“Lost in translation”

In The Art of Travel, 2. Communicating, Paris by Howard

English is not my first language. I have been studying English inconsistently for almost 12 years now and I can finally say that I obtain this widely used language. French? The only two words I knew after this whole summer without practicing are “Bonjour” and “Merci”. I knew “ca va” too, but it would not be smart to say that when I have absolutely no idea what their responses mean.

1) For the first few days here in Paris, I learned so much as in the difference of language use. Here, “Bonjour” is like the key opens the door to everything. This word is so important in this language that you even have to know the appropriate tone. You do not say it with the usual hasty in “hey” or “hello”; you say it like the most exaggerated way you do with “I don’t know you but I like you already”. French people value this to a certain degree that if you try to talk to them without saying “Bonjour”, they might pretend they did not hear you, no matter if you say it politely or with a “please” in the end.

2) A friend of mine here speaks five languages: Spanish, English, Portuguese, German and French. I’ve always admired people who could acquire so many languages. He told me the best way to learn the language is to imagine yourself as a baby that is exposed to a new environment. Instead of translating all the vocabularies into English to know what they mean, I should try to use the context clues. I found this advice particularly helpful, since a lot of time when I use phrase books or anything, I only ‘remember’ how to say something without truly understanding it. The problem with this is, if people say the phrase in another way, I will take extra time to process it or may just never comprehend it.

Started from that piece of advice, I tried to order food in restaurants in French; tried buying baguettes and talked to the cashier in French; tried to laugh in a French way. All went pretty well except I still don’t know what they are saying to me.

3) I definitely tried translation apps. Ever since I first learned English, I could not leave any kind of translation apps (I had electronic dictionary back then). I had lots of problems while using it. They just never got the answer right. I remember seeing this tips in the toilets that basically means everyone needs to use the toilets in a civilized manner. I think when they make the sign they definitely use google translation for that. Because the translation comes out as: “Civilization go to the toilet thanks to everyone”. (word for word)

4) The first day of French class, our teacher gave each of us images of people and asked us to describe them. There was this one girl in the image that we all thought of her as a kindergarten teacher (sorry for assuming), but nobody knew how this phrase was said in French. Then the responsibility of looking it up on dictionary strangely fell on my shoulder. So I typed in “kindergarten teacher” in the app and luckily it came out with an often searched result, said “Jardinière d’enfants”. I learned that “enfants” mean “kids”, so I proudly said the answer to the class.

“Jardinière?” my professor laughed.

Later she explained the word. It means “gardener” in French. Even though as in metaphor one can say teachers are gardeners but nobody uses this term.

I guess I could easily be a writer with the help of a translation app.

Image source

  • Screenshot 2017-09-10 16.18.51: Howard