression in English as well, by working through your dictionaries.
So I guess it’s sort of a curse and blessing, all at the same time. And also makes me realize once again, how stupid it was not to get into the translating business… but who knows, maybe that’s going to be my next dream?