Learning Language


English is my native — and only — language. I love the idea of speaking multiple languages, but can’t actually do it.

In my middle school we had to take a semester of French and a semester of Spanish, and then choose which one to continue studying. My parents thought French would take me further in life, so French it was. During my college abroad experience in Scotland, I took a semester of Gaelic. And in my senior year of college – after deciding that my Creative Writing Major-self might need a minor to fall back on, and discovering that only a few extra courses would net me a Russian Studies Minor – I took a year of Russian. Yeah.

So, I’ve fleetingly studied several languages and I’ve really enjoyed them, but come test time it was always clear that something in my brain just wasn’t working. In fact, I lost all my Russian when it might have actually been helpful.

I’d do OK to start out – fascinated that Gaelic doesn’t actually have words for “yes” or “no”, or that Russian has verbs for insanely detailed actions – but then I’d hit a wall. I always assumed that if I tried harder I’d do better and that, in the end, I was just too lazy.

My Russian professor actually had an interesting theory: because I threw myself into my writing and savored how words sounded together or played off each other, I wanted that intimate knowledge with all languages…and that learning a new language was too much trial and error for me. I would freeze during oral exams because I knew there was a right way, a perfect way, to say something and if I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t just make something up.

I don’t know if that’s really true, but it certainly made me feel better!

So, what’s the rambling about? Basically, it’s the long way of saying that I love languages…and internet translators. If I need a word or two to enhance the feeling of place in a story, I’d head to Google Translate.

Of course, internet translators only take you so far.

I read the Cinnamon and Coffee blog. The blogger is a Romanian med student who love American and British movies and TV. She’s a photographer and likes to discuss fashion. So much so that companies will often giver her outfits to model and discuss…in flawless and funny English, I might add. *sigh*

Anyway, I followed one of her outfit links to a Romanian site where I learned that “rochii” means dresses and, I’m going to go out on a limb here, that “reduceri” means sale.

And then I found this in the description of a dress:

Tratamente speciale:
– nu se spala
– se calca la temperatura scazuta
– nu se usuca la masina

Cateva pense perfect plasate, broderia feminina si nuanta rafinata transforma rochia clasica intr-una demna de o lady.

According to Google Translate, that means:

Special treatment:
– Do not wash
– To iron at low temperature
– Do not dry the car

Some forceps perfectly placed, feminine embroidery and exquisite colorturn into a classic dress worthy of a lady.

I love it!

The instructions to “not dry the car” made me giggle, but it also made me think of those perfect ways of saying things, and how homonyms can screw that up in such wonderful ways. And it makes me want to know more about the language, the history of the language and the life of the language. How did it grow so that car and dryer are the same word…or similar enough that Google got it wrong? I’m assuming that the phrase was supposed to translate to “Do no dry in dryer.”

Culture affects language. Language affects culture. It’s all so interesting.

And “classic dress worthy of a lady,” that’s just plain awesome.


2 thoughts on “Learning Language

  1. Some forceps perfectly : hilarious!!! and what an odd image it creates for me. shudder.

    Do you play music? Just wondering if you read music.

    My 5 year old who is in K is just learning to read french (we start in french here even though we are an anglophone family) and I find it so odd that she can read music very well. Too well. Almost scary well.

    My mom speaks 11 languages, my grandmother spoke 13. I speak only 2 fluently, english and french. I too would love to learn more languages!

  2. No, I can’t read music either…I’m strictly a letter reader.

    I took trumpet lessons when I was in elementary school. I feel very sorry for my parents’ ears. Not sure what any of were thinking with that endeavor.

    13 languages? Your grandmother is my hero.

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