Thursday, May 23, 2013

Idiomatic Indignation!

I have enemies. Yes, of course, just like anyone does. Nowdays though, they come in different forms. No longer the type to dissolve into shadows after a thwarted attempt to barrage our sun with anti-matter beams (the last case of which wasted an entire Tuesday night better spent on Lost). Now they are more phonetic.

One particular hurdle I still face daily in German has been colloquial speech, or more idiomatically; the idiosyncrasies of idioms. Sayings and expressions are often impossible to translate directly from English, and very difficult to decode from other languages when you hear them.

I encountered one less troublesome example today, the expression: I've got my fingers crossed for you. Again, translating from English to German would just come across as confusing to a German speaker (in most cases Germans have a good enough understanding of English to know what you're getting at though). In German however, one says I'm holding my thumbs for you.

By chance, this is a Swedish saying as well, so the first time I heard it I was spared too much pondering.

Then came this one, which I heard yesterday in response to something I said: 'well, it comes on it'.

My eyebrows instantly cocked to an alarming angle. My mind spun through possible meanings, but the conversation halted. Why? Let's break it down. What I heard was: es kommt darauf an (in English literally: it comes on it). What it actually means is: it depends. At the time, this to me was indecipherable.

Another brilliant yet equally indecipherable phrase is: einen hinter die Binde kippen lit. tilt one behind the bandage. This is is actually slang for: grab a drink.

To add to the confusion, I've noticed that very often sayings will use different animals in each language.

For example, wie ein Elefant im Porzellanladen, literally like an elephant in a porcelain store is to most English speakers like a bull in a china store. But this one is rather simple to work out. So, what about a personal favourite of mine then: da liegt der Hase in Pfeffer? This is literally there lies the hare in pepper, and means there's a fly in the ointment or that's the crux of it.

Another with the rabbit is sehen wie der Hase läuft, lit. to see see how the rabbit runs, or to English speakers, we'll see which way the cat jumps.

Our elephant example shoes that of course, sometimes there are similarities. Wie Mottem ums Licht means lit. like moths around a light but is more commonly heard as like a moth to a flame.

Here's a saying that doesn't really have a clear equivalent however: da liegt der Hund begraben. Literally, it means: there lies the buried dog. Any guesses as to what it means? It's a bit of a roundabout way of saying: that's the point [of the matter]. It can also be used to say: nothing is going on [there]. Either way, I certainly wouldn't consider it very clear.

Edit: Milla from Värmland has kindly pointed out that the same phrase in Swedish, här ligger en hund begraven means there's something fishy going on [here]. Note the dog in Swedish and fish in English, agreeing with that animal theory again! (The meaning between German and Swedish is however, curiously skewed).

And finally, there's just plain strange ones, like: wie der Ochse vorm Berg, lit. like the ox in front of the mountain. In English, it actually means: like a dying duck in a thunderstorm.

Nope. I've never heard that one either.

Jimzip :D

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Ye Olde Update

Not keen to sit twiddling my thumbs and making fimo jungle creatures as I waited for a piece of paper, I started working as a freelance graphic designer before I finished university in 2005.

Needless to say, jobs did not come easy, and to be certain my work was not (at all) great. But one fascinating aspect of ... well brains, is that you tend to learn very quickly at the beginning of any new enterprise, and I did.

The field changed dramatically within those few years. I remember very clearly the first time I attempted to code something, sitting in the unused dining-room of our family home, using dial-up internet on a laptop with a 600x800 screen to find out how to write HTML. The first website I ever coded was a page for an imaginary persona who went by the name Blue Cube. It ended up being a single image floating in the middle of the page, the text was embedded inside said image however, and thus was not really a webpage - but it felt like a small victory.

Back then, tables were in fashion, and CSS was a mere pipe-dream, yet within a couple of years the whole game had completely changed - and of course it continues to change. So too, does my style and skillset. I feel that almost everything I do is completely different to back then. Of course it should though - it's been 10 years, so if something hadn't changed I'd be a little worried! Yet here we are, 2013, and thus I feel it's time once again to update my ever-changing portfolio, bio and online home.

For the sake of nostalgia you'll also find a link to the past version of Because some things are just too fun to say goodbye to! (Super, nó?) Go check it out, please tell me what you think in the comments, and thanks for looking.

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Jimzip :D

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Tip Grotto: Part 2

"Oh, praise Jehoshaphat! He didn't leave us in the lurch", I hear you cry. No, of course not. That would be cruel and unsatisfying for both of us.

We're back with part two of the Tip Grotto (read part one here), a tasty collection of little bites I've found helpful on my language journeys. If you have anything you'd like to add, please drop it into the comments - I do love hearing how other people learn and the interesting/effective/zany/unorthodox(?) methods they come across.

Let's dive straight back in shall we?

- Repetition -

Flat repetition is not the best way to learn. How can I say that so plainly? Well, there are many, many studies currently trying to figure out the nature of repetition in relation to memory, but for me there was one convincing key point. Namely, I found the more I stared at (or listened to) a sentence and repeated it, the less effectively it stuck in my head. What tends to work much better is controlling that repetition, and more specifically: spacing it (1).

One way to do it, is to read a sentence, speak it out loud, then move to the next. After trying the second sentence out, cover the first and try and remember it. I must impress here the 'speak out loud' part, (as whispering or mouthing things won't get you used to the sound, and it's surprising how that can trip you up later).

Work your way down the list then, adding another sentence or word to the queue each time. 'Spaced repetition' as it's known, is worthwhile getting to know, because it works. It's the same methodology behind well-organised flash cards.

- Give It A Rest -

When your brain shuts down, let it shut down. By this I mean, everyone reaches a threshold at which point they stop thinking, it just happens. Don't freak out, just take a break. Stand up and shake, go for a small walk, or get a glass of water - then return and smack out round two. If you really can't concentrate and keep reading the same thing over and over, or feel nothing is sinking in, it's probably a sign that you're done for the day. Don't fight it, just leave with what you've learnt so far that day and take it on again the next.

Strangely, for me (and I've timed this) it takes on average 17 minutes for me to start thinking properly during a study session, so if you find yourself foggy at the beginning of your session, don't give up, keep at it a little while and your brain should kick into gear.

- Don't Try And Trick Mr. Brain -

Oh my. It's easy to do, but don't cheat! You have a very powerful brain in that head of yours ... and it's just waiting to be taken for a spin. If you are using flash cards, and you find it easier to flip over to the answer before you think it out, then you're robbing yourself of the chance to absorb new information - innit? Your brain wants to remember things, so give it a chance! If after a short while you really can't remember something and thinking it out isn't working, then is the time to go have a look at the answer. But first, take a stab! Say what you think the answer is out loud, then check. There is no penalty for being wrong, and in fact being wrong can help in remembering that particular sentence. Realising your mistakes often works wonders for retention.

- ◊ -

No matter the case, if you can find a method that works for you, then it will make your language journey much more bearable. Remember too that everyone is different, nobody can tell you how to learn, it's your own process, and you have to have fun with it! If you want to take classes, go for it. If you're like me and prefer working alone, well ... still go for it! You've nothing to lose and only new friends and stories to gain.

If you have any questions, pop them in the comments too, and I'll do my best to help out. I hope you find some of these tips helpful!


(1) Spaced repetition is an artform indeed. Here's a wikipedia article on it. Notice that they used Anki as the header image!