Tuesday, October 19, 2010

20 Awesomely Untranslatable Words from Around the World


Why do other languages sound more poetic and succinct than English? Either I haven't read enough English literature to lament appropriately, or the grass is always greener on the other side.

I found the final two paragraphs of this article particularly relevant for all language learners. I've tried to answer this question as well in my blog - What does it mean to really learn a language? The author below borrows culinary verbs to express his frustrations on mastering different tongues, concluding that "time and emotion" are the critical factors to absorbing meaning in language. Vividly speaking, everything we learn demands a period of percolation - time for reflection and incorporation. Studying abroad creates this time for you. Abroad, you (hopefully) leave your multiple courses and extracurricular responsibilities to focus on one item alone - the language. The language will take you to places and to people unfathomable now, but perhaps that's what we study abroad for in the first place - to find visual associations to the words and grammar on our textbooks, and to allow them time to sink in.

"For myself, the hardest part about learning a new language isn’t so much getting acquainted with the translations of vocabulary and different grammatical forms and bases, but developing an inner reflex that responds to words’ texture, not their translated “ingredients”. When you hear the word “criminal” you don’t think of “one who commits acts outside the law,” but rather the feeling and mental imagery that comes with that word.

Thus these words, while standing out due to our inability to find an equivalent word in out own language, should not be appreciated for our own words that we try to use to describe them, but for their own taste and texture. Understanding these words should be like eating the best slab of smoked barbequeued ribs: the enjoyment doesn’t come from knowing what the cook put in the sauce or the seasoning, but from the full experience that can only be created by time and emotion."

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