1. Arthur Wagner
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    Arthur Wagner New Member

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    About learning English

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Arthur Wagner, Jan 30, 2013.

    The word 'indulgence' has various translations in German:
    Genuss
    Nachsicht
    Gefälligkeit
    Schwelgen
    Einwilligung
    Nachgiebigkeit
    Duldsamkeit
    Schwäche
    Milde
    Duldung
    Ablass
    Frönen
    etc.

    Each translation has its own meaning and, more importantly, its own feeling to it. When talking about 'Genuss', 'Duldsamkeit', 'Milde', 'Frönen' etc. I can tell you the intellectual and emotional qualities of these words. I think that I have really mastered this language. When talking about 'indulgence', however, I may know the intellectual qualities of it, but I can never grasp the emotional ones. I don't know the feeling. Can someone with English as his second language ever truly learn, understand and feel this language as good as the English-speaking folks do? I know I sound like stoned, but can somebody help me to answer this question? Or, tell me how does all this sound to you?

    Greetings,
    Arthur Wagner
     
  2. Bimber
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    Bimber Contributing Member

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    Just cause someone has English as his first language doesn't mean they mastered it, For me its my third language but i invested a lot of time reading in English and studying it, and everyday you find something new to learn, I'm far from mastering it but i believe with practice i could.

    Its not if its your first language or not but how well are you educated in it that makes the difference.
     
  3. Arthur Wagner
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    Arthur Wagner New Member

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    I'm sorry to say that I think that you only speak about a superficial and solely logical way of mastering this language. I refer to the emotional side of mastering it. Can you really feel the language if you are second language English speaker?
     
  4. Bimber
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    Bimber Contributing Member

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    You mean like if you write a word and you are not sure if it's the right word to describe what you really meant, if it has that deeper meaning you really meant to say?
     
  5. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    English is a language spoken all over the world, and there are words and phrases in it that are not necessarily understood in different places the same way. The emotional flavors of words can be considerably different from place to place, and this often causes misunderstandings between people who are, at least nominally, speaking the same language.

    I grew up in Canada and moved to the USA when I was 35. When I got here and joined my partner's business, I used to get a little angry with him often because I thought he was being rude to me. He'd say things like this:

    "You need to do such-and-such." To me, that sounded like the kind of order a superior gives an inferior. But he didn't mean it that way. He was simply asking me to do such-and-such. In Canada, we would have said it this way:

    "Would you please do such-and-such?" This is more polite, to my way of thinking. But Americans almost never talk this way (at least here in Southern California).

    Things were even worse when I went to Australia, when a friend there invited me to have a "flutter on the gee-gees." I had no idea at all what he was talking about. It turns out he meant betting on horse races. That's a phrase I never heard in Canada, though.

    All this is to make the point that English is not the same everywhere it's spoken, and native English speakers from different places can still have a hard time properly understanding each other.
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    If someone is fluent in a language, it doesn't really matter if it is their first language or not. Or rather than being fluent, let's say mastering the language. At a minimum, you need to be able to think in the language, as opposed to thinking in another language and translating. Also, you need to understand the shades of meaning for different words, as in your example.

    It isn't easy. I know many native-born speakers of English who are not masters of it, as I'm sure you know many native speakers of German who are equally limited.
     
  7. names
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    names Member

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    There is some cultural meaning I guess like aphorisms, sayings, and proverbs. Sometimes people think in metaphores more easily in one language when they say something in a language not their own. I recommend you think that the learning process of english as an investment. You'll learn culture just by meeting people who go to their jobs, do hobbies, and so on.
     
  8. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ditto all of that... being 'fluent' in an additional language does not always mean one is equal to those born to speak it...

    that said, look at how many aspiring writers we see on sites like this, who were born to speak english and still don't know how to use many words properly... the same applies to people everywhere... some are masters of their own tongue and many others fall far short... while an extremely rare few can master other languages in addition to their own...
     
  9. Arthur Wagner
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    Arthur Wagner New Member

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    @Bimber
    Yes, I am referring to such ‚deeper meaning‘. I think that by simply translating one word it is impossible to express its meaning in total due to different socio-historic backgrounds of people of different languages. Let’s take Shakespeare’s love poems as an example. ‘Love’ is simply translated by ‘Liebe’ and of course we all do know this universal feeling. However, there are subtleties of language that distinguish our understanding of words. For instance, different images, proverbs or traditions (historically grown!) are linked to ‘love’. When an Englishman reads one of Shakespeare’s love poems, the allusions and emotions created by his subconsciousness are probably closer to what Shakespeare truly felt and associated with his own lines than any understanding of somebody who learned a foreign language originally. Indisputably, one can learn the various layers of meaning of a language intellectually. Nevertheless, I wonder whether this is just a superficial understanding of a language, since early socialization with a certain language is of real importance and indispensable to truly mastering a language.

    @minstrel
    Thanks a lot for your example. When watching How I Met Your Mother, I always wondered why the Canadians were portrayed as the sissies of North America ;D
    Of course you are right. But don’t you think that despite the differences there is some common structure engraved in the English language which is shared by all (or most) English-speaking people? One reason why I love English is its clarity and directness. It is probably no coincidence that scientific text in English are oftentimes clearly structured and elegant (in comparison), whereas German texts are mostly a series of run-on sentences and empty phrases (Kant anyone? I hate this guy for having influenced thousands of wannabes trying to imitate his style, torturing me).
     
  10. Bimber
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    Bimber Contributing Member

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    Its something i guess all none native speakers go through, try to observe how others do use some words, be it in real life (if you have contacts that are native in that language), from forums/chatrooms, movies and books. Basically watch and learn and try to understand why they used that word in particular.
    I often get that feeling as you when i write, as am not sure if some word paints the color i want the picture to have, but being observant helps, with time to get to understand some words better.

    For example you see a beautiful picture, but to use beautiful to describe it is'nt it, so try and think about these words:
    dazzling, gorgeous, stunning, wonderful, alluring, superb, breath-taking, lovely and delightful.
    Dont look at their meaning but try and understand the feeling of each word.
     
  11. AchiraC
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    AchiraC Member

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    I wondered quite a bit about this myself before I made the decision to write in English. In the beginning, it was terrifying and I used a lot of placeholder words in my native language. Then, as I read more and more in English and switched off subtitles to English tv series and movies whenever I could, I noticed I started to get that feeling for words. Granted, I might never be as sensitive to different meanings of a word as a native speaker might, but the feeling is most definitely there. My 'best friend' as a writer is my thesaurus. If I can't find the word with the right feeling, I'll look at the synonyms to find one that fits better.
     
  12. primalpeace
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    primalpeace Member

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    Well, it may not feel the same, but in English emotion is really in the tone and feel of it, not the word itself. The word love for example can have many different kinds of meanings as well. It is hard to get used to as I can imagine, but it is possible.
     
  13. SunnyE
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    SunnyE Member

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    In some ways yes, but in many ways, no. That's why it is such a difficult language for people to "master." As an American that has lived all over the country, as well as in Europe, I can tell you that it's hard for us to understand each other a lot of the time. Countless dialects and accents of native speakers make it extremely difficult to understand people outside of your region at times. I grew up in the south and moved around the country. I can't tell you how many times I used a phrase common to me that someone asked me to define what I meant, and vice versa. And that doesn't even come close to the misunderstandings between my American friends and my English/UK friends. It's laughable how different the language can be in different areas. And frankly, I know Americans that have never attempted to speak anything other than English, and they still don't know how to speak "correctly." Structure Schmucture. Every language has its own colloquialisms, slang, and common grammatical butcherings by its speakers. The English people learn in school is not the English that is spoken, pretty much anywhere. It's a form of it. Just as the Spanish my friends learned in school isn't anywhere close to the Spanish spoken on the streets of Texas, where I live. You learn the gist of it through whatever means (classroom instruction, language software, etc.), then you learn the idiosyncrasies of the different regions by talking to the locals and asking them to really explain their meaning in terms you can understand. Many English words have a bunch of different meanings. It really boils down to context. Sometimes the differences are subtle and hard for non-native speakers to pick up on. And some words aren't easily translatable to other languages, which makes it harder for people of that language to learn it in English. I actually ran into that problem when learning Russian. They have the same problem. Again, the best way to learn the emotion or feeling behind a particular word is not necessarily to learn it in the word itself, but in how the word is used in relation to the other words around it. And the best way to do that is to have someone sit down and explain it to you in terms you can understand.
     
  14. Khaelmin
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    Khaelmin Active Member

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    I totally agree with this. I've said it before, while critiquing a piece of writing in the Workshop. If you can't actually think in English, you'll never be able to write anything good in it. A translation may be technically correct, but it'll never as 'good' as it was in the original language. Even if you've mastered both languages, and you're doing the translation yourself, you'll end up writing two similar, but at the same time, different stories.
     
  15. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    Arthur, English is my native language and I have studied, and learned to one degree or another of success, several other languages. I have always been impressed, warmed even, by the sweet, subtle nuances that each language conveys within its own parameters. Some, as with your illustration of the myriad choices to convey the concept of 'indulgence', can find the most delicate variance in meaning to convey exactly the meaning desired. And quite often, in almost any language, there can be more than one, totally different meaning of the same word. (Consider the English "bow". In one instance, it can be pronounced with a long O sound and is what you might tie in a ribbon at the back of a little girl's hair. However, if pronounced as 'ow' (as if you just hit your finger - Ow!) it indicates someone bending at the waist, offering obesance to another.)

    Then, too, as others have already noted, there are some words which some native speakers simply fail to grasp, or have never heard before, and so they go through life with a limited competency of their own language. Having experienced just how difficult it can be to grasp a second language, I am always impressed by people such as you and Bimber who seem to have a better grasp of English than so many native speakers do.

    I once complained to a Russian fellow of my difficulties in learning his language. He laughed and told me something that I think would apply in this case as well. He said, "It takes a lifetime to learn it well."
     

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