Lost in Translation

I read, with some amusement, that the new French Prime Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, has been forced to provide alternative pronunciations of his surname to Arabic-speaking countries as his surname sounds like their word for a rather intimate male body part!

This is not the first time that I have heard of people having to change their names due to unfortunate translations. Indeed, our Assistant Academic Manager was forced to use his middle name when he lived in Japan upon realising that his first name corresponded to a Japanese translation of “Toilet”! Can you guess what his real name is?

This led me to think about the often derided ‘Chinglish’ – Chinese translations of Mandarin into English – and my own time reading this whilst travelling in China. This,

usually after a couple of beers, became extremely funny to myself and my travelling companions and I have added my own example of the “best” chinglish that I found whilst in the bathroom of a restaurant in Beijing! If you want to see more, just search “chinglish” in Google and a whole host of websites will appear.

What this tells us is that not everything will easily translate, as anyone who is bilingual will tell you. Thus, it is so important to understand the context of a sentence and how it relates to the words around it to ensure a correct estimation can be made for the meaning. One can’t solely rely on a dictionary – a fact that any Spanish waiter could tell a British tourist, no doubt!

I think that by being in a country and dealing with locals in the local language, you get a much better grasp of the more colloquial language that often prevails – thus, helping you to understand the nuances that a dictionary will not tell you. Better still, if taking a course in that country, you can ask your tutor to help you with the definition!

Then, you are further along in your goal to becoming fluent.

How about you? Have there been times that you were “lost in translation”? Perhaps there is a funny translation in your name? Or, there has been a local idiom which you have been unable to understand? Join the discussion and let us know!

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Are Short Language Courses Beneficial?

Many students choose to study a language course for a long period of time as they wish to improve as much as possible. But, this type of extended study is not for everyone. Some students may only have 2 weeks holiday from work, or only 2 weeks in between terms at school or University. Often, it will even come down to cost and students will invest in a course for as long as they can afford, which could only be 2 weeks – or even 1!

So, is there a benefit in doing such a short immersion course or would it be better to invest in a longer course in your home country?

I feel that both are acceptable!

I am currently looking to start a Spanish course (having discovered that I have some aptitude for Spanish) which will take place over summer, for 4 hours a week over 2 nights, plus 1-2 hours of homework each week. So, let’s say, 6 hours a week of study over 4 weeks, so 24 hours in total.

This should give me grounding in the language, give me some vital base vocabulary and introduce me to basic grammar so that if I venture to Spain on holiday, I should be able to, at least, order a coffee.

Take that further and I will slowly learn more over an extended period of time. But, I don’t think I would achieve fluency. Maybe in 20 years or so and after 3456 hours of study, which is not ideal if I wish to be able to use the language in business, for example – my career would be over before fluency!

However, if I were to take a two week holiday, I could do that in Spain, where I could also take an immersion language course. If I were to take an intensive course, then, in one week, I could study for the same number of hours as I did over 4 weeks back home. Plus, I would be using the language out of the classroom, further strengthening my communication skills.

Additionally, as the classes are close together, I would also probably remember more from morning to afternoon than I would back home in between my class on a Wednesday and my next class the following Monday, thus I would develop much quicker. This point is discussed in a blog by Communicad, using research from Shona Whyte, and it supports my assumption. Also, having come from a Psychology background, specialising in Biological Psychology, I am aware of the neural pathways needed to turn short-term memory into long-term memory and I know that this works more effectively with shorter time spans between learning intervals.

Therefore, I feel that a short language course is an ideal way for me to supplement my own language learning back home. I believe that I would come back with better understanding and a more advanced level having condensed 2 months learning into two weeks. I also feel that this would help me to achieve fluency much quicker, thus being of quicker benefit to my career progression.

It may, then, be a good option for you, the reader, to consider a short, intensive language course over this summer. If you are studying a language course at home, then I have no doubt that a short course will be of benefit to you and will see you becoming a more confident user of your language.

It’s certainly something that I will be doing!

Jerry Meldrum