What are your personal top three tricks and tips when learning languages?
a) Pronunciation. Don’t feel bad about your pronunciation. Language is truly about communication, not about words or phonetics. These are “just” means. Intention, emotion and willingness are essential. Your aim is to communicate, then you can polish your accent.
b) Everyday expressions. It is crucial to begin with them: courtesy formulas, why-when-how-what, “yes, please / no, thank you”, counting 1-20, may I…? , would you…?, up-down-left-right. The pleases and the thankyous will ease your way. Verbs, adverbs and prepositions can join the party later. “Please glass water. Thank you”, sounds like a magic spell the first time the waiter comes back with a glass of water; it quenches your thirst and it feels like a tiny personal triumph.
c) Language switching. If you want to—seriously—learn a language, keep the learning switch on… at all times. Watch TV in that language, browse websites in that language, look for information in that language… there are so many good things to learn, and they are almost free.
What is your favorite word of all times and why?
I don’t have just “one favourite word / song / book… of all times” but many. For the sake of this interview, I would say parruliña. It is a word in Galician, the language of my homeland in NW Spain. It means ‘female little duck’ and it is a word which cannot be said if you don’t feel affection for the person you are saying it to, the person you are cuddling. In my case, I call my daughter parruliña and its sound immediately triggers some kind of atavistic synapsis, a protection and fondness instinct, and an relaxing feeling.
What was the funniest situation with a linguistic misunderstanding you ever encountered?
First time I went to the US, the cashier at a small supermarket asked:
—”Plastic or paper?”
—”Plastic.” I said handing her my credit card, made of plastic (I didn’t want to pay with cash, that is, ‘paper’).
The customers behind me, the other cashiers, the staff people putting groceries into bags… they all couldn’t stop laughing out loud. That is when I discovered her question meant “Do you want your groceries into a plastic or a paper… BAG”.
What is the worst translation error you have ever made?
Maybe not the worst but the funniest one. I was translating the dialogues of a crime movie. The starring detective decided “to put a mark on the suspect’s car to track him down”. I translated it literally as “poner una marca”. But I repeatedly wrote maraca instead of marca by mistake, and at the end, the spell checker found no errors, since maraca is a percussion instrument. Besides that, the voiceover director and actors didn’t find it strange, so the movie was aired with maracas all over the place. I guess the audience still wonders why that detective wanted “to put a maraca on the suspect’s car and where the hell was that maraca, anyway!”
In your opinion, what is the sexiest accent and what is the reason for it?
Definitely, French. It is a phonetically soft, free-flowing tender language. But it always depends on the speaker.
Which language would you like to invent and why?
A language we all can write and read fluently around the globe. That would change the world in a dramatic new way.
There are many fascinating topics and issues (fiction, non-fiction, science…) which won’t be read by millions of people because they are not translated into their languages. Some books changed my life and it is a pity there is so much knowledge which won’t reach so many people.
Which language teaching product / service / method / gadget … has impressed you the most and why?
Internet has promoted language learning in a subtle way because it is like moving your playground or your dining room conversations to a cosmopolitan neighborhood, where you need a little bit of this and that to socialize with people next door.
Anyway, my most preferred teaching language is friendship. Having friends or partners who speak another language takes learning and teaching to a whole new level. As humans, emotion is the key. Emotion is the engine. That is how I unexpectedly learned English, playing with English-speaking kids.
About the author:
Xosé Castro is Madrid-based freelance Spanish translator (42), proofreader, copywriter and photographer. He is also a TV show presenter in Spain. He has been giving courses on film translation, software localisation, writing and proofreading around the world since 1995. Follow him on Twitter @xosecastro.