This month marked an important milestone for me, as a quarter of a century ago (!) on 25th February 1994 I created the company that would eventually become Smart Translate. On a more global scale, February 21st was annual International Mother Language Day. For more on the subject of language here’s a look at the most popular stories about translation and language for February 2019.
When people talk about how to learn a foreign language, they always say that you just need to have a relationship with someone who speaks that language. Does it work ? Sure. And nothing is sexier than a cute accent at the start of a relationship, but after a few years you discover that there are some challenges that you just didn’t anticipate.
1. Despite the fact that you could speak two languages, you ONLY speak 1 with your partner.
Much like the first few weeks of marriage are dedicated to assigning certain tasks to each partner for life, for example who takes out the trash, the first few weeks of a bilingual relationship are dedicated to deciding which language you will use… FOREVER…
Even if you eventually learn your partner’s language. Perhaps by living in the country or speaking with friends or family, you will ALWAYS speak to your partner in the original language.
Speaking to your partner in any other language becomes weird…. like putting on a cold wet t-shirt….
2. You and your partner speak a combined 2 or more languages, yet neither of you can remember how to say “[Insert expression/object]” in any of them.
3. Each conversation includes some aspect of taboo, pictionary, or charades. And you are always the loser.
You would think this is an advantage for game night with friends (fantastic movie, go see it), but in reality no; you are constantly spending your time gesturing, explaining, and getting frustrated that your partner doesn’t understand you or that you can’t understand them.
Partner : Can you hand me the laces pasta?
You : Sorry, the ‘laces’ pasta?
Partner : Yeah, you know.. *gestures like tying a shoe*
You : *thinking over the options, tying shoe and laces… must be long and string like*… Ok, *hands over spaghetti*
Partner : No! Not that one! *comes over and takes farfalle/bow tie pasta*
You : OH! Tying a shoe… like bowtie… Well…FML.
4. Your partner continues to make small mistakes in your language, but they’re so cute that you refuse to correct them even after many years.
This one is actually fantastic. It’s cute, it’s a reminder of when you first met and everything was just so damn COOL! It makes even the most mundane daily task like grocery shopping a little bit more exciting.
Partner : Can you go get a chariot?
You : Yeah, sure *grinning like an idiot*
When you see on the shopping list “napkings“
5. The only things you can say in your partner’s language are : “I’m fine”, “This is delicious”, “I love you” and about 25 different curse words and swears.
The first three you learned at the start of the relationship. When you had visions of both of you becoming completely bilingual. You were eating dinner and felt like adding “this is delicious” in their language just to remind yourself that yes, your partner is foreign and thus 10 times cooler than any of your friend’s partners.
But your learning stopped there. The only other things you will learn in their language over the next 6 months to forever are the 25 different curse words that your partner will use when :
– Their computer doesn’t work
– They’re in traffic with you
– Your cat intentionally knocks the glass off the table
– You forget to put the top on the toothpaste tube the ‘correct’ way
6. Every visit to your partner’s family includes the same conversation.
Their family member (in their language) : Hello
You (in their language) : Hello
Their family member (in their language) : How are you?
You (in their language) : Fine, and you?
Their family member (in their language) : Fine… How is the food?
You (in their language) : Delicious…
Their family member (in their language) : How is your [their language]?
You : *Fuming because you want to explain that you’re not an idiot, that you just don’t have time, that your partner refuses to speak their language with you because it’s like putting on a cold wet t-shirt, and that you HAVE learned something, but that it’s only swear words so you can’t repeat that to them*….
You (in their language) : Meh… *gestures with hand so-so*
7. Your partner can never appreciate your super cool cultural references and/or sense of humor and you can never appreciate theirs.
Yes finally the bilingual relationship is not as easy as we thought, but despite all the difficulties your partner is still your better half and you wouldn’t have it any other way. Happy Valentine’s Day!
This is a guest post by Bryan Le Grand, the founder and head teacher of American Way Formation, an English training center on Réunion Island. Bryan has been an ESL Teacher for more than 10 years and has taught both children and adults of all ages in Asia and Europe. Teaching is his passion and enjoys his job the most when his students reach their English learning goals.
French protestors accuse President Emmanuel Macron of spreading fake news. (AFP PHOTO / ALAIN JOCARD)
In a depressingly regular slot, the language fail of the month goes to Coca Cola in New Zealand who attempted to combine Maori and English. They clearly didn’t check with a native speaker of Maori, so their advertisement “Kia Ora, Mate” translates to “Hello, death”.
Our look at the most popular stories about language and translation for September starts with an article referencing the most important day of the month (year?) for language professionals: International Translation Day!
While we’re on the subject, did you know that the berry family is a linguistic invention particular to Germanic languages like English? (Other languages like Spanish and French don’t combine the berry family into one group, but have different words).
Have you been away on holiday since the end of June? If you were in the northern hemisphere you might well have suffered from the prolonged heatwave. Let’s cool off with a look at the most popular stories about language and translation for July and August.
In this article, three economists use data on languages spoken in the EU to show that post-Brexit, German and French would become dominant in its institutions over English.
A research paper by Cambridge University conservationists found that children are better at identifying Pokémon characters than real animals and plants. In a 2008 National Trust survey, only a third of eight- to 11-year-olds could identify a magpie, though nine out of 10 could name a Dalek. A 2017 RSPB “Birdwatch” survey found that half of 2,000 adults couldn’t identify a house sparrow, a quarter didn’t know a blue tit or a starling, and a fifth thought a red kite wasn’t a bird. In a 2017 Wildlife Trusts survey a third of adults were unable to identify a barn owl, and three-quarters unable to identify an ash tree.
Why am I telling you this? Because yesterday I attended a beautiful exhibition called ‘The Lost Words’ that attempts to “conjure back the magic, beauty and strangeness of the nature that surrounds us”. Devised to take children and adults on a journey through 20 ‘lost words’ from ‘Acorn‘ to ‘Wren‘, each word becomes an acrostic spell written by Robert Macfarlane. Each of the twenty plants or creatures has been painted three times by artist Jackie Morris: first absent from its habitat (e.g. pawprints in the snow or a lone feather), then its return (generally painted on a gold background), and finally in its natural environment (see for example the Kingfisher). Below are some of the poems and paintings:
Anyone with an interest in nature, words and images, and who wants to explore further some of the ideas and creatures conjured up by ‘The Lost Words’ can download a free explorer’s guide from the John Muir Trust here.
I’ll end with this quote by Macfarlane: “Language is written deeply and richly into our relationships with landscape and with nature: there as the place-hames on our maps, and the many names of species, common and rare, with which we share our lives “
What have you been up to this month? Aside from my usual translation work I was also in a recording studio doing voice-over work, which is something I always enjoy. Anyway without further ado here’s your June round-up of popular stories about language, interpreting, and translation.
Colleague Claire Cox has written about the inaugural ‘Translate Better’ event in Berlin, the German take on the ‘Translate In …’ series of French to English translation style workshops.
Quartz profiled the US State Department Korean interpreter who made it possible for Trump and Kim to understand one another in Singapore at this month’s DPRK/USA summit.
Lee Yun-hyang holds her own (EPA-EFE/Kevin Lim/The Straits Times)