Friday, 24 June 2011

Language learning: two languages, two experiences

foto from Flickr

In my long journey as a language learner I've understood a couple of things; I've experienced it as a student, but also studied it. I started studying English when I was quite young (10 years old), and my teacher was Italian. With German, things were different. I started to study it when I was at University (20 years old), my teachers were mainly mother-tongue. These differences made me think about how I apprehended these two languages.

English at the beginning was totally a matter of fun! our teacher showed us cartoons, and then taught us some words and phrases. I can't remember any writing exercise during the first year. We learnt to say something and mainly how to use those phrases. Nothing about grammar or how to build up sentences. Then time for grammar came: present simple, Subject Verb Object structure, and so on... but only later. What we learnt first of all were Formulae. It was not important to learn the rule, but how to say things, because we need to spend time talking, somehow.

German came to a very different time of my life. After so many years at school there is something in your mind that tells you that the way to learn thing is to deeply understand them. Unfortunately that is not always true!
The first time my teacher came in class I was so scared! She started talking in German, only very few of us could understand what she was saying; I remember I thought something like: "How am I going to learn anything about it if she's not going to stop and explain us what she's saying?!" I was wrong; what they were trying to do was a total immersion in the language and also they tried to make us used with the sensation of not understanding each and every words they say.
Something in my mind was not helping me, because I wanted explanation, but actually I didn't need them.

The first thing is talking. That's why I started this new topic giving just phrases and words and not rules. I'll give some basic rules, if the time comes. In the meantime, stay tuned!

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

sources and words

Writing academic essays in English, I've sometimes found it difficult to translate technical words. I mean those words that refers to a very specific meaning but sounds like other words. I'll make an example to be sure you can understand. Last week I was wondering how to translate "sensibile" from Italian to English, but I didn't mean the adjective (sensitive), but the substantive that indicates a particular musical note that in a scale risolves to a note one semitone higher. Putting just 'sensibile' on google translate or any other online translator I could not find the word I meant.

The solution is easy, anyway. If you don't have a specialized dictionary (which is a very good way to solve the problem, but it is quite difficult to have one specific for each and every semantic field!!) you can just go on wikipedia, and search in your own language the word you are interested in. Then, you can click on the list of languages on the left and what you get is the corresponding entry in English, so your perfect translation. Moreover, the complete entry makes you certain to be perfectly right.