Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Beyond Translation

My wife Pamela and I famously met in French class, and though her French is much better than mine (because she regularly went to that class and then several more), neither of us speak it well. We did manage to put together enough phrases to navigate a weekend in rural Quebec about a decade ago, and if the current COVID-19 crisis abates in time, we'll brave a couple of days in France while passing between places where we speak the local languages more effectively -- Great Britain (sort of), Spain, and Portugal. Fingers crossed for that.

Meanwhile, I'm intrigued by a nice little story about learning French in order better to enjoy the rich cultural tapestry of the United States itself. The more one knows French, the more they can enjoy the food, music, and people of New Orleans. I know Rosetta Stone as language-learning software, but it also sponsors travel courses and a blog about language learning.
Louisiana parishes
Credit: Ian Young, Rosetta Stone
 
One tag used on the blog is words beyond translation, which points to articles that deeply explore just a few examples of words like ojalá (Spanish) and retrouvailles (French) that are exactly that: words for which the dictionary will provide an English equivalent, but which it is. worth learning the language to understand more fully. The Portuguese word saudades would be another great entry in this series. It can be translated as "longing" or "missing" but means so much more. I explored the word in my newsletter Folha da Frontera during my first visit to Brazil in 1996.

I am teaching honors colloquia about New Orleans this year, specifically because I find the city interesting but have never had a chance to go. Music has been a big part of the class and we have also discussed the importance of education in the French language there. Exploring the Big Easy from afar with my honors students, I am looking forward to our eventual visit. We will brush up on our French before we go, and we will stay at La Belle Esplanade, a tiny hotel whose main purpose is to immerse people in the culture of the "real" New Orleans.

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