Interview of the Week: Sarah Vilece

What was the first word you learned in a foreign language and how did you pick it up?
It wasn’t necessarily the first word I learned in German, but I can still vividly remember learning the word “oje” (oh dear!) while in high school. I thought it was one of the funniest things I had ever heard. It is still one of my favorite German words today and I manage to use it often too.

What are your personal top three tricks and tips when learning languages?
Little tricks that my teachers recommended over the years really worked wonders for me. For instance, to help learn new vocabulary I labeled all the things in my house using post-it notes. It reinforces the words and the language itself when you are encountered with it every time you look around. Post-it notes work well or just little slips of paper and tape.

Memorizing poems in a foreign language also has lots of advantages. It helps your mind recognize and reproduce proper structures and conjugations. Reciting the poems you know also boosts your confidence in speaking the new language, plus others will be very impressed if you can recite some classic poems in any language.

Along those same lines, reading aloud in a foreign language – even home alone – helps build confidence in speaking a new language. Hearing your own voice speaking a foreign language properly also aids in the subconscious learning process.

What is your favorite word of all times and why?
One of my favorite words in English is “pajamas.” I like the rhythm of it and the sound of the repeated “a.” I like the associations I have with the word. And I love that it is understood in so many different languages. At one point I was even inspired to research the origins of the word and I wrote a blog post about it:

Which word do you always have trouble spelling?
Though English is my native language, I have never been very good at spelling in English. The list of words I have trouble spelling is long. “Apparently” and “maneuver” are two that come to mind. Thank goodness for spell-check is all I can say.

What is the worst translation error you have ever made?
2005 was Einstein year in Berlin. Einstein quotes were featured on some of the most important landmarks in the city. On the side of the Swiss embassy it said, “Echte Demokratie ist doch kein leerer Wahn.” When an American tourist asked me to translate it, I misread the word “Wahn” for “Wanne” and instead of “real democracy is not an empty illusion,” I told him, “real democracy is not an empty tub!” Luckily he didn’t question Einstein’s genius any further at that point!

About the author:
Sarah Vilece (34) is an American expatriate living in Berlin, Germany. Despite many people’s attempts to convince her otherwise, she studied English literature and the German language at Goucher College and New York University before moving to Berlin. She has since succeeded in turning her two passions into a career as a German-English translator. She blogs about translating German language, life and culture at Follow her on Twitter @Translateberlin.

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