This is the brain on multilingualism. We try to keep all our languages going, and the more we practice, the more they wrestle for space. The eternal question: how can we keep our languages in good shape while welcoming new ones? Should we just sit back and enjoy the learning process, while being cognizant of our neuroplasticity?
Have you ever had a feeling that you just couldn’t put to words? It’s hard to describe something when you can’t even name it, isn’t it? Well, chances are that somewhere, some language has the exact word you need. In the series Untranslatable Universals we delve into words from many a different language that don’t exist in others, yet convey universal human emotions. Let’s begin!
kilig (n.) Tagalog – Rush of exhilaration caused by a romantic happenstance, such as making eye contact or talking to one’s crush.
Schwellenangst (n.) German – Fear of embarking something new or crossing a threshold.
ελευθερομανία [eleutheromania] (n.) Greek – Intense desire for or obsession with freedom.
物の哀れ [mono no aware] (n.) Japanese – Bittersweet feeling for appreciation towards beautiful things pared with a deep wistfulness for their ephemeral nature. ‘Mono no aware’ literally means ‘pathos of things’, a sensitivity and sorrow towards the ephemeral.
abbiocco (n.) Italian – Drowsy sensation following a large or hearty meal that often leads to falling asleep.
That’s it for now. Do you know more untranslatable universals? Let me know in the comments!
A few months ago I started learning Italian. Why not? Learning a language that is so close to your own has a ton of perks. It can also be a recipe for fun misunderstandings, so here’s an illustrated collection of Spanish-Italian false friends.
These false friends have the exact same written form in both languages, but different meanings in Spanish (left column) and Italian (right column). The last one is definitely my favorite!
Do you know other false friends? Leave me a comment!
Warmth, friendliness and exquisite cuisine. If this is what comes to mind whenever you think of Mediterranean countries, you are not wrong. Southern folks certainly have their amicable ways going for them, and they also pride themselves on their local produce and delicious homemade meals. Whether you are visiting your relatives or meeting some friends in the warm South, you’ll realize soon enough that Mediterranean hospitality is no joke.
I have always wondered what would happen if you were to respond: “Yes, please!”. Would they then shovel a double portion onto your plate? Would they be pleased or taken aback by such a gluttonous response?
In addition, if you happen to be in a small city where everyone knows everyone, neighbors and acquaintances will promptly invite you in for a chat if they see you wandering around. Offering a bite to your visitors is not a choice, it’s a a well-rooted lifestyle. And by bite I mean an enticing feast with enough food to sink Noah’s Ark.
But hey, Mediterraneans certainly enjoy providing their guests with delicious meals as much as I enjoy devouring them. So, who am I to turn down their hearty generosity?
Last month I embarked on the journey of learning a new language from scratch: Italian!
I opted for an autodidactic approach, so I tailored the weekly units using online resources 1If you’d like to know the specifics, leave me a comment. :) and combined them with a touch of reality by watching shows, listening to songs and getting in touch with natives in my area. I also set up Duolingo to add a playful component whenever I have some minutes to kill, and that’s when the cross-cultural awkwardness began. This is me attempting to talk to a native after a few Duo lessons:
If you think I made these up, scroll down!
“I am a turtle”. Expat by day, turtle by night. Capisci?
“The monkey reads a book”. Monkeys are pretty smarty-pants at Duo.
“My snake eats your cakes”. Can you blame it? Your cakes are pretty delicious.
“Mario and Luigi are plumbers”. Badum-tss!
Click here for some ambiance.
And that’s not all! Here are some other screenshots that I have collected over the past few weeks. They range from funny to mildly distressing. Fair warning, Duo gets a bit insulting at times:
“You are the pig”. Remember, not just any pig. You are THE pig. Watch your manners.
“I speak with the turtle”. Wait, I thought I was the turtle!?
“You are mine until I die”. Bit possessive, aren’t we?
“My sandals are in the hat”. Good to know you have your Diogenes syndrome in check, buddy.
Despite the somewhat useless but hilarious sentences that Duo throws at you every once in a while, I’m pleased with the app and the concept. I’m not going to get into detail, but here’s a trusted review of both Duolingo and Memrise. 2 I used to be a fervent Memrise supporter, but not so much nowadays.
I’m documenting my language progress on Twitter 3Follow me, @Idiomancer! using the hashtag #ilmioviaggiolinguistico. If you are learning Italian, join this linguistic journey!
What about you? Do you use language learning apps? To what extend have they boosted your language skills?