Interview with Lucas Fox translator Sara Blackshire

Whereabouts are you originally from?

I was born in Alicante, Valencia, and lived in Torrevieja, a small coastal town between Alicante and Murcia, until I was 8, when my family moved to Cabrera de Mar, on the Maresme Coast, near Barcelona. Prior to moving to Catalonia, my father spent 3 years working near Barcelona and drove 12 hours every weekend to come home to see us. After three years of travelling weekly and living away from home, my parents decided that the best thing for us as a family was for us to all move up to Catalonia. They believed that my sister and I would get a better education and better opportunities here than down south, and we’ve been here ever since.

My parents are both British –my mother was born in Windsor and my father is from a small town called Sunbury-on-Thames, in Surrey. Before moving to Spain, my father was an aircraft engineer with British Airways and my mother worked as a registrar clerk for an important chemical company. They had renovated and sold a Victorian house in Windsor and couldn’t find another property that they wanted to invest in, so they decided to move to the south of Spain with some friends. They packed up their car and decided that they would try living there for a year and, if it didn’t work out, they could always go back to England. It’s been 28 years since they moved to Spain, and they’ve never looked back.

What languages do you speak and when do you use them? (And which do you dream in?)

My native languages are English, Spanish and Catalan: I spoke English at home and first Spanish and then both Catalan and Spanish at school and in higher education. I have also studied French to a professional level. I currently use English with my family and at work, Spanish at work and with some friends, and Catalan with most friends and my partner. When I am alone, I think and talk to myself in English, and if I am in a social situation, I think in whichever language is being spoken. I generally dream in English, but have had bizarre dreams in other languages; in one of them my dad spoke to me in fluent Catalan!

In terms of your cultural identity, do you feel British, Spanish or Catalan? Does it depend on what situation you are in?

My identity has always been a bit of a confusing subject for me: at school, I always felt different from my classmates and there were not many other foreigners, so I always felt like the odd one out in that sense, specially once we moved to Catalonia, because all the other kids had known each other since kindergarten and I was one of the few new kids in primary school. Once I got a little older, I came to the realisation that when I was here I felt more British, but when we went back to England for Christmas and for summer holidays, I also felt foreign there. Since growing up and moving to Barcelona, where I get taken for a tourist constantly, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I am a little bit of everything and that it is alright to not feel very patriotic about the place where you live, even though you speak the language like a native. To the question ‘Where are you from?’ I normally end up answering that I was born in Alicante to English parents and live in Barcelona, that is the long and the short of it.

Which elements of your lifestyle reflect this mix of cultures? Do you practise any specific traditions?

There are aspects of both cultures that I enjoy: food-wise, I really like some good tapas, paella or pa amb tomàquet, but you can’t beat a traditional roast dinner or fish and chips in my opinion. Weather-wise, I don’t tolerate the hot Spanish climate very well, so I’m not much of a beach fanatic, but I do really enjoy walks in the countryside. As for traditions, we’ve always celebrated Christmas more than Reyes, but I personally enjoy Castanyada more than Halloween, since I am easily spooked.

Did you go to a local Spanish school or an International school and why?

I’ve always been to Spanish/Catalan schools, both colegios concertados during primary and secondary school and private for bachillerato. My parents are of the opinion that there is not much point in living in a foreign country and not trying to fit in, so we’ve always steered clear of expat communities and international schools. They have also always considered that the quality of education and the teaching standards at local schools are generally higher and there are more choices than with international schools. Additionally, you can feasibly walk to a local school, whereas international schools are frequently located on the outskirts of town which means longer car journeys.

Did you feel your schooling gave you adequate levels of Spanish? How do you feel about Catalan being the language of instruction in all public schools?

Until the age of 8 I was taught exclusively in Spanish, which I think accounts in some degree for my high level of Spanish. Nevertheless, I do believe that the Spanish grammar taught in Catalan schools is sufficient to achieve a satisfactory level of the language, especially if you socialise with Spanish-speaking people at and outside of school. Although Catalan being the main language of instruction has turned into a political debate, I think students at Catalan schools genuinely do become bilingual, which means they are also more open-minded, are capable of learning a third/fourth language much more easily and are better at multitasking, and this can only be a good thing.

How have you maintained such a high standard of written (and spoken) English without having an international education?

My parents have always spoken English to my sister and I and my mother has always paid special attention to us speaking English correctly. We’ve always listened to a lot of English music and, when we were younger, we watched plenty of English cartoons, which my grandmother used to tape for us and bring over when she visited. Nonetheless, the thing that has contributed the most to my level of English is reading: I have been an avid reader from a very young age and have always preferred books written in English over Spanish or Catalan. From literature I have learnt not only vocabulary and English expressions, but also about English culture and customs, both current and historical.

What benefits do you think you have gained from living and being educated in Spain/Catalonia?

I think that Spain/Catalonia is a much more relaxing and positive environment for children than other more fast-paced countries. I feel like children grow up more slowly in Spain, especially if they live in a village, where they are free to play in the park, hang out with friends or even go to the cinema without parents having to worry about their safety and wellbeing. Spain also offers a wide range of activities for children, from active outdoor sports to more cultural indoor activities. Spain’s geography is vast enough to include all types of climates and lifestyles, so there is something for everyone.

Were there any challenging aspects of growing up with an amalgamation of cultures and languages?

As I mentioned before, one of the consequences of growing up with more than one culture and language is that there is a risk of having an identity crisis. Another is that I have less interest in political matters. Nevertheless, I believe that the positive aspects of growing up with two cultural backgrounds far outweigh the negative aspects.

Your parents are British, how integrated are they in the local community and do they speak Spanish or Catalan?

My parents are semi-retired and currently split their time between staying in my childhood home in Torrevieja and living in an urbanisation on the outskirts of Argentona, a very Catalan village in El Maresme. Torrevieja has a very strong international community, most of which speaks limited Spanish. My parents often feel frustrated when speaking to locals because some will swap automatically to speaking in English when my parents would rather practice their Spanish. Other than that, I think they are well integrated in both the local and international community there. Argentona is on the other end of the spectrum: when we moved here, my parents had trouble with some Catalans refusing to speak Spanish to them, although in general most locals are happy to change to Spanish when asked to. They don’t live in the centre of the village, so they don’t participate in daily village activities, but have always found the town hall very helpful with matters that concern them and feel part of the community using the local amenities regularly.

My parents learnt Spanish when they first moved to Spain and speak it quite fluently considering they are foreigners; they have always had to use it for work, which I guess helped them a lot to achieve a decent spoken level. They tried learning Catalan when we moved up here, but kept muddling both languages up, so decided that it was best to only speak Spanish instead of a mixture of the two! Since then, my father has gone to local Catalan classes organised by the town hall and can understand most of what is said in general situations.

Is your social circle mainly other expat families or locals?

Since I’ve always been to Spanish/Catalan schools, most of my friends have always been locals. At university, I studied a degree in Translation and Interpreting, which meant that I was in contact with more foreign students, but the majority of my classmates were still Spanish and Catalan. At Lucas Fox, about half of the employees come from overseas, so this is probably my most international social circle, with the exception of my family.

With a Master’s in Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Translation, do you think that your upbringing played a part in your interest in language itself?

Because of my passion for reading (and my ample experience correcting both friends and family), I would definitely say that languages have always played an important role in my life. Even though studying languages seemed like an obvious option, when the time came to decide which path to take, I initially didn’t want to take advantage of my bilingual skills, so I decided to explore my other main interest, science, and started a degree in Biology. I quickly realised that it was an overcrowded field and was not completely satisfied with my university experience, so I took some time off to think about what I wanted to do. During that time, I attended an international event in Brussels with some Spanish friends and, since some of them didn’t know English, I had my first experience interpreting. At that moment I had an epiphany: I realised that I could indeed use my linguistic skills to help others understand ideas that were previously inaccessible to them because of the language barrier. Becoming a translator seemed like the logical thing to do, so I studied a degree in Translation and Interpreting. There are many branches you can specialise in within the field of translation, so I combined it with my previous expertise and went on to do a Master’s in Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Translation.

Do you envisage yourself staying here in Spain or would you settle in the UK to explore your British roots?

Although I am currently happily settled here, I have always dreamt of moving to the UK and seeing what it would actually be like, even though I believe I would feel a bit out of place and I would probably experience a bit of a culture shock, having never lived there permanently before. You never know where life will take you, so you should never say never!

What do you enjoy most about living in cosmopolitan Barcelona?

I love being able to leave the house, jump on the metro, train or bus, and be anywhere within half an hour. Barcelona also offers a wide range of restaurants, bars and cafes; you could eat somewhere different every day and never tire of the variety of the cuisine on offer. The city also offers excellent cultural options, such as interesting museums, historical monuments and gothic churches, beautiful green parks and a wide selection of entertainment options, from theatres to cinemas showing films in their original version with Spanish subtitles. Thanks to its strategic location between the mountain of Collserola and the sea, Barcelona really does have something for everyone.

What advice would you give to someone considering relocating to Spain with a young family?

Above all, you need to be prepared. I wouldn’t count on finding a job as easily as in the old days, so having some contacts is a big plus. Make sure that you know how the Spanish education system works before moving, and decide what kind of school suits your family and your situation best. Taking the time and making the effort to learn the language is essential: without it, you will feel isolated from the community and will not be able to communicate with the teachers and parents at school, with the utility companies or even with your local chemist. Not knowing Spanish also means you will miss out on important events that may affect you locally and that might not reach the international press. I would also keep in mind that it can be hard to raise your children without the support and help of your family back home, and that family is very important to the Spanish, so you could end up feeling lonely or out of your depth if you don’t create a good support system for your family here.

In my opinion, the pros far outweigh the cons, and you genuinely can create a home away from home and feel like you belong to the community, despite the minor cultural differences. All in all, I would say go for it and enjoy the experience!