I was reading an interesting thread on the Fluent in 3 Months forum, where people were discussing their favourite language learning hacks (or tips). I came across one that I had already been doing without realising its full meaning. One of the members suggested using image searches to ‘see’ new vocabulary in different situations. Obviously for abstract concepts this may have varied results, but it’s a great way to make sure that you have the right idea from a translation.
Recently I had to check a translation that included a list of car types. Not having much more than bus, taxi, car, bike, etc, in my lexicon, I wasn’t sure how to translate things like SUV or bulldozer. The best idea I could come up with was to look up the original word in Google Images, and see which type of vehicle showed up the most often. This came in really handy when I was trying to decide between, say, minivan and station wagon as the correct translation.
So next time you find a word that you’re not 100% sure of the meaning of, perhaps looking at some pictures will help more than an ambiguous translation.
It’s a widely-spread notion that children are much better than adults at picking up new languages, because their brains are easier to rewire, and they don’t have to learn consciously. This is only partially true. Adults are actually much better at learning and retaining language-related information than children, as a recent study has shown. 8-year-olds, 12-year-olds, and adults were shown a new rule in a made up language, although this rule was never stated explicitly. Adults were shown to have the best retention rate of this information following the original exposure.
If you think about it, children take years and years to master a language and be able to speak it at an adult level. Older children and adults can become conversational in a foreign language within a year, if they try hard enough. The difference is that kids don’t have to think about it so much. If an adult were put into the same situation as a child learning its first language (totally immersed, with multiple repetitions of new words, and no other major tasks to complete), they would develop new language skills much faster than children.
What’s the take-home message? You’re never too old! And sometimes, older is better!
I was talking to a friend recently who suggested that you could never really know someone if they were speaking something other than their native language. She posited that, even if you can speak a foreign language really well, you will still have to choose different words and phrasing than in your own language, so people would end up essentially seeing you as a slightly (or totally) different person.
What she was referring to was that she felt like she couldn’t adequately describe her work (which she’s very passionate about), because she didn’t have the right vocabulary, and she had to choose different ways to describe what she was doing. In some ways, I understand. The technical words are difficult, and having to work your way around a description a few different times can take away from the impact of the story. In my personal experience, I find that I often don’t fully express my opinions in another language because I don’t have the right words. So, in this way, the listener doesn’t really understand my whole viewpoint.
Do these examples mean that people we talk to don’t really know us very well? Yes, and no. I could still tell my friend was excited about what she was talking about when she was discussing her work, even though she may not have been able to discuss it very deeply. We still have the same smiles, even if sometimes they may be a bit hesitant in the midst of muddled sentences.
Do you think the friends who you speak to in other languages know you well enough?
It’s Maori Language Week in New Zealand and the New Zealand Herald is running daily quizzes to see how good your te reo Maori (Maori language) skills are.
Try your hand at the greetings quiz, or the food and drink quiz. I did better at the food and drink, but those tend to be the things I learn first in new languages!
Keep an eye on the Herald site to get more quizzes throughout the week.
The theme for this year’s Maori Language Week is Manaakitanga, which is a concept that includes both making others feel welcome, and showing respect for those who are welcoming us. You can find out more about Manaakitanga on the Korero Maori site, and as part of the 100 Maori words every New Zealander should know.