Free thoughts on language learning

Discussions on learning Spanish, English and other language issues. Occasionally, we may stray from language learning topics if there is something that catches my interest.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Translation SNAFU's

Greetings oh lovers of language! I bring to you a collection of translations that will give you pause as you venture beyond your mother tongue. Be careful what you say and how you say it! :o The good people at were kind enough to let us use this article for your amusement. Visit their site, enjoy the interesting articles they have to offer and buy their services! Read on and be afraid - be very afraid...

Waiter! There's an insect of the order Diptera in my soup!

by Karen Elwis

Karen Elwis explains what happens when translation goes wrong...

The following genuine examples are an amusing reminder of what can happen when you don't use a professional translation company.

On menu of Swiss restaurant: "Our wines leave you nothing to hope for."

On the door of a Moscow hotel room - "If this is your first visit to the USSR, you are welcome to it!"

Useful advice on how to drive Tokyo style: "When passenger of foot heave in sight, tootle the horn. Trumpet him melodiously at first, but if he still obstacles your passage then tootle him with vigour."

Bucharest hotel lobby: "The lift is being fixed for the next day. During that time we regret that you will be unbearable."

In Austrian ski resort: "Not to perambulate the corridors in the hours of repose in the boots of ascension."

Shop entrance in Majorca: "English well talking. Here speeching American."

In a Paris hotel elevator: "Please leave your values at the front desk."

In a Bangkok dry cleaner's: "Drop your trousers here for best results."

On menu of Polish restaurant: "Salad a firm's own make: limpid red beet soup with cheesy dumplings in the form of a finger; roasted duck let loose; beef rashers beaten up in the country people's fashion." [Wonder if they ever caught the duck?!]

All goes to show - when it comes to translation, you need the professionals!

© Lingo24 Ltd Don't still content, it makes for bad karma.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Dual Language Find of the Week

Ever on the hunt for interesting and free language resources I have discovered (well OK, it hit me over the head)that the very successful clothing company American Apparel is doing Spanish and English students a great service. They now publish a free monthly magazine titled, México City Monthly that you can pick up in one of their stores. This is a short, dual-language publication featuring interviews and articles on interesting things to do in and around México City. I really like finding lists of slang terms (yeh, I'm a language dork, I know). You have to approach using these kinds of words carefully for a few reasons. First you have to be sure that they are not rude or crude words. Second, you have to be sure that people are still really using these terms or you'll sound like someone in the U.S. saying, "groovy" or "psychedelic", ie., really dated. With that said, here are the terms and translations they published in the April edition of México City Monthly:

Oyé - Hey or listen
Guácala (Wah-ka-la) Stinky
Guëy (weigh) Man or dude
¿Quiubo? (Kyu-boh) What's up?
Pedo - Fart or problem (Here's one of those words you must be careful using)
Órale - OK or Woah!

This is fun stuff, no? On the American Apparel website there's a very cool video of one of their workers, a Mexican man, who was a wrestler in Mexico. He recounts how the discipline and motivation involved in wrestling changed his life for the better. The English subtitles makes for a great way to practice listening. Here's the link.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Beginning French Lesson Plan

Today's offering is another valuable nugget in the treasure trove of Parlo's free resources. (you don't get to write sentences like that every day!) You can find much more like this in the Teacher's Corner section on As always, we are glad to offer group discounts for 5 or more students. Contact me through the email address you can find in the profiles.

Faisons connaissance!

Cette unité est destinée à des étudiants de niveau 1, avec quelques semaines de français derrière eux, à partir du lycée. Cette unité peut prendre environ 2h.


Dans cette leçon, les étudiants vont apprendre à:
Lire un questionnaire et y répondre
Formuler des questions pour connaître la personnalité de quelqu'un
La différence entre quel et quelle, est-ce que et qu'est-ce que
Préparer une interview basée sur les expressions interrogatives étudiées dans cette leçon
Découvrir un chanteur français: Claude Nougaro

Outils pedagogiques:
Vocabulaire: Test de personnalité
Grammaire: Posez les questions!
Lecture: L'émission du dimanche


Activité I: "Warm up" (10 minutes)
Vous allez mettre les étudiants en situation en leur posant des questions générales du type:

-Quelle est la capitale des Etats-Unis?
-Comment s'appelle le président de la France?
-Pourquoi étudiez-vous le français?
-Qui parle espagnol dans la classe?
-Qu'est-ce que vous aimez faire le week-end?

Demandez dans quelles autres situations on peut être amené à utiliser des questions (par exemple, dans un entretien, une enquête policière, lors de l'achat d'un billet d'avion, de train, etc.) et dans chaque situation qu'ils trouvent ou que vous leur proposez, vous pouvez leur demander d'imaginer les questions (par exemple: pour l'entretien, pourquoi désirez-vous travailler avec nous?, Quels sont vos talents? ...).

There are 5 more activities in this lesson - didn't I tell you this is a good resource? Now go and look at our list of courses to see which will be the best fit for your students. You'll be glad you did!

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Spanglish - Book review

Listen and learn, of lovers of language. Elan Stavans is a most unstuffy professor/writer who loves languages and does not place them on a pedestal but rather revels in the richness and protean qualities of living languages. No language stays the same. That's why we need footnotes or a glossary to read Shakespeare. The "pure language" has never and will never exist and this book finely illustrates that as seen through the lens of Spanglish - ie. Spanish that has adopted English words into its vocabulary and grammar.

The book is in 3 parts: the first is a 54 page memoir on the author's first exposure to Spanglish in New York City in the 1980's and his musings on Spanglish as compared to Ebonics (African American "lingo" or "idiom") or Yiddish (Hebrew mixed with many Eastern European languages). He is careful enough to note where he can see similarities but he does not go overboard and falsely impose similarities to fit a preconceived argument. There are many wonderful examples of Spanglish that just make you smile. My favorite, "Entre, entre y tome un asiento" The intended meaning is "Enter, enter and take a seat."but connventional Spanish would translate it as, "Between, between and drink a chair." This stuff is wonderful.

The second part is 185 pages and is I what believe to be just the beginning of a dictionary of Spanglish. It translates the word and tells you what English word it evolved from. It cites in what city it is most frequently heard and the national group that uses this word. Of course, since it was published 3 years ago it is probably changing as people move around the country. That's OK since it is more proof of language being a living thing.

The last part of the book is a translation into Spanglish of the first chapter of Don Quijote. I have to say that it makes my head spin to read it but this is mostly a good thing. It is an experience that I can only compare to reading A Clockwork Orange. In that book Anthony Burgess invents a slang mixture of Russian and English. Those of you who are non-Spanish speakers but have a general interest is languages will probably enjoy the first part but have no use for the second and third parts of this book. (borrow it from the library - oops, sorry Amazon!) For those who speak and/or study Spanish it is well worth buying this book. (Don't just sit there - click on the above link!)

To hear more of Ilan Stavans thoughts I recommend listening to this podcast that was recorded back in September. Another keeper and free!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Spanish Lullaby from Venezuela - Podcast

Here's another podcast that we hope you'll enjoy. This beautiful song, Mi Tripón, by Otilio Galindez, translates to "Sweetheart" but more literally means 'of my flesh', 'guts' or 'viscera'. In English we don't really have a word that describes when someone is that much a part of you. Performed by Canopus, conducted by Guillermo Vaisman. Enjoy!

Duerme mi tripón
vamos a engañar la lechuza
y engañar al coco
que ya no asusta.
Duerme mi tripón

Que mañana el sol brillará en tu cuna
y te contará como fue que un día perdió la luna.

Duerme mi tripón ya se fue la tarde cansada
y llegó la noche fresquita y pura
Duerme mi tripón

Abrirá tus ojos la luz del alba
y te enseñará ríos y caminos
y la montaña. Duerme mi tripón

Sleep, my sweetheart, and we will cheat the owl
And also we'll trick the bogeyman who doesn't scare us,
Sleep my sweetheart.

Tomorrow, the sun will shine on your cradle,
And will tell you how one day he lost the moon.

Sleep, my sweetheart, the day has gone, it was tired,
And the night, clear and pure has come,
Sleep, my sweetheart.

The morning light will open your eyes,
And will show you rivers and paths,
And the mountain, sleep now, my sweetheart.

French culture - Postscript

Well, it's a couple of days later and this chapter and of the story has been told. France will not be the first country to begin dismantling their system of guarantees for workers even if it might mean continued high unemployment. President Jacques Chirac has rescinded the new labor law. (Described in previous posts) I've included a link to an analysis in the New York Times that puts this into a broader, European perspective.

I can't help but feel sad for the young people in these countries because their sense of future opportunities must be so constrained. I understand that's it's hard to be the generation that says "I might take a hit" to make my country's economy more vibrant. That's pretty conceptual. It's my American cultural and class insularity that makes me think that the "natural order of things" includes being a young adult with a choice of job prospects. Think about the sweep of human history and, of course, one can see that this is a modern conceit coming from someone with a reasonably stable job in a prosperous country. (It's time to stop and count my blessings) Read this. In France, an Economic Bullet Goes Unbitten

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Learn about French Culture - the unemployment crisis

Below is an interesting overview from the Washington Times on the unemplyment problems facing France plus a link to a New York Times article on the same topic. For years France has had a system that provides extremely strong protections and benefits to workers in France. This system makes it very tough for employers to respond to economic conditions by letting workers go or taking new ones on casually. Once a company hires a worker it has made a very long term committment to an increased payroll whether market conditions justify additional workers on payroll or not. Also, if the worker is not performing adequately he or she can not easily be fired. These conditions are said to be a large reason for the 10% rate of unemployment. For youth it is 25%, and for young French immigrants of Arab descent 50%. Clearly this is an unacceptable and dangerous state of affairs for France and yet huge numbers of people are protesting the changes in employment law. Fleshing out the picture is a helpful article is in today's (4/9/06) New York Times French Unrest Reflects Old Faith in Quasi-Socialist Ideals This describes the very real pluses to this system that I was unaware of prior to today.
  • France draws a great deal of foreign investment. In 2003 it outranked the US, Britain, Germany or Japan. This is a big endorsement from the international community. (stats from The Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation.)
  • This same group also ranked France highest in terms of productivity - economic output per hour - among its members for 2004.
  • In 2000 the World Health Organization rated the French health care system the best of any of its members.

I don't have an answer but protecting jobs rights for a job you don't have will not help you and keeping potentially productive workers idle makes even a productive economy less than what it could be. There must be a way to keep those things that work well and are true to the values of France while at the same time allow business to be more efficient and productive. We should all watch and learn from both their successes and failures. I welcome any reasoned comments or opinions.
By Helle Dale
The French pride themselves on their intellectual culture, and as intellectuals sometimes do, they have managed to produce a paradox from which they appear to have no exit. As the French man in the street also has a habit of doing, he has taken to the streets en masse to protest because no one knows how to find a way out. What we have seen on display in recent weeks is the profound disconnect between the French political elite and the French people, who find that they have few other ways of getting the attention of their leaders.

In the past weeks, French students, their parents and numerous others have taken to the streets again to protest what appears to be a reasonable attempt at a solution to the intractable problem of French unemployment. As many as two million people have been on the march through the streets of major French towns on any given day. French unemployment figures hover at 10 percent for the general workforce, up to 25 percent for French youth, and close to 50 percent for young French immigrants of Arab descent.

One very troubling consequence of these facts is the total lack of integration into the workforce of young first and second generation Arab immigrants to French. Their alienation found expression in last fall's violenceinthe French suburbs, in which young immigrants burned thousands of cars, attacked government buildings and caused more mayhem than France has been since the student riots of 1968.

Now, one does not normally expect constructive thinking from French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, the man who as foreign minister presided over the debacle in 2002 when he steered French foreign policy on a direct coalition course with the Bush administration over Iraq. Mr. de Villepin is also an ardent admirer of Napoleon, not exactly a great role model for a democratic statesman.

Yet, Mr. de Villepin has come up with a proposal for modest labor market reform that would at least make a small dent in the labor market reforms that France so desperately needs. It would give younger workers up to the age of 26 less job security, allowing employers to hire and fire them during their first two years without the punitive consequences that otherwise prevent turnover in the French labor force. As a consequence, presumably, more would allow them to get a job in the first place. Meanwhile the French economy is in a state of prolonged stagnation.

For Americans, most of whom are employed at will, this would sound like a good deal. For the French students, however, it sounds like downright treason by their parents' generation, who would not be affected. "You mean, if we don't do what they want, they can fire us?" asked one young female protestors, appalled at the idea that she would actually have to perform and take orders in order to keep a job.

Unfortunately for Mr. de Villepin, his modest proposal may cost him the presidency in the next French presidential election. He is President Chirac's chosen successor, but his personal aristocratic style and his troubles as prime minister will count against him with the French voters. Not only has he presided over two rounds of riots now, but he is also proposing to tinker with the French social contract.

The main beneficiary of Mr. de Villepin's dire straits could be Interior Minister Nicholas Sarkozy, who is expected to be his strongest rival in the presidential elections. He has not done a whole lot to conceal his glee at the prime minister's plummeting approval ratings, and is cut from an entirely different cloth than the aristocratic Mr. de Villepin. A former businessman, son of immigrants and Jewish as well, Mr. Sarkozy is not of the traditional French elite, yet at the same time he is a very skilled politician. Mr. Sarkozy, however, is keenly aware that economic and social reforms will be needed to boost job creation and would certainly go further than Mr. de Villepin.

What is desperately needed is a change in the French entitlement mentality and in the view that the state, like the kings of old, is the ultimate source of all things good and bad. Without adding the private sector to the equation along with the liberating effects of competition, social mobility, and ethnic integration, it is hard to see how France will ever pull free of the past.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Study Languages through celebrity articles - Rocío Dúrcal

Let's learn about other cultures by reading about their celebrities for a change. Recently a beloved Spanish singer, Rocío Dúrcal passed away. What kind of music was she famous for? Let's hear a sample...
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Spanish Singer Rocío Dúrcal Dies (from
Spanish actress and singer Rocío Dúrcal, who found fame as one of Mexico's most popular folk singers, died Saturday in Madrid following a long battle against cancer of the womb. She was 61.

Born Maria de los Angeles de las Heras Ortiz, Durcal became a star with a string of films in the 1960s and start of the 1970s, such as "Song of Youth" and "The Most Beautiful." However, she made her big breakthrough in Latin America, and in particular Mexico, during the 1980s for her albums of Mexican folk-\ music known as ranchera.... click here to finish the article

Rocío Dúrcal: Un último y sentido adiós a “la española más mexicana”

Se nos fue “la más mexicana de las españolas”, la actriz y cantante Rocío Dúrcal falleció el sábado 25 de Marzo, a las 7:15 pm (hora de España) en su casa ubicada en las afueras de Madrid, luego de agravarse el cáncer que padecía desde hace años. A Rocío Dúrcal, quien tenía 61 años y ha sido denominada en innumerables ocasiones ‘la más mexicana de las españolas’, se le detectó un cáncer en la matriz en 2001 y luego, en 2004, los médicos le encontraron unas pequeñas manchas en el pulmón. Eso la obligó a suspender ese año una gira de conciertos en América y fue entonces cuando trascendió a la prensa su estado de salud.

Una vida llena de éxitos

María de los Ángeles de las Heras Ortíz, “Marieta” como la llamaban sus amigos, nació en Madrid el 4 de octubre de 1944 y es reconocida en su país como una de las artistas de mayor proyección internacional. Dúrcal, que triunfó en México y se destacó como una de las mejores intérpretes del compositor mexicano Juan Gabriel, recibió reconocimientos en innumerables facetas artísticas, a lo largo de sus 40 años de trayectoria. Hija de una familia humilde, pronto descolló por sus aptitudes para el arte, llamando la atención de importantes productores y personalidades de la farándula de la época.... (leer mas, haz clic aqui)

Rocio Durcal, selon des médias espagnols

MADRID (AP) -- La chanteuse et actrice espagnole Rocio Durcal est décédée samedi à son domicile de Madrid à l'âge de 61 ans, selon des informations de presse.
L'artiste, de son vrai nom Maria de los Angeles de las Heras Ortiz, souffrait d'un cancer de l'utérus, a rapporté la radio nationale espagnole. Elle avait joué dans de nombreux films mais était également célèbre pour ses talents vocaux.
D'après l'agence de presse espagnole Efe, le cancer dont était atteinte Rocio Durcal avait été diagnostiqué en 2001. Elle avait été contrainte d'annuler une tournée en Amérique latine en 2004 en raison de sa maladie, a rapporté l'agence. AP