Don't translate from English

By Frederik De Vos

When we're in Europe, we're often asked how to say "Enjoy your meal" or "Bon app├ętit" in Tagalog. Actually, Filipinos don't really use such an expression before meals. Sometimes people simply say "Let's eat!"

This small anecdote goes to the heart of what this article is about.

People from a different culture and language don't just say the same things differently. They also talk about different things. And there are things they would avoid talking about!

If you start from your own language and mindset, you'll learn things native speakers don't say and you won't be learning some of the things native speakers say all the time. It's the main reason why generic, template-based language courses are missing something essential in my opinion.

In order to really speak a foreign language like a native speaker, you need to become more familiar with the typical situations and conversations of that culture.

There will surely be times when you want quick answers and ask "How do you say…?" That's perfectly fine. The point here is that learning to speak like a native means listening to what natives actually say, rather than to learn from a list of translated sentences. You will speak more authentically if you copy what you've already heard.

So don't worry about learning how to say "Nice to meet you" in Tagalog. Nobody says that. Filipinos will greet you with "Nice to meet you" in English because they know from TV shows and movies that that's what English speakers say!

Speaking a new language is like rediscovering the world from the perspective of another culture.

This Chinese proverb expresses it well:
"To learn a language is to have one more window from which to look at the world."

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