47, 54 | I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means

This post is part of our ongoing exploration of The 64 Arts.

via imgur
via imgur

Aside from being one of my favorite lines from The Princess Bride, it’s also a perfect lead-in to our next language art:

47 Speaking Regional Languages

and we’re going to combine it with an Art further down the list (the randomness of the list is totally at odds with my linear left-brain!)

54 Knowledge of the dictionary
Giving the Sanskrit equivalent of local dialects and popular jargon

Sure, we don’t have a lot of use for Sanskrit around these parts, but idioms, jargon, and slang are very useful to know. In fact, when it comes to non-English speakers learning our language, it’s not the vocabulary or even the somewhat subjective grammar that poses the biggest challenge, it’s the way we use those words in curious ways, sometimes opposite from their formal definition, that makes all the difference. Something a friend of mine, volunteering with a local ESOL group, has discovered first hand (more on that in another post).

To continue on the geeky train of thought that began this post, a great example is the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode: “Darmok.” In it, the captain is on a diplomatic mission that goes more than a little awry (par for the course) when there’s a definite language barrier. It’s not that their Universal Translator (oh, how nice would that be?!) was broken, it was just that the foreign nation spoke in metaphors referencing their history and myths. And since a group sitting around a conference table doing the puppy head-tilt wouldn’t make for good television, there was the threat of death from an outside force if the two leaders couldn’t learn to communicate.

So, in addition to the basic phrases we came up with last week for our BYOP (build-your-own phrasebook), it never hurts to look up some common phrases in the country you’re going to be visiting.

To use my someday-dream of going to Italy, I see (via PimsleurApproach.com) that “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth” is as common there as it is here, but something like ‘once a pope is dead, there will be another one’  probably owes a lot to the fact that Vatican City is within its country’s borders, and ‘he who sleeps, doesn’t catch fish’ alludes to the miles and miles of coastline, and is similar to our ‘early bird catches the worm.’

Idioms related to pop culture might be the hardest to catch–our football is their soccer, pop stars and celebrities vary from country to country, that sort of thing. But doing a little cultural delve is certainly worth it, right up there with touring plans and hotel reservations!

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