I love when there are specific phrases in languages that really have no short translation into English. I heard one the other day that made me giggle at the same time as it made complete sense (and was also sort of racially inappropriate).
So, you’ve all seen those older western gentlemen who go to Asia for totally legitimate purposes, right? Well, some of them do go to learn languages, even if those language skills are then put to use to approach some of the local ladies. The sight of a western guy with a Chinese girl is pretty common in bigger Chinese cities, but the benefits for the men may be more than just aesthetic and romantic.
Apparently it’s quite a common thing for Chinese people to recommend to single western guys – get a “hēi tóufǎ de zìdiǎn” (黑头发的字典), or a “black-haired dictionary”. This is a colloquialism for a local (Chinese) girlfriend. There’s nothing like love and an inability to communicate well to help improve your language skills!
Of course, I have heard this kind of thing recommended before – there’s no better way to learn a language than to become better acquainted with its native speakers.
What do you think? Is this a side benefit to a relationship, a reason to search one out, or something you’ve never considered? I don’t know if I would want a boyfriend to correct me all the time, but it definitely would help with getting some speaking and listening practice.
We all have those little in jokes with friends or family that start out with a slip of the tongue or somebody doing something foolish. Then we all mock them for a while (or are mocked for a while), and the messed up phrase or word becomes part of our daily usage.
Back in 1958, a Belgian by the name of Pierre Culliford was having dinner with a friend. He meant to say the simple phrase ‘passe-moi le sel‘ (‘pass me the salt’ in French), but got stumped on the word sel. Apparently as a result of a brain hiccup, he searched for the word he needed. He came up with the word schtroumpf instead. After being made fun of by his friend, they both began to substitute schtroumpf for regular words in everyday sentences.
Pierre Culliford was also known as Peyo, an artist particularly known for drawing cartoons. One day, he decided to introduce some little blue characters into one of his comics. They were called schtroumpf, and they, like Culliford, used the word schtroumpf in various forms for various things (especially verbs). Sound familiar? That’s right, the schtroumpf were the original Smurfs.
It just goes to show, even silly made up words among friends can catch on worldwide!
Original article: Schtroumpf.
Some concepts are best described in languages besides your own, and in these cases, it is more useful to try to learn these ideas and phrases in their source language. Translating them may lead to clunky translations, and they will be more difficult to remember. If you have to use your native language as an intermediary, it will also take more time.
Try to get used to learning phrases as chunks of language, and practice saying them to increase your fluency. Eventually you won’t even try to translate them.
There’s no reason why we can’t try not to use this strategy with everyday words and language. There’s no real need to go through a native language, besides the fact that it makes us more comfortable! Next time you learn a language point, try to imagine it on its own, without a translation. Practise it in a sentence and ‘see’ the concept without using your own language. If you are learning the word for ‘knife’, don’t think about the word knife. Think about an actual knife.
Do you think this method can be done successfully? Or do we rely too much on our own native languages?
There was a great post on the Babbel blog recently from the head of their support team, Anne Matthies. She has impressively used self-directed learning to reach advanced levels in Italian, English, French, Russian and Chinese. Here are her tips for learning languages, especially on your own. The full post includes her comments.
1. Set a plan and don’t stick to it
2. Give yourself time before you speak (if you’ve got the time)
3. Your style of learning keeps changing
4. Study idioms right from the beginning
5. Be yourself
6. Get off the computer once in a while
7. Get around
9. Stage your own immersion day
10. Allow yourself to make mistakes!
11. Don’t give up…
I completely agree with all of Anne’s points (and most of them are things I’ve mentioned before). Do you have any language learning advice that you couldn’t do without?