Boh, 🤌, cabras and awkward...
No, I've not gone crazy. Today we're talking about real language. A language is much more than just the words that it is composed of. Really learning a language means learning not only its grammar and vocabulary, but its slang, its accepted mistakes, its tones, its body language and last but not least, the mindset of its native speakers. I know, you're probably thinking, "Claire, I have enough problems with just the grammar and the vocabulary, how do you expect me to learn the slang and everything else you just said?!?!". Don't fret, this isn't the kind of thing you have to study, you pick these things up by interacting with native speakers, watching movies and series, reading and listening to music. This is the fun side of learning a language! In this post I'm going to share some personal experiences about picking up both Spanish and Italian culture, and give you some tips on how to do the same for English (or any other language you're learning!)
Let's talk music. Listening to music is not only a great way to learn new vocabulary, it's also a great way to judge your progress as you learn a language. At first you understand only a few words, and little by little you start to get* more and more, until you can sing the song perfectly and actually understand what it's about. My personal examples: for my Spanish readers...I learned a whole bunch of Spanish with El Canto del Loco 😂 (don't deny that you know ALL the words to all their songs haha!), and for you Italians, well, I learned with J-AX and Fedez 😎 . Now, don't judge, because we all know that you know at least some of the words to all the NSYNC, Backstreet Boys, Queen and Brittany Spears songs. Why? Because they're national hits, cultural icons that just seem to make you imbibe Anglo-Saxon culture. Isn't it fun when you can sing along to a song in another language? Hey, guess what, that's you learning! So go ahead, embrace the dark side of cheesy pop music, everything goes when you're learning a language!
Something else incredibly satisfying when you're learning a language is picking up those tiny little non-verbal cues and of course, the slang. These are the things that have no real translation, and if you do translate them, they're just funny nonsense, but once you learn to use them, sometimes you just can't find the right way to explain what you mean in your native language! For you Spaniards, those awesome phrases like "esta como una cabra" (he/she's crazy), or "me importa un pepino" (I don't give a damn), or that funny hand movement that you do that means, "a lot" of something? A funny story about that movement...in Italian, the same gesture means "fear", so of course, when I first moved to Italy, I was running around using a gesture that meant something completely different (and people no doubt thought I was nuts...). Other awesome expressions in Italian that I just can't do without are "boh" (I dunno), and the amazing Roman "daje" (which translates to "come on" or "let's go", but it's just NOT THE SAME), and of course the stereotypical 🤌 which has become so internationally famous that it's won itself an emoji...amazing. So, what I'm trying to say is that every language has it's phrases and gestures that don't quite translate perfectly into another language, and that's what makes learning them so much fun. You're that much more like a native when you can whip them out. Have you got any favorites in English?
So, all this talk about weird words and gestures in Italian and Spanish, so of course I have to give you something in English as well.
My absolute favorite English word is AWKWARD. It's such an amazing word that I still have found no translation for. It's not an idiom or a phrasal verb, it's not even slang, but it's just such a good word for so many situations, and sorry my Italian and Spanish friends, your beautiful languages don't have an equivalent. A person is awkward when they say things that are a bit silly, out of place and maybe even embarrassing. A situation is awkward when it's uncomfortable for the people involved. Need a visual example? This is the face you make when something is awkward 😂😬.
So, I could go on and on about all the fun things you can learn when you put your book down and stop studying, but the best thing to do is go out and expose yourself to as much native English as possible, and I don't mean native like Cambridge Perfect English native. I mean normal people who speak normal English, make mistakes (we all make mistakes in our native languages, did you know that?), use slang, use body language and maybe even words in a dialect to get their point across to their listener. So, stop reading this, put down your grammar book and go watch something on Netflix, find a cheesy pop band to listen to, or sign up for a conversation class and start adopting some cultural nuances. Enjoy!
Don't fret: don't worry
To get [something]: to understand
Hits: famous songs
Everything goes: everything is valid
Nuts: to be crazy
Whip [something] out: to expose, to make use of something
To get a point across: to explain something, to make someone understand something
Nuance: a quality of something that is not easy to notice but may be important