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‘The greatest gift in language learning!

Updated: Jul 17, 2022

I love this quote: 'The greatest gift is not being afraid to question' and I think it particularly applies to language learning and our Zoom sessions. In our sessions, people make use of the crib sheets which have the dialogue in two languages (French, German or Spanish on one side, and English on the other.) The translation into English often provokes questions.

A question that came up yesterday involved the English phrase ‘it’s been such a long time…’ being translated into French as, ‘ça fait si longtemps…’. I was asked why I’d used the French word ‘si’ and the person questioning said, ‘I thought ‘tellement’ was the word for ‘so’. Actually, you can translate ‘so’ as either ‘si’ or ‘tellement’ in this context. And as an add-on, let’s not forget that ‘si’ in French is also used instead of ‘oui’ if you want to contradict someone. For example, ‘tu ne parles pas español, n’est-ce pas ?’ ‘Mais si, je l’ai appris à l’école’.

In our Zoom sessions, people talk in pairs in breakout rooms for four minutes, and then we have a one-minute Q and A time in the general area – a beneficial by-product of being on Zoom. When the question was asked about ‘si’, everyone benefitted from the answer and so, not being afraid to question is a gift to oneself and also to all the other attendees. I often say that for one person asking a question, probably half the people are thinking about asking it and of course, there’s no such thing as a silly question.

The flip side of questioning the structure in a foreign language is that sometimes it can’t be explained as not all language can be translated literally. There is a plethora of 2, 3 or 4 word phrases that have a specific meaning and it is worth learning these as set expressions. A common one in French is ‘Ça y est’ which translates as ‘that’s it’ or ‘sorted.’ For example, Pierre could be asked to lay the table. Once done, he could reply, ‘Ça y est’ – ‘I’ve done it!’ The Spanish has an equivalent, ‘Ya está’ which puzzled me for a long time when I started learning Spanish in Spain!

And so yes, I really believe that not being afraid to question is the greatest gift. It benefits everyone and accelerates progress on your language learning journey. Donc, si vous avez une question sur ce que j’ai écrit, n’hésitez pas… 😊

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