Today I spend most of my time reading and writing in English, but I don’t know exactly how I learned English. I mean, I can guess, but it did not happen as a controlled, guided process in a proper language school. I would call it “learning by exposure” with a pinch of my never-ending curiosity and eagerness to learn to make things stick to my brain.
Living in Latin America, I grew up being bombarded with media content from the Global North, specially the United States. That is what is called cultural imperialism – I later learned that term, when my interests for geography and geopolitics studies kicked in (and pushed me to my Bachelors in Geography, but that’s a story for another time). I will not get much further into the problematic nature of cultural imperialism, you can learn a bit more about it in this article, but the basic concept is that a powerful geopolitical force heavily invests in expanding its influence on countries with less geopolitical force. For me, this meant that there was this huge influx of media content that was in English.
I’m a Millennial, meaning I was born between 1981 to 1996, and that also means media in general has been a part of my life since I was little, and the internet became popular when I was a teenager. I don’t know if other people of my generation were also like this, but I was always a heavy multimedia consumer. That means I watched a lot of television, was obsessed with video games and took my discman (and later my mp3 player) everywhere. So that’s what I mean by my “learning by exposure” method of learning English.
I believe that the biggest driver of this whole learning process was my exposure to subtitled media content. My family got cable TV when I was in my teens, that’s when I stopped consuming TV shows that were mainly spoken in Portuguese-Brazilian, and started watching them in English – with localized subtitles. So before I only had access to media content that was in English with localized subtitles when I watched movies, and now I was watching these TV shows daily. Friends and Gilmore Girls were some examples. Hearing one language and reading its translation at the same time, I believe that was the key. Of course, an interest in languages and in learning made plenty of difference as well.
Luckily I went to a great University that offered language courses along with my usual classes, and only then I was able to access a proper class in English. I was able to enter straight to the advanced class thanks to my admission exam. After that I started working as a volunteer in the TED team in Amara, and learned of my love for working with subtitling and translation, got my degree in Translation and continue to fuel passion for languages and media accessibility.
Translation and localization have always been intertwined with my life. It’s interesting now to look back and see the path that took me to where I am now. Making media content available and accessible gives people like me the choice to explore and learn regardless of language barriers. It makes us all more connected, because when we can understand each other’s media, we are closer to understanding each other too.