How to Write in Your Target Language Very Well, Even if You Are an Absolute Beginner

Like so many of my posts, this was requested by a friend.

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This is probably the closest thing that I’ve come to having a “secret method”, something I kept close to my chest and revealed only to a handful of my students.

Today I’m going to show you how to write in your target language very well, even if you think that your experience with said language is quite meager.

First off, let’s discuss what a lot of people use: Google Translate by itself.

You should be using Google Translate under one circumstance:

Simple phrases that have the check-mark, indicating that they have been verified as legitimate by a community of native speakers.

Come to think of it there isn’t a single language in Google Translate that doesn’t have at least a HANDFUL of verified phrases. These are going to be simple things, such as “how are you?” or “to you” or “for me” or “happy birthday!” Keep in mind that there may be MULTIPLE ways of expressing these concepts so…click through the possible translations by clicking on the results. Some other possibilities may ALSO be verified.

Even then, there are other issues even with verified phrases as well (e.g. formality or gender) that require SOME knowledge of the language to determine how and when you should be using these phrases.

And now we finally get to the fun stuff. Keep in mind that I have been inspired by Universe of Memory, probably one of the best language learning blogs on the web, if not THE best.

You need two things:

  • Google Search (or anything that allows you to search with “ “ -> to determine exact word choice)
  • Glosbe (Only the web version as of the time of writing allows use to use the “ “ method)

 

Steps:

  • Write the text in a language native language or a language you know well.
  • Check phrases that you may not be too sure about by looking at a combination of Glosbe’s translation memories OR Google Search Results. For Google Search Results, you want to find pages that mention a language code in the URL or otherwise look legitimate. (e.g. if you’re doing this for Bulgarian, look for “BG” somewhere in the web address. If you CANNOT find the phrase in quotes the way you have written it into the search engine, the phrase is probably flawed in some respect.)
  • Adjust the sentences to be consistent in formality (this is going to be necessary with almost any language of Europe.

You can also find complicated English idioms easily translated into your target language with the help of Glosbe. The reason for this is that it has a HUGE collection of sentences from languages from the developed world from OpenSubtitles. As a result, almost ANYTHING you’ve heard on TV will be present in this database in the form of cross-translated subtitles.

This way you can get “verifiable” sentences that Google Translate usually can’t do. (It’s a dog-eat-dog word, I hope you’re happy, no hard feelings, etc.)

If you use this method, even as an absolute beginner, you’re going to surprise EVERY native speaker present in your life. There will be some occasional mistakes (e.g. maybe a word for “friend” or “beautiful” maybe be stronger than you realize at first and a native speaker may point it out), but aside from that, this method will net you VERY good results, guaranteed.

Have fun!

 

People Who “Hate” Their Native Languages: My Perspective

Beware the Ides of March!

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Today’s topic is an interesting one that I’m surprised hasn’t been touched on in almost any language-learning blog I’ve encountered.

For many years I’ve heard comments like these:

 

“(Speaker’s native language) is the most useless language in existence”

“(Speaker’s native language) is only useful 0.1% of the time.”

“I suppose there are a lot better things to do with your time (rather than study my native language)”

“Why the fuck do you want to learn (speaker’s native language)?”

“I think my native language is boring”

“I would trade my native language for…”

 

I should mention two things:

  • I’ve been guilty of this myself. Part of me wishes that English wasn’t my native language. That was literally the second blog post I ever wrote about on this blog, actually!
  • Almost all of the people who made comments like these were westerners (although I’ve heard some people from Asia or the Americas do the same, too—but not as frequently. From Africa and the Pacific, not to date).

 

Before I continue I’m going to say that I do NOT include people who actively dislike their language due to trauma. (e.g. “my grandmother was a native German speaker from Nazi Germany and after she left she refused to speak German ever again”. Disclaimer: this describes neither of my grandmothers). That’s beyond the scope of what I feel qualified to talk about, and in the event you DO encounter someone like that, avoid that language altogether without questions. End of story.

 

But as far as ordinary people who somehow feel that they could trade their native language (or one of their native languages) for another one, there are some things that I’ve noticed.

 

  • Sometimes they just say that in order to get you to validate their native language.

 

YES. This has happened to me. Enough for me to write about it.

 

Only yesterday was I in a Talmud class and we had a discussion about the fact that, according to Jewish law, prospective converts have to be refused three times (in order to show that they are genuinely serious about becoming Jewish, regardless of what liabilities it may bring them in the future).

 

Sometimes someone who says “why bother learning (my language) if so few people speak it / everyone in my country speaks English anyhow / it’s ‘useless’” may actually want you to justify your decision passionately. Or they may actually want to hear your story in detail but don’t want to ask directly.

 

The more fluent you are in a language, the LESS this will happen, especially if your accent is good.

 

There’s a reason for that, actually. Because if you speak it well enough, it shows that you’ve had a good enough reason to invest a lot of time into it, so your reason will almost CERTAINLY not be within the realm of questioning (e.g. having done business there, married to or dating a native speaker, etc.)

 

  • If they use ANY amount of the language with you at all beyond basic greetings, they really DON’T hate their native language. Especially if they show telltale signs of enchantment.

 

If they did (and yes, I have encountered a handful of cases in which they did), they wouldn’t smile if you speak their language, they would instead appear disgusted and a tad confused. They wouldn’t be continuing the conversation in the “useless language” and playing along with you with smiles as they do it.

 

This is the case with me and English. I may have extremely conflicted opinions about American English, but if someone wants to learn it from me, I’ll usually play along rather than act frustrated (especially if someone really needs help with his or her English). Because whether I like it or not, American-ness is a part of who I am (in addition to my other identities).

 

  • Sometimes this attitude can reflect a certain sense of jealousy (that we ALL have) about speakers of certain languages.

 

I’m hugely jealous of Greenlandic native speakers. I make no secret of that fact. (It still remains the hardest language I’ve ever attempted to learn, bar none, to the degree that if someone lists a major language as the hardest to learn, I’m secretly scoffing on the inside.)

 

Throughout Europe I’ve met many people who view American English native speakers as lottery winners and view them with a certain sort of jealousy that they can’t hide. And yes, you will make friends JUST by virtue of that fact alone, especially with people who feel that they need the conversational practice or even knowledge about American culture (this is true no matter WHAT your native language is, actually! Someone out there is looking for you! This can also be the case if you’re a fluent speaker of a language, even non-natively).

 

My knowledge of whatever native languages I can’t have and I can’t catch up with will almost certainly never be on the level of a native speaker. But I can try and keep learning. And if it is of any comfort to you, my knowledge of other English-speaking cultures and their idioms are also going to be out of reach in terms of “perfection” as well.

 

But you don’t need to be a native speaker to be good. Far from it, in fact.

 

  • Unless someone brings up a traumatic incident or shows signs of vexation, do NOT take “I hate my native language / I think it’s useless” comments seriously.

 

And there also is a chance that you just MIGHT need to get better at their language in order to get them to warm up to you!

 

One last thing: you can actually use this to your advantage to keep conversations in your target language (which I’ve noticed is becoming less and less of an issue the more experienced I get. It was a noteworthy issue back in 2014 and is almost NOTHING now, but we’ll see how Austria and Slovakia fare later this year on that front). Benny Lewis famously would bring up his English-language Catholic school experiences in order to guilt people away from using English with him in places like Spain. I’ve never had to go to that length but I’m certainly willing to describe the darker sides of my American experience (which I won’t go into right now).

 

Agree? Disagree? Let me know!