Are You OK? and Help! Two Things You Really Need to Learn to Say in Your Target Language [—at A Life Overseas]

September 27, 2017 § 2 Comments

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When you visit a country where the people don’t speak your language, there are several important phrases you should know how to say: things such as “Hello” and “Goodbye,” “How much is this?” “Where’s the bathroom?” and “Can I have ice with my water?” But when you move to that country, the stakes become higher. The important words and phrases become deeper and more necessary and more . . . important. They’re usually not covered in the first five chapters of your language book, and you may not end up learning them until you come face to face with the need for them. At least, that’s the way it was for me.

Are You OK?

The streets in Taiwan give new meaning to the phrase flow of traffic. Outnumbering automobiles two to one, scooters zip in and out to fill in the narrow gaps between cars, and when they all come to a red light, they pile up at the intersection, waiting to spill forward again when the light turns green. Watch that whitewater river for long, and you’ll see quite a few accidents.

One morning while I was walking to language school in Taipei, I came up to one of the city’s crowded intersections and waited to cross. As several lanes slowed for the light, a lady on a scooter was unable to stop and broke through the pack, sliding several feet on her side. She wasn’t hit by anyone, but she was slow getting up. My first thought was to run over to her and see how she was. I didn’t make it, though. First of all, by the time I could cross the street, she was back on her way, though pushing, not riding, her scooter now. And second, I didn’t know what to say.

Yes, I knew the greeting “How are you?” but that’s not the right question for someone who might be hurt. I knew how to say several other things, too, but none of them seemed appropriate. I could imagine the woman’s horror having me, a foreigner, rush up to her in her time of need, letting loose with my vocabulary of “Hello. How are you? I’m an American. What part of Taipei are you from? What’s you’re favorite food? I like pizza.”

It’s one thing to be able to say the equivalent of How are you? Howdy, or What’s up? It’s another to go beyond trite formality, to ask a caring question and expect a heartfelt response.

Continue reading at A Life Overseas. . . .

[photo: “helping-hand,” by Faith @101, used under a Creative Commons license]

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Language Learning: Like Wrestling with the Laundry

September 6, 2017 § 1 Comment

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I wrote the following in a newsletter a few months after moving overseas. That was a long time ago, but my thoughts on language learning haven’t changed much.

Our main goal right now is to learn the language, and we’ve been taking classes for almost three months. One of our teammates, who was here before we arrived, wrote a while back that learning Chinese is the hardest thing he’s ever done. As for me, I think I’ve done harder things, it’s just that I quit doing them after a couple hours.

Maybe you’ve heard it said that a difficult task is “like trying to nail Jell-O to a wall.” Learning Chinese isn’t quite like that, but it’s not far off. It’s more like hanging a king-sized bed sheet on a clothesline in a strong wind. (My apologies to everyone who’s only used a clothes dryer.) Every word or sentence pattern we learn is a clothespin that holds up another part of the sheet. With enough clothespins, the sentences and stories make sense. Little by little, there are fewer and fewer sags in the sheet as we pick out and are able to use more and more words and phrases.

The trouble is, on some days, the wind whips the sheet out of our hands. On some days we run out of clothespins or drop the ones we have. On some days it rains. On some days our arms are tired and hanging up sheets is the last thing we want to try to do. And on some days, the sheet just simply turns to Jell-O.

[photo: “auch Borkum,” by Erich Ferdinand, used under a Creative Commons license]

Dépaysement: What the French Call That Feeling of . . . um . . . Un-country-ness

August 20, 2017 § Leave a comment

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Dépaysement. It’s a French word that means something like “culture shock,” but it’s for those times when culture shock isn’t enough to capture what you’re feeling.

I could give you my definition, but it would just be a reworking of what I’ve found others saying. Instead, I’d rather let those others speak for themselves:

Dépaysement—

  1. (sentiment dérangeant) disorientation
  2. (sentiment agréable) change of scenery

It’s hard to put your finger on the feeling. You’re away from home, in a foreign land, surrounded by foreign faces. You’re apprehensive, but excited. You’re nervous, but alive.

Every synapse feels like it’s firing when you first set foot in a strange place, when you have to figure out the lay of the land, try to decide if you’re safe or in danger, if you should be elated or afraid. Every part of you is in overdrive.

What do you call that? “Culture shock” doesn’t cut it. “Excitement” doesn’t do it justice either, given that undercurrent of fear. We don’t have a single term that sums all those feelings up.

But the French do.

(Ben Groundwater, “Why ‘Depaysement’ Is the One Foreign Word Every Traveller Should Know,” Stuff, May 4, 2017)

In France, the feeling of being an outsider is known as dépaysement (literally: decountrification). Sometimes it is frustrating, leaving us feeling unsettled and out of place. And then, just sometimes, it swirls us up into a kind of giddiness, only ever felt when far away from home. When the unlikeliest of adventures seem possible. And the world becomes new again.

(Tiffany Watt Smith, Book of Human Emotions: From Ambiguphobia to Umpty—154 Words from Around the World for How We Feel, Little Brown, 2016)

People do some out-of-character things in foreign countries. They strike up conversations with strangers in bars, even if they would never do the same back home. They wear unflattering hats. There’s something about being a stranger in a strange land that’s equal parts exhilarating and disorienting, and this messy mix of feelings is what the French word depaysement . . . means to capture.

(Melissa Dahl, “10 Extremely Precise Words for Emotions You Didn’t Even Know You Had,” Science of Us, New York, June 15, 2016)

The gray and quotidian machinations of metropolitan life must be “deciphered” in order to discover another reality lurking just beneath the surface, the “sous-reality” of the historical marvelous. In surrealist wanderings through old neighborhoods, parks, cafés and restaurants, the city itself is text—the hidden mysteries like the markings on the Rosetta Stone. This mode of archaeological “reading” is linked to a phenomenological position which Jean Pierre Cauvin has identified as “dépaysement”: “the sense of being out of one’s element, of being disoriented in the presence of the uncanny, or disconcerted by the unfamiliarity of a situation experienced for the first time”. Literally, we might interpret “dépaysement” as “out of country”, or “displaced from one’s homeland.” Within the surrealist context, it refers to a cool disassociation from the mores of twentieth-century Parisian culture so that everyday material objects are freed from their ideological trappings and all of Paris opens itself up as a strange civilization to be “read” for the first time.

(Sasha Colby, Stratified Modernism: The Poetics of Excavation from Gautier to Olson, Peter Lang, 2009)

More than a statement of “homesickness,” depaysement implies a sense that you cannot go home again, that you may be forever disconnected from your old world (Smith 2006). Depaysement is reminiscent of a kind of ritualistic “becoming,” but does not imply being caught in the middle, as in Turner’s (1964) “betwixt and between,” because depaysement is not qualitatively transitional. A rite of passage implies a new social role or place in a social structure. Depaysement implies a sense of being stripped of that social structure altogether. It implies a new permanence in one’s experience in the worlds.

(Michael Holenweger, Michael Karl Jager, and Franz Kernic, eds., Leadership in Extreme Situations, Springer, 2017)

And then there are these musicians from Japan who call themselves The Depaysement (no, not “The Basement” or “The Debasement”). Watch their video. I’m sure they’d appreciate your views.


[photo: “Break Fast Languages,” by Enoz, used under a Creative Commons license]

Cross-Cultural AT&T: Opa! and True Dat

January 7, 2016 § Leave a comment

I stumbled upon these two commercials from AT&T. I’m not sure what demographic they’re going for, but they got my attention.

The first one shows us a fun (but possibly expensive) custom from Greece. The second lets us hear that girl-next-door Lily Adams speak Russian. Turns out that the actress who plays Lily, Milana Vayntrub, was born in Uzbekistan, moving to California at age three.

Paddington: A Fish out of . . . um . . . A Bear out of the Jungle

November 4, 2015 § Leave a comment

15810316086_62a83999d1_zPaddington is one of my favorite movies that I saw last year. Much more than just a kids’ movie, it was nominated for best film at the UK’s 2015 Empire Awards, and won for best comedy. It also carries a 98% rating at Rotten Tomatoes.

The story in a nutshell is this: When Paddington comes to London, it’s not quite what he’s heard it would be. And as if it weren’t enough of a culture clash for an orphan bear to arrive in the big city, this cub comes from “Darkest Peru.”

If you haven’t seen the movie yet, you should. It’s a great family film for Christmas time. And if you have seen it, here are some clips to refresh your memory.

First Contact: Meeting the Brown Family

BSL: Bear as a Second Language

Bathroom Etiquette: Those Aren’t Ear Brushes.

Sign Language: Why Do I Need a Dog for the Escalator?

[photo: “Paddington Bear Trail, Special Delivery By Ben Whishaw,” by Martin Pettitt, used under a Creative Commons license]

Of the Translation of Books . . .

July 10, 2015 § 2 Comments

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Here’s a mystery I wonder if you can solve.

Who holds the top spot as the most translated author (at least in the last 30 or so years)? Take a guess. I’ll bet you a shiny new nickel that you won’t get it right.

How about I give you some hints? If you thought it was Shakespeare, sorry (hint). In fact, translations of her (hint, hint) works outnumber the Bard’s by nearly 70%. The answer really is a mystery (hint, hint, hint). Got it? Give up?

Here you go: The holder of the top spot is none other than Agatha Christie.

Who says so? Well, the ranking is part of UNESCO’s Index Translationum, which has been collecting translation data since 1932. Since the online database dates from only 1979, it’s not exhaustive, but it does give us a good snapshot of more-recent translations.

So if Christie is in the top spot, and Shakespeare is number three, who else rounds out the top ten? Glad you asked.

  1. Agatha Christie (British, English)
  2. Jules Verne (French)
  3. William Shakespeare (British, English)
  4. Enid Blyton (British, English)
  5. Barbara Cartland (British, English)
  6. Danielle Steele (American, English)
  7. Vladimir Lenin (Russian)
  8. Hans Christian Anderson (Danish)
  9. Stephen King (American, English)
  10. Jacob Grimm (German, followed closely by Wilhelm, the other Brother Grimm)

Some of you are probably thinking, “Why isn’t the Apostle Paul on this list?” That’s because while the Bible is the most translated book in history, Paul’s contributions aren’t published as stand-alones. That leaves Paul well behind Christie, whose books number over 80. Fair enough.

Following are some other top-tens from the Index Translationum.

Top source languages:

  1. English (at over 1.2 million books, English has more translations than the next 49 languages combined)
  2. French
  3. German
  4. Russian
  5. Italian
  6. Spanish
  7. Swedish
  8. Japanese
  9. Danish
  10. Latin

____________________

Top target languages:

  1. German
  2. French
  3. Spanish
  4. English
  5. Japanese
  6. Dutch
  7. Russian
  8. Portuguese
  9. Polish
  10. Swedish

____________________

Top authors translated in China (I picked China because it has the most people in the world):

  1. Dale Carnegie (American, English)
  2. Hans Christian Andersen (Danish)
  3. Jules Verne (French)
  4. Maxim Gorky (Russian)
  5. Alexandre Dumas (French)
  6. Leo Tolstoy (Russian)
  7. Arthur Conan Doyle (British, English)
  8. Thomas Brezina (Australian, English)
  9. Charles Dickens (British, English)
  10. Victor Hugo (French)

____________________

Top authors translated in the US (because that’s where I live):

  1. Rudolf Steiner (Austrian, German)
  2. Jacob Grimm (German)
  3. Wilhelm Grimm (German)
  4. Georges Simenon (Belgian, French)
  5. Hans Christian Anderson (Danish)
  6. Pope John Paul II (Italian)
  7. Plato (Greek)
  8. Dana Meachen Rau (American, English, translated into Spanish)
  9. Anton Chekov (Russian)
  10. Bobbie Kalman (Hungarian-born American, English, translated into Spanish; French translations make her number one for Canada)

[photo: “Libreria Gozzini,” by hjl, used under a Creative Commons license]

4 Ads for Your 4th

July 3, 2015 § Leave a comment

Here are 4 new advertisements in honor of the 4th of July. The first one actually commemorates the 4th. The others actually don’t. But it’s not July 1, so I needed 4 of them.

4 de Julio
Who knew that Honey Maid makes documentaries? This one’s about American immigrants. “When you first come here to America, you’re kind of like invisible. You don’t seem to be noticed, but at the same time you see that they’re looking at you.”

Hello Pizza
Last year, Brazil’s CNA language centers put English learners in contact with senior citizens in the US. Now they’re having them answer phoned-in pizza orders from the States. By staying on the line, customers can get their pizzas free. It’s a win-win with double cheese.

Are We There Yet?
You can use this to each your kids how to be annoying in five languages. This one came out late last year, but it’s new to me, which leaves me wondering: Have you seen it yet? Have you seen it yet? Have you seen it yet?

Great Chinese Names for Great Britain
“This was the first time in history that a country had invited the citizens of another to come up with names for its major landmarks.” What say we pop over to the Street for the Tall, Rich, and Handsome?

By the way, just in case you’ve never heard it asked before: Do the British have the 4th of July?

Of course they do. What else would come after the 3rd?

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