Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Idiomatically yours

Considering the following French idioms and their significantly different English counterparts, it's no surprise that I occasionally get a little lost in conversations with my neighbors and friends here in France. But the fun part is finding the idiom's equivalent in your own language.

For example, my sister-in-law in Spain just had a baby. They were trying to decide who the handsome little guy resembled when an English-speaker made a joke about the mailman. But the Spaniards quickly pointed out that they would have said he resembled the plumber. Interesting, isnt it?

Here are some examples I've come across recently in France.

The French say: Elle a trouvé l'oiseau rare.
It means: She found the rare bird.
I say: She found Mr. Right.

The French say: Mon petit doigt me l'a dit.
It means: My pinky told me.
I say: A little bird told me.

The French say: Ils se ressemblent comme deux gouttes d'eau.
It means: They’re like two drops of water.
I say: They're like two peas in a pod.

The French say: Il est haut comme trois pommes.
It means: He's as tall as three apples.
I say: He's knee-high to a grasshopper.

The French say: Il faut toujours qu'il ramène ses fraises.
It means: He always has to bring his strawberries back.
I say: He always has to put his two cents in.

The French say: J'y perds mon latin.
It means: I lose my Latin there.
I say: I can't make heads or tails of it.

What do you say?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

My week's worth of language lessons

I'm getting my week's worth of language lessons as I type this. I'm not in a language class or studying verbs. I'm sitting on the floor watching Le Roi Lion with my neighbor's daughter. You may be familiar with the plot line: A lion cub named Simba learns about the Circle of Life, gets scared away by a jealous uncle named Scar, makes friends with two unlikely characters named Timon and Pumbaa, but hakuna matata, he gets the girl - Nala.

So why are we watching this film in French? Because the little girl sitting next to me is French and she didn't want to watch it in 'that other language'. The French dialogue is great...
Simba: - Bec de banane est terrifié.
Zazu: - MONSIEUR bec de banane.
-- Le roi lion
...but the real language lessons have been in chatting with the small fry (la frite?). There's a whole world of kid-speak in French that I've never learned. Crash course right now! But it's great. She's taught me the names of games like cache cache (hide-n-seek) and un-deux-trois-soleil (red light, green light), that spinach is berk (yucky), and in order to settle in she needs her doudou (security blanket).

Bonus points: Did you know that hakuna matata means 'no troubles' in Swahili, an East African language spoken in Kenya and Tanzania? Simba means lion and rafiki means friend. I'm getting two languages at once out of this deal!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Say that one three times quickly!

This morning as I was catching up on tweets, I read from a friend:

"I learned this word in German today: Bundesverbraucherschutzministeriums."

It got me thinking about the longest words in various languages, so I started doing a little research.

In English, 'antidisestablishmentarianism' (28 letters) is the longest non-technical word. I can take a good guess at its meaning, but am not likely to use it in conversation any time soon. However, a friend of mine uses the word as a pronunication exercise when teaching English.

The longest French word is 'anticonstitutionellement' (24 letters).Say that one three times quickly! If you can, give these a try - 'anticonstitucionalmente' (23 letters) is one of the longest words in Spanish and 'anticostituzionalmente' (23 letters) is the longest Italian word in common use. But the Portuguese 'inconstitucionalissimamente' (27 letters) beats them all.

German is a whole new kettle of fish because it tends to string words together to form new vocabulary. The longest word is considered to be 'Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän'. It means Danube steamship company captain.

But why break it down when it can be a lovely 41-letter challenge for our friends learning German?