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Monday, February 4, 2013

Idioms! Why English Is So HARD To Understand!

Idioms  <------link are a MAJOR part of English communication!
It is amazing how often we talk in Idioms.  We tell our children "Don't count your chickens before they hatch!"  ""Don't put the cart before the horse!" "A stitch in time, saves nine!"  And many, MANY more!
Our children who are foreign to English have a LOT to learn in regards to Idioms!
Communication is SO important! 
I remember our son Tim coming back from his Russian Missions trip and telling us that when he gave his testimony to a group of young people they all Laughed when he said, "When I was born, the doctors' said  I was a vegetable!"  
What he was saying didn't translate well into Russian. :)  He was saying "I was brain dead".....
The young people who heard what he said thought he was saying that he was a literal vegetable! And they laughed!

I remember SO WELL when Erika was home just a few years and I saw a man walking a dog.... I said, "Oh Look! there is a German Shepherd! "
Her reply was, "Oh yes! And he has  a dog too!"
LOL
Communication with our children is so important!   It was very evident in Sunday School recently that children who had always lived in America understood Idioms much better than Children who didn't originally come from America!
This makes me wonder how many times we have said things to our kids,  using Idioms, and they totally DO NOT UNDERSTAND what we are saying! :)

6 comments:

Ruby Mae said...

SO true...and honestly, it's not just people outside of the English language. English is my native language. I stayed with my birth family until I was 14 and then was placed in foster care. Now, living with "normal" people...I hear idioms a LOT and I just don't get it. Like with Erika's German Shepard response. Not to the same extent...but I dont understand a LOT of those things because I was deprived from them for so long.... same goes with a LOT of the foster siblings. GREAT POST!

Ruby Mae said...

SO true...and honestly, it's not just people outside of the English language. English is my native language. I stayed with my birth family until I was 14 and then was placed in foster care. Now, living with "normal" people...I hear idioms a LOT and I just don't get it. Like with Erika's German Shepard response. Not to the same extent...but I dont understand a LOT of those things because I was deprived from them for so long.... same goes with a LOT of the foster siblings. GREAT POST!

Aus said...

Things THEY don't understand? Christie - I wear hearing aids - have for years - and even with them I sometimes only get "bits and snatches" of sentences. Most of the time it's funny when I respond with a non-sequitor - sometimes it's a tad embarrasing for me (but I lost my pride when I became a dad!) - and we cope...

But sometimes it just frustrates my soul when I realize my younger kids will not "bother" to talk with me because it's so hard for me to hear....

Communications are just so important - that's why - in particular with our younger adopted ones - we started right off with ASL - they might not have spoken english but could still communicate with us - and the frustration level dropped dramatically. Even littles around a year old can learn to sign long before they learn to speak!

hugs - aus and co.

r. said...

I'm kind of hoping Hevel weighs in on this one. Being trilingual, I bet he has some fun idioms to share!

I have a few language misunderstanding stories to share :)

In college one year, I had a roommate from Russia. As in, she had moved to the U.S. the week before. She kept complaining about her phone card not working. Finally I told her, "Stop b**ching about it! We'll figure it out." This made her even more upset. I eventually realized that she thought I had called her a b*tch. I had to back up and explain that, yes, when used as a noun, the word meant a mean, nasty person, but when used as a verb it just means to whine or complain.

Later that semester, we had missed dinner at the dining hall one Friday evening, so I took her to the Chabad House to catch a bite. (They offered dinner after Friday sabbath services, even if you didn't make it to the service.) As an icebreaker, we went around the table and each said our name and two things about ourselves. Katya said, "'I'm from Russia. I've never been to a service like this before, because I'm Orthodox."

If you didn't get it: Chabad fits within the Orthodox wing of Judaism, and at their university centers they tend to be more traditional (i.e., "orthodox") than the students they serve. Sometimes they even put off a "more Orthodox than thou" vibe. So it was a funny when Katya said the service was foreign to her because she was "Orthodox." Not to worry, though, the hosts understood that she meant Russian Orthodox form of Christianity.

Of course, the language funnies go both way. That evening happened to be during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot and we were dining outside in a Sukkah. As the rabbi went on and on about the importance of dining in the sukkah, Katya giggled and then leaned over and whispered in my ear, "You won't believe what that word means in Russian!"

Annie said...

We call our pope a "German Shepherd".

One of my favorite Russian teachers ever was a woman from Russia. Having a native teacher was a blast because we got to hear HER make mistakes in English. The one I remember because it amused me so much was her failed attempt to use idiom. On a day when the rain was pouring down, she ran, late, into the classroom and as she closed her umbrella, exclaimed, "Cats and dogs are falling down out there!"

Hevel Cohen said...

OK, the all time funniest thing doesn't have to do with idioms, but with how easy it is to switch code for my kids, and it involves the English version of the Song A-ba-ni-bi, and a polar bear wearing a wonder bra. I blogged about it in detail a while back. http://kosherkola.com/2009/09/i-wanna-be-a-polar-bear-or-switching-code-the-linguistic-type-2/ Fell free to edit the link out!

I really am not trilingual--my Hebrew is nothing that I'd call fluent. When it comes to idioms in English and Hungarian though it's not that I don't understand them, most of the time, but simply I forget which language they belong to and use a mirror translation. Like the straw that broke the camel's back is the last drop in the glass in Hungarian, and people would stare at me when I'm talking about camels and straws, or Iriss/American friends don't understand why I say someone who rises early will find gold. These idioms sound so natural to me that I don't notice that they are not.

There is a Hungarian idiom that I love, it's a direct quite from a Hungarian poem, though few realize it: "Vagy ha nem, hát kis nyúl". It roughly translates as "or if not, then a bunny", and I found it hilarious when I first started to understand Hungarian. When had to translate a story that used this expression, I translated it as "or if not, then whatever". Of course people just say "kis nyúl" a lot of times, which tends to confuse foreign learners.

OK, one hilarious mistake is literally translating "he made up with her", because the resulting translation of made up is slang term to get someone pregnant.

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