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Posts Tagged ‘Foreign language’

Would you please have sex with that chair?

In behavior, business, culture, life, travel, work, world on July 16, 2012 at 1:50 am
The most commonly known foreign languages (inc...

The most commonly known foreign languages (including Irish as a second language) in the Republic of Ireland in 2005.

Je parle francais.

Hablo espanol.

I speak two languages in addition to my native English — “speak” means conducting a general social conversation. It does not mean discussing nuclear physics or how to perform some surgical intervention.

Nor do I have a handle on the boatloads of idioms that make one a truly elegant speaker; one of my favorite blogs is this one, which sends out a fresh French idiom — almost as good as a baguette! — every day. (Elle a du chien, je crois.)

I wanted to speak both languages to work as a foreign correspondent; by the time I’d acquired the necessary skill and experience, journalism had begun its lurching descent into cost-cutting and foreign bureaus worldwide were being shut down. Tant pis!

But being someone in New York who speaks two foreign languages has helped me win jobs, both staff and freelance. It seems to awe the uni-lingual. (Educated Europeans speak 4, 5 or 6 languages and think little of it.)

I’ve lived in France and Mexico, and have visited both places many times. I hope to retire to France, so speaking the language well (better!) is important to me. My American husband, Jose, who is of Mexican descent, had a fun time with me when we visited Mexico…as everyone turned to him and began chatting in Spanish, which he understands but does not speak. He’d point to me, the white Canadian girl, as the one who actually does speak it.

Speaking French gave me the best year of my entire life, on an eight-month fellowship based in Paris that sent me all over Europe to do reporting on someone else’s dime. It allowed me to work in Montreal, where I met my first American husband, at the Gazette. It allows me to think seriously about retiring to France, as no language barrier daunts me.

Maybe this is simply having grown up in Canada, which has two official languages, French and English. Growing up there means seeing many items labeled in both languages. It’s completely normal to meet fellow Anglophones who speak fluent French — without which any government job is difficult-to-impossible to obtain.

I never understand people who disdain the notion of learning another language, a second or third tongue. It has opened doors to me professionally and personally, allowing me to make friendships that would have been otherwise impossible, like those with Mila (Brazilian) and Yasuro (Japanese), who shared that glorious fellowship in Paris. I don’t speak Portuguese or Japanese, but we all got along famously in our second shared language.

I lived in Mexico for four months when I was 14, and quickly learned two new adjectives, often hissed suggestively at me by men on the street or the bus: fuerita and juerita. (Little foreigner and little blondie.) I had an older, fatter friend  — she was fuerota/juerota.

Of course, trying to communicate in another tongue means making some delicious mistakes.

In French, the verb baiser can to kiss or to have sex with. The meanings of words, in Spanish, can change significantly from one country to another — so coger (to physically pick up, one meaning) can also mean to have sex with. Yes, I’d like you to have sex with that chair, please!

You can imagine…

My mother, traveling for years alone through Latin America, once declared passionately that she had many toilets! (Tengo muchos excusados...meaning, she thought, “reasons.”)

Do you speak several languages?

Which ones?

When and where do you use them? Why did you learn them?

Dites-nous!

Three kinds of English, to start with

In behavior, culture, immigration, life, travel, US on May 24, 2012 at 12:45 am

Anyone who’s changed countries, even those speaking the same language on paper, find a whole new vocabulary awaits them. I grew up in Canada, lived in England ages two to five, then moved to the U.S. at the of 30.  One of my prized possessions is a navy blue T-shirt with a list of Canadian words, used here as an illustration. (In fact, the correct spelling is tuque…anyone know what that is?)

How many of you non-Canucks know the meaning of loonie, toonie, screech, deke or GST?

I know a few Americans now get poutine — gross! — which is cheese curds with gravy, for some reason trendy in hipster American neighborhoods. The round bacon which Americans call Canadian bacon is actually called back bacon in Canada.

We also read the Financial Times and the Guardian and see deliciously English words like nous, prat and naff(ness), none of which my well-read American husband knew the meaning of.

Since I moved to the States, (which only non-Americans call what Americans call America [as if there were no distinction between North, South and Central America. Hello, there are three Americas!]) I’ve learned phrases new to me, like:

– a do-over. You blew it: a date, a job interview, a first meeting. Ask for a do-over, a chance to get it right the next time.

a hail-Mary. A last-ditch and/or surprise attempt to salvage a bad situation. (Comes from football, a great throw that can save the game.)

-- step up to the plate. Take responsibility for something. (Comes from baseball, where the batter must step up to home plate in order to hit the ball.)

– hit it out of the park. A huge success. (Baseball, when the ball is struck so hard it leaves the stadium.)

— a full-court press. To apply every possible sort of pressure to a situation. (Basketball term.)

– hit a single/double/triple. To achieve at varying levels of success, from lowest to highest. (Meaning you got to first, second or third base.)

You can see that if you don’t play, or watch or listen to sports in the States, you’re toast! (The kind you make in toaster and eat hot, not left cold in a toast rack, like the British do.)

Then there are regionalisms, where some Americans say pop instead of soda for a soft drink or a cabinet instead of a milkshake or frappe. Here’s a funny blog post about this…

In my travels to Ireland, Scotland, New Zealand and Australia, I’ve heard some other odd ones like chilly bin for what we would call a cooler. (Yet a cooler here can also mean a sugary, low-alcohol beverage.)

Electoral divisions in Canada are called ridings; in the U.S., simply districts. A Canadian MP is a Member of Parliament; here, a Military Policeman.

One American woman recently told Bloomberg Businessweek magazine how she’d totally embarrassed herself when interviewed on British television by referring endlessly to how her product, Spanx, made one’s fanny so much more alluring. Turns out (who knew?!) that fanny  there means vagina, while for Americans it’s a polite word for ass (the Brits would say bum and we’d say butt…)

What distinctive English words or phrases are used where you live?

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