Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Tips for language acquisition... (ensure tongue remains firmly in cheek at all times) part I.

There's this brilliant website for student/trainee interpreters which is full of advice for practising etc. By far the best time to consult it is last thing at night, so you can go to bed and dream about all the great things you're going to do tomorrow.

One section on this website is a series of ten tips for learning a new language, written by an EU staff interpreter- using Polish as an example- and they are beautiful, really beautiful, all about crosswords and song lyrics and etymologies (I love etymology, don't get me wrong- don't get me started either, you'll regret it). However, given that I am the sort of irresponsible person who doesn't live in the Real World and forgets to empty their bin on a Friday and hangs out with malorientated motorists, students and sacristans, most of them are utterly beyond me.

So, with all due respect and a great deal of humility, I have compiled my own ten observations on how to eat, sleep and breathe foreign vocab (Don't inhale. It might go to your head). These are strictly aimed at former pre-exam crammers who only limped through their A-levels by burning vocabulary onto their retinas in the half hour before the doors opened and consequently have a short term memory with a strict "one in, one out" on-the-door policy within any twenty-four hour period.

Here are numbers one to five:

1/ Alcohol. Ok, so it's stating the obvious. But anyone who's tried to speak French will know how a ballon de rouge or four can turn you into Proust with beer-goggles (also known to improve singing ability, even in the most hopeless cases). Although in the case of Polish it may simply increase your confidence to the extent that you start adding -owac and -owany to the end of English words and conjugating everything in the genitive just to hedge your bets.*
If all else fails, you can always sit and translate the label on the back of the bottle (for 'translate', read 'bug your Polish friends for translations of...').
Warning: any vocabulary gleaned in this manner will almost certainly be forgotten the next morning.

2/ Biology. Remember those girls who came back from their Erasmus semester with a photo of some sloe-eyed Sicilian in their purses and a fluent command of the Italian idiom? Fraternizing with the natives is a long-established method for acquiring vocabulary without trying too hard, and you may even enjoy yourself. For fairly logical biological reasons, this works much better for girls than for guys. The irony therein is that Polish women, without exception, all look like supermodels**, while the guys look, well, pretty similar to British guys (socks under sandals, terrible haircuts and so on).
Caution should be exercised when using vocabulary acquired in this manner in a professional context.

3/ Crime. Have something stolen. As yet (touch wood) this method remains untested in Poland, but was experienced in a bizarre way involving a rented bike in Italy (bizarre because said bike was returned three days later when the end-of-term party season finished. Northerners are Weird). Following the theft you are compelled to go down to the local nick and attempt to communicate. You then have to pretend not to hear the Entire Station giggling like big girls because your driving licence ID gives your first name as 'Miss'- which, everywhere in Europe except the UK, designates a beauty pageant entrant.
You will never, ever forget the Italian word for a bike lock.

4/ Babcia. Rent a sofa from someone's grandmother in Nowa Huta. This may also be a direct consequence of quarter-life-crisis financial angst. There is No Chance that she'll be speaking any English to you, and you'll have to pick up one or two Polish words otherwise you won't get any dinner. As an interesting side effect, you will learn how to interpret the babcia growl, commonly uttered in queues if you complain that they may have pushed in front of you. Equally common on the tram: if accompanied by brandished umbrella, relinquish your seat Immediately.

5/ Sport. Go jogging in shorts. Very quickly pick up rude things to shout at lorry drivers.
Again, this is generally one for the girls, although you'd be surprised.
And see cautionary note to no. 2.
Interestingly, if you want to steal something on the Bvd de Clichy, this is probably a good way to get away with it.

To be continued...

*At all costs, avoid pidgin German e.g. 'Ich habe weile zutrinken und ich bin auf mein face gesmaschd. Ist hier in die nahe eine taksihaltestelle?'
**Although she will spend the next fifty years metamorphosing into a fierce babcia with a vicious umbrella- see point 4/. Is there any section of the Polish demographic I haven't managed to offend yet?


joey said...

How do Polish women turn into Polish babcias?! Is it only in Poland that Polish women turn into Polish babcias or is it a worldwide phenomenon?

Sounds kind of like a werewolf thing!

pinolona said...

Um, just by getting old I think. Babcia is Polish for granny... But they're only this scary in Poland.