Category Archives: Foreign Languages

The Absolute Language Test

I was perusing the tests on OkCupid tonight and came across one I hadn’t yet seen: The Absolute Language Test.

There are plenty of language tests I’ve taken before, like The Commonly Confused Words Test and The Could You Win the National Spelling Bee Test.  While they’re fun, they’re also easy.

But this test is crazy.

It not only tests you on the English language, it also moves into French, Japanese, Norwegian, Farsi and even cuneiform and hieroglyphics!  It’s a great workout for your brain because it gets you out of your comfort zone and makes you think creatively.

You have to try it out.

Try it here!

(For the record, I scored 65% eloquent, 62% well-versed, 26% so-so, 19% amateur and 10% ignoramus.)

Which languages do you speak?

I’ve been wondering about foreign languages and how speaking them impacts your native language.  For now, if you have a minute, I would love if you could answer this survey:

  1. What is your native language?
  2. Which foreign languages do you speak?  How well do you speak them?
  3. How did you learn your foreign languages?
  4. How often do you use your foreign language skills today?

Here are my answers:

  1. English is my only native language.
  2. I speak French, Italian and very bad Spanish.  Last time I was tested in French, I was rated “advanced high” by my professor.  Nowadays, I speak Italian conversationally at best, though I’m best in restaurants.  My Spanish is terrible and pretty much restricted to reading only.  Also, after receiving a Brazilian assignment at work last year, I learned that I can read Portuguese.
  3. Though my dad’s family is proudly French Canadian, I learned French from studying it in high school and college.  I also did a two-week homestay in Normandy in high school and I’ve been to France several times.  I didn’t speak a word of Italian when I arrived in Florence for my semester abroad, but I learned quite a bit after four months there.  I taught myself Spanish I over a summer and took one year of Spanish II in high school.
  4. At work, I’m the designated French speaker, so I get to speak French pretty often.  I use Italian at work occasionally, and Spanish rarely.  Besides conversing in basic Spanish with the guys at Anna’s Taqueria, I don’t use any of my languages outside of work (though my sister and I speak quite a bit of “franglais” to each other).

I’m glad that the state of Massachusetts and areas throughout the U.S. place such a high emphasis on foreign languages, even though English is the language of business these days.  It can make a big difference when it comes to your grammar.

Learning a foreign language strengthens one’s knowledge of his or her native language.  Suddenly, words are organized.  Everything is a reason.  Am, is and are mean the same thing — and boy, is our language confusing!

I’ve always loved books and writing, but my love of language didn’t come along until later.  I think it was the act of learning foreign languages and falling in love with them that taught me to love language itself.

Do you agree?

Bad Translations

I think that by this point in time, we’ve learned not to rely on Google Translate or other online translation aids.  They’re wrong more often than not.  I occasionally use Google Translate at work when I need to speak Spanish or Portuguese to a foreign vendor (I usually don’t need it for French or Italian).

Reader Christina, the German Grammar Vandal, sent me a great sign translated to English from Italian.

In Italian, the same word means pump and bomb.  Additionally, the word spia means spy or control lamp.  You have three guesses as to which words were used:


Kind of creepy!

I’d like to share my favorite story of a bad translation.  I hope you enjoy it.  It still makes me blush today.

In my French 4 class in high school, we read La Belle et La Bête, or Beauty and the Beast.  We had to write a paper about it a few days later.

In my paper, I wrote, “Elle voit l’ane de la Bête et elle devient amoureuse.” I thought that I had written, “She sees the Beast’s soul and falls in love with him.”

Well, that’s not quite right. What I should have written was, “Elle voit l’ame de la Bête.”

My paper read, “She sees the Beast’s ass and falls in love with him.”

I have to give Mr. Porter credit — he did nothing but circle the word in red. I turned the same shade of red after realizing what I had written.  I couldn’t look him in the eye for quite some time.

On Pronouncing "Les Deux"

This next post is not exactly about grammar, nor is it about the English language. However, it falls within the lines of several topics we discuss. (And I can guarantee at least one reader, Lee, is going to love the topic!)

There is a club in Los Angeles called Les Deux. It’s very popular with celebrities. “Les Deux” is French for both, or, literally, “the two.” It is (roughly) pronounced lay DUH.

I got roped into watching The Hills one day with my roommates, and Lauren Conrad pronounced it “la DOO.” That surprised me.

I just chalked it up to her being, well, dumb. The stars of The Hills aren’t exactly future rocket scientists.

A few months later, I had to call the club for work.

I’m always deliberately vague of what, exactly, I do for work, but I can tell you that it involves a lot of VIP access, exclusive offers, nightlife, that kind of thing, mostly in Las Vegas but also in Los Angeles, New York and worldwide. (Going to Vegas? I’ll hook you UP.) I was trying to get a table at Les Deux for one of my clients a few weeks ago.

I dialed the number.

“Hello, la DOO.”

I was thrown through a loop. Apparently, everyone pronounced it this way.

I spoke to the manager and arranged the table for my client. I was dying of curiosity, so I had to ask her:

“Tell me,” I began, “why do all of you pronounce it la DOO?”

She paused. “That’s how it’s pronounced.”

“Well,” I said gingerly, “actually, in French, it’s pronounced lay DUH. It means both.”

“Oh,” she said. “That’s just how it’s always been.”

I didn’t lecture her or anything. I wasn’t about to do that.

Anyway, I have a point to all this.

This is similar to people who insist that “everytime” is a word, that “everyday” is interchangeable with “every day,” that “definately” is the correct spelling. These are very basic errors. People know that they are being incorrect, but they choose to continue to be incorrect rather than to learn how to do the right thing.

Keep in mind that I do not expect people to know how to pronounce French words. That’s not fair. I do, however, expect the staff to pronounce their nightclub’s name correctly. If the staff gets it right, the world will follow. If it’s the cool place to be, everyone will try to outdo each other by pronouncing the word perfectly. Enough of my clients try to pronounce La Esquina or Felidia with ethnic flair, thinking it makes them sound authentic.

One last thing: le DOO is how someone would pronounce le doux, meaning “the sweet.” So maybe that’s another meaning to the club’s name.

Do you have thoughts on this?

En francais!

I first saw this on the “Good Grammar Is Hot” group on Facebook. Since my (film major) sister just saw Pulp Fiction for the first time, I knew I had to put it up. For those of you who don’t know, in France, they call a quarter pounder a “Royale with cheese.”

I saw this picture and knew that it was incorrect French grammar. First of all, fromage is the correct spelling of the word for cheese. Also, it’s technically called une royale avec du fromage. I showed it to my coworker Spence.

It turns out that the grammar was incorrect on purpose.
There is this zany, weird site called I CAN HAS CHEEZBURGER. Spence is a big fan, and he showed me. You have to check it out — it’s so weird! It’s pictures of animals saying weird, grammatically incorrect and somewhat gangsta things.
It’s inspirational — my friend Tricia has an adorable dog named Bandit whose Facebook profile reads like the entire site.
This is weird stuff — enjoy!