domingo, 30 de abril de 2017

Elsa Pataky y enseñar idiomas a los niños

Acabo de ver a la actriz Elsa Pataky en televisión y decía que vive con su marido australiano en un pueblecito de Australia. A su marido le habla en inglés porque no se ha tomado la molestia de aprender el idioma del amor de su vida -¿qué querrá decir sto?- pero a los niños les habla en castellano. Ellos contestan en inglés pero Elsa Pataky dice que que no va a renunciar a que hablen en español. Aplaudo esta iniciativa. Y yo le diría -y digo- que les haga repetir la respuesta en español. Así, constatntemente.

"I want more ice cream" says the boy and Elsa should ask him to repeat. "Quiero más helado."
We cannot let the children think that it is fine to carry on a conversation in two languages.
 Image result for elsa pataky

There is a language solution to everything

Most woes can be soothed, remedied, placated with language.
Suffering can be softened with the right words.
Mourning is relieved with the understanding empathy of the spoken or written message of care, friendship and love.
Grief and loneliness are made less when the sounds of language are heard.
The right words can make us strong in times of trouble.
Words can give meaning to our lives.
Verily, there is a language solution to our woes.
Language is to be sure a two-edged sword as we know. But today, just today, let us be of good cheer and dwell and fix our attention on the positiveness of the miracle of the sound-with-meaning phenomenon.
Verily, language is the universal cure-all that lightens our souls and makes our journey pleasant, in troubled waters.

lunes, 24 de abril de 2017

El fonema inglés y castellano representado por /b/

Me refiero a este sonido con frecuencia porque es uno de los que más delata al hablante norteamericano cuando se comunica en castellano y al hispanohablante cuando se comunica en inglés.
El sonido en castellano es más complejo y está representado por dos grafemas: /b/ y /v/.
Se emite así: suavemente y el aire no se expulsa más allá de los labios: beso, vino, vaso, bueno, bárbaro, viejo.  En este caso la /b/ es fricativa o suave. Tanto es así que los labios ni se tocan.
En la /b/ oclusiva, fuerte, en castellano los labios se tocan, entran en contacto, pero el aire no se expele con fuerza: ambos, también, en vez, ambiente. 
Si empleamos estos dos sonidos al hablar inglés, nos delatarán como hispanohablantes, apenas abramos la boca.

La lengua inglesa sólo tiene un sonido para el grafema /b/: los labios se juntan y el aire se expele con fuerza: bimbo, bull, been, bulb. Así:

Al hablar inglés no tengamos miedo de hacer el ridículo y pronunciemos este sonido con fuerza y aplomo.
Al hablar castellano suavizaremos el sonido mucho, cuanto más, mejor.



domingo, 23 de abril de 2017

El adjetivo inglés a veces sigue al nombre

El adjetivo se coloca delante del nombre en lengua inglesa y no cambia ni en género ni en número: A pretty cat. Two pretty cats. A tall girl. A short man.

Pero hay casos en que el adjetivo sigue al nombre. Y esto es así especialmente en frases hechas que debemos reconocer, por no decir saber:

God Almighty
Heir apparent
Life everlasting
Pound sterling
Professor emeritus
Postmaster General
Queen consort
Amnesty International
Whisky Sour
Chicken Supreme
Holidays abroad
Devil Incarnate

Things grammatical, problems linguistic... se pueden encontrar
y son frases perfectamente aceptables. 

viernes, 21 de abril de 2017

The English Language of Swedish audiences

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Listening to a chat delivered by Dr. Oliver Sacks to a Swedish audience in Börssalen, I was struck by the Q&A period that followed.
Members of the audience, mostly Swedish doctors, were given the opportunity to ask Dr. Sacks questions about his chat. What I found of interest is that the knowledge of English of  the members of the audience, educated Swedish people, was utterly unacceptable. The questions were so poorly put that someone near Dr. Sacks had to rephrase them and fix the syntax and wording.
Swedes have a high reputation as linguists, especially in Spain, and are supposed to handle English fluently and flawlessly.
Linguistic myths abound and are taken for granted. The brain of a Swede is no different that the brain of a Mexican or Italian. If you do not believe me, listen to the Question and Answer period in Sacks' lecture and you will hear how proficient they are in expressing themselves in English.
So do not feel bad. Chin up and carry on.

jueves, 20 de abril de 2017

Oliver Sacks and spoken communication

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I have been an intellectual admirer of Dr. Oliver Sacks for years. As a writer we can compare him to Dr. Sigmund Freud, another great scientific communicator.
But. alas, no one is perfect and Oliver Sacks did not have a good command of the spoken word. We can listen to him on the web, YouTube for example, delivering lectures, and watch him hesitate, repeat himself, grope for words, in his weird and very personal accent, probably a mixture of Jewish, British and American styles. He is often painful to listen to because we fear he is going to forget where he is, or loose track of what he is talking about, which creates stress in the audience.
And yet, Oliver Sacks was a great communicator and wonderful writer who had plenty to say to his readers. As a public speaker he fell short of expectations.
Oliver Sacks was a native speaker of English but he had not been given the gift of oratory. Writing is one skill, and eloquence in speaking quite another and many do not possess both. I, for one, do not possess either.
So do not feel bad if you find it hard to speak English in public. Or Spanish for that matter.

domingo, 16 de abril de 2017

Subtitling films and Historias de Lavapiés

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NETFLIX wants to pay a mint for translating film dialogs.

First you must pass a hard online test to see whether you qualify as a translator. It seems that they pay by the minute and you will be tested by the minute also.

Not too long ago I had this experience. I translated the script of the film HISTORIAS DE LAVAPIÉS. I had the aid of the director of the film, Ramón Luque, and we worked hand in hand on the translation and on the subtitles. It was no piece of cake.

Obviously the guys from Netflix do not know where they are getting into, test or no test, notwisthstanding the big bucks.

First, we had to go over the script while watching the film at the same time. Actors have a tendency to ad lib; sometimes because they choose to, other times because they forget their lines. This procedure is painstankingly arduous and very time-consuming.

Second, and something that escapes the Netflix crowd who forget that people hear faster than they can read.  Not all the dialog can be subtitled because the audience cannot read that fast.

Third, and this escapes everybody: not all the dialog can fit the screen. Subtitles should not take up most of the screen, no matter how accurate the translator wishes to be. It is a film we are watching, after all.

Fourth: the best that can be accomplished is a guideline, a résumé, of what is going on in the scene. Trying to translate idiomatic expressions, as the Nexflix team wishes, is the least of the problems to be encountered.

Translating and subtitling HISTORIAS DE LAVAPIÉS was  quite a feat and I tried to express the essence of the dialog so as to give the English-speaking audience a close idea of what was going on. Nothing else can be done. And a lot is lost in translation, in the subtitles.

And, yes, of course, I recommend the film.

Hanna G. and Language Learning

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Hanna G. became my student at the age of two. She was born in Miami, Florida, and came to Madrid a few days after she turned two.
From the very beginning she showed interest in language study and soon associated me with English, to the point that we have never crossed a word in Spanish.
Hanna G. was eager to learn and showed a rare gift for English, to the point that she learnt how to read it very early.  She was soon able to express herself well and never used Spanish vocabulary.
Probably the secret was the constant use of English and the association of the language with a given person.
Grammar was never taught or even mentioned. Mistakes were corrected and she was asked to repeat the correction several times.
She was then raised in a bilingual environment where she associated either English or Spanish with certain people, with ease, without effort or much toil.
But when Hanna G. reached the age of eleven, something went awry and her eargerness to talk and communicate in English started fading away. Her long chats now became monosyllables and started avoiding me altogether.
Spanish had won the battle of the languages and surfaced as the victor, pushing English to the back seat, as a poor cousin.
Why did this happen? Probably the natural mental development that somehow forces the brain to take sides, to have preferences for one language over the other. Perhaps true bilingualism is nothing but an ideal, a chimera, an idle fancy.