Lost in Translation: Untranslatable Words and Phrases

Posted on 06. Jul, 2015 by in Uncategorized

Itchy Feet: Le Going Hôme

Let’s face it; there are some things that language simply cannot help us express. Religious experiences, travel experiences, life experiences – really any kind of personal, subjective experience is difficult to put into words that will accurately portray the experience being had. But don’t feel bad, that’s not your job; that’s why we pay poets the big bucks.

But language isn’t just clumsy to communicate experiences with. Even between languages, there is plenty of mutual unintelligibility to go around. I’m a big fan of these linguistic loopholes: words or phrases that have no clear translation into other languages. I like them because they remind us how incomplete language can be—not just in communicating how your six months in France went, but also ideas that others may take for granted. Language, after all, is a moving, living thing, and it’s never “finished.”

But enough waxing philosophical. Here’s my incomplete List of Untranslateables that Should be English Words:

Jayus (Indonesian): a joke that is told so incompetently told, or that is so unfunny, that you can’t help but laugh

Palegg (Norwegian): anything which can be put on a slice of bread (does that include another slice of bread?)

Saudade (Portuguese): an intense desire or longing for something you can’t get back

Schadenfreude (German): taking pleasure from the misfortune of others

Torschlusspanik (German): literally, “door-closing panic”; the panic one feels when realizing that opportunities diminish as one ages

Ya’aburnee (Arabic): literally, “you bury me”; your declared hope that you will die before the person you’re speaking to because you couldn’t bear to lose them

Age-otori (Japanese): a haircut that makes you look worse than before

Luftmensch (Yiddish): literally, “air person” (although it sounds better); a dreamer, someone with their head in the clouds

L’appel du vide (French): (I’m so glad I found this one, because I oddly feel it all the time and have never discovered a term for it) – when you’re up high on a bridge or a tall building, the odd urge you get (literally, “call of the void”) to leap off

Schlimazl (Yiddish): a chronically unlucky person

Culaccino (Italian): the little ring-shaped stain left on a table by a wet glass or mug

Gufra (Arabic): the quantity of water that can be held in your cupped hands

Iktsuarpok (Inuit): frustration at waiting for someone to show up

Utepils (Norwegian): to sit outside on a sunny day, enjoying a beer

Tartle (Scottish): when introducing someone, the moment of hesitation where you realize you don’t remember their name

Backpfeifengesicht (German): a face which needs a good slapping

Esprit d’escalier (French): literally, “the wit of the staircase”; the perfect comeback you didn’t think of until walking down the stairs fifteen minutes later

Sisu (Finnish): someone who is utterly unconquerable; an indomitable badass of unsurpassed tenacity and doggedness in the face of all odds

Pochemuchka (Russian): someone who asks too many questions

Tingo (Pascuense): to habitually borrow things from a neighbor or friend until they have nothing left

Prozvonit (Czech), dar un toque (Spanish), fare uno squillo (Italian): the act of calling someone but only letting it ring once, so they’ll have to call you back and you won’t have to spend any money (I never heard of this until I moved to Europe, where top-up phones are a thing)

Any good ones that I missed? How about delightful words from English that aren’t translatable in your native language?

Transforming the Economics of Language Learning (Part 5)

Posted on 01. Jul, 2015 by in Language Learning

Helping a slacker student limp over the finish line. Is that a distasteful or unworthy goal in language training? No, not at all. It’s important and exciting to raise your language program’s lowest outcome.

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“Often, slackers just need […] a straightforward work path that is clearly useful, in their self-interest, and actually easier and more comfortable than slacking.”

Students vary from program to program, but they mostly share the same goal: to achieve a particular level of proficiency or performance in a certain amount of time. After graduation, your students may deploy in a military unit, do research with scientists overseas, provide humanitarian disaster assistance, study for a technical certificate, enroll in a college, take a proficiency test to prove they still have the minimum proficiency required for a job they are already performing, interview visa applicants, read patent filings, or just continue on to the next year of the program. Whatever the case, the organization sending students to you would be thrilled to have them exceed standards at graduation, but they need you to make sure that everyone at least meets the minimum standard.

Reliability. That’s what we call a language program’s worst normal outcome. Reliability answers the critical question, “Can I trust that, barring illness or other special circumstances, everyone I send through this program will learn at least the minimum I need them to learn?”

Earlier in this series (see Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4), we discussed how DABL (Declaratively Accelerated Blended Learning) improves the overall speed and logistics of language teaching, learning and sustainment and raises median outcomes. However, DABL’s impact on reliability is particularly striking. DABL radically increases the quantity and quality of work performed by less-talented or less-motivated students, and meaningfully lifts a program’s typical minimum outcome. If you’re reading this, you know how incredibly hard that is, and how amazingly good it feels to pull it off.

A key to student motivation is “face validity.” Is it obvious that the work I’m doing is valuable for me? DABL specialists are very deliberate about creating the “lexical core” of a curriculum unit that students need to master before showing up in class. It’s not just a vocab list. Which specific words and phrases are the most valuable to master in order to excel in that class? What are the most useful words, common inflections, grammatical patterns, and collocations?

In a DABL program, students master the lexical core of each unit on the computer, then carry that mastery into an exciting, energetic and well-crafted classroom focused on that unit. The student knows what’s required before class, and the computer tracks both time-on-task and completion. The requirement is clear, there is nowhere to hide, and the student’s work is immediately rewarded by better and more comfortable class participation. A student who regularly completes the computer work and shows up in class will almost always meet the graduation standards.

The stronger the alignment between the computer work and the class, the greater the face validity, the clearer the value, the stronger the motivation. Often, slackers just need their slacking path to be made more visible and less comfortable at the same time they are presented with a straightforward work path that is clearly useful, in their self-interest, and actually easier and more comfortable than slacking. DABL does that well, and the results can be transformational.

Ignorant Friends: the Secret to Your Success

Posted on 29. Jun, 2015 by in Uncategorized

Itchy Feet: Blissful Ignorance

Disclaimer: everything that follows is terrible advice.

If you’ve followed the Transparent Language blog for any good amount of time, you’ll know there are lots and lots and lots of articles on how to improve your language-learning, how to get over the fear of speaking new languages, and what it takes to get better. But actual self-improvement is only half the battle. As I’m sure some expert somewhere has said at some point, success is 1% work, 99% image.

That’s why whenever I want to get good at something, I do a little bit of work, and then surround myself with people who are terrible at it. If success is recognition from your peers, you just need peers who are dumb as bricks.

Take exercise. I’m no good at it. I get tired and hungry and can think of a hundred other things I’d prefer to be doing than running or jumping rope or doing push-ups. However, I like feeling healthy, so whenever I go for a jog or play some tennis or ride my bike, I pick as my partner someone more out of shape than I am. That way, even when running at a below-average pace, I can feel like a champion compared to my poor, wheezing mate.

Or how about chess? I’ve always wanted to be good at it, but I almost always lose, and losing is not very successful, is it? That’s why I usually play against small children, who are very easy to beat. Since they’re so new to the game, they also generally don’t notice if you cheat, which is an added bonus. Being a champion against those smaller than you is still being a champion.

And, of course, this applies to language learning. When my friends or family from out of town come to visit me in Berlin, I bask in their admiration when ordering “zwei Biere, bitte” or asking “wo sind die Toilette?” Nothing makes you feel like more of a success than winning the esteem of loved ones who don’t know any better. One problem is that I live in Germany, and am constantly surrounded by experts who remind me that I am not the five-star success champion I want to be. If you’re in a similar situation, I recommend you do what I do: only make friends with expats who refuse or are unable to learn the language. As an American this is surprisingly easy. And if you ever meet a local—do NOT engage them in their language. Instead, pull the emergency lever: start talking at them in your native language, in which you are an actual, bona fide expert, and which they are likely not. Once more, you’ll feel like a champion!

Disclaimer: all of the above is terrible advice. You shouldn’t compare yourself to those worse than you but rather those better. Strive to be the best you can be, shoot for the stars, etc, etc, etc…you know I’m right.