Language is incredibly fascinating. The meaning of words and phrases changes from culture to culture. Learning a new language not only teaches you about other cultures but also makes you really think about your own culture.
Being immersed in a culture and constantly speaking the language allows everything being said to make sense, but as soon as we have the chance to immerse ourselves into another culture, idioms and expressions make us stop and think, “wait…what?”
What Does That Mean?
The other day, I read the Buzzfeed article “10 Brazilian Expressions That Should Exist In English” by Julia Furlan. Some of my favorites include:
- Jogar o verde pra colher maduro (to throw out a green fruit and pick it up ripe), which means to hear a secret or something confidential without directly asking about it.
- Enfiar o pé na jaca (to stick your foot in the breadfruit), which means really go for it and/or exaggerate without caring. For example, if you’re on a diet but one day you eat too much junk food without caring.
- Tempestade em copo d’água (a hurricane in a cup of water), which means to make a huge deal out of a situation that is not very serious.
I spoke to one of my coworkers who is from Brazil about these phrases. After laughing for a couple of minutes, she explained that in Brazil, these sayings are as embedded in culture as much as American idioms. She asked me what I would say to express the concept of making a big deal over something small. Without hesitation, I replied, “to make a mountain out of a molehill.” This common American idiom is about as nonsensical as “a hurricane in a cup of water.”
Interpreters and translators face the challenge of interpreting or translating idioms, regionalisms, and slang every day. For most of them, that means not only learning English, but learning all of English’s oddities, idiosyncrasies, idioms, and grammar and pronunciation “rules” with multiple exceptions. Have you read the poem, “The Chaos“, lamenting the challenging pronunciation and spelling oddities within the English language? If not, it’s worth the read. Here’s a sample to get you started (read aloud for maximum effect):
Dearest creature in creation
Study English pronunciation
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse.
I will keep you, Susy, busy
May your head with heat grow dizzy
-“The Chaos” (excerpt), by G. Nolst Trenite, aka “Charivarius,” 1870 – 1946.
Becoming fluent in a new language requires more than following a textbook since one cannot always interpret phrases literally. Becoming an interpreter or translator requires not only fluency in everyday language, but also understanding of each culture to be able to interpret or translate meaning when faced with idioms and slang. This is on top of subject matter expertise and specialized vocabularies, such as healthcare or law. It’s a challenging, but rewarding, profession.
Vocalink Global’s professional interpreters and translators understand what it takes to ensure everyone is heard and understood across language and culture. Whether in a classroom, courtroom, boardroom, or hospital room, they empower mutual understanding every day. Want to learn more? Connect with us today!