https://www.duolingo.com/botsnlinux

A different take on idioms?

I've put off idioms for the very last, and now I'm suffering. But I had a (somewhat obvious) idea, and I'm curious what others think.

Idioms are interesting because they clue you in about a culture, and fun because you learn something that makes you feel like an insider. Pedagogically, they're a good way to learn some new words and sentences that are commonly used in everyday speech.

But translating idioms is absolutely horrible. At best, idioms are known to cause a lot of difficulty in translation between any two languages. To pick one example, Duo suggests that "En boca cerrada no entran moscas." be translated "Silence is golden." Yes, if you had to pick an English idiom for "it's wise to keep your mouth shut", then "silence is golden" is ok. But why are we translating idiom-to-idiom at all? Would it not be better to say, "flies don't enter a closed mouth"? Or, if you prefer, "A closed mouth catches no flies"?

What if idioms were translated to mostly-natural English, like everything else in the tree? Yes, the English translations wouldn't be particularly poetic, but this isn't a poetry site. Most of the idioms in the lesson do make some sense when translated mostly-literally, and I think this would make it a lot easier to understand the Spanish. Perhaps in some cases there could be an explanatory note that pops up, saying "this is akin to the English idiom...".

Would this help make idioms fun again?

3 years ago

9 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/HappyEvilSlosh
HappyEvilSlosh
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IIRC Duolingo accepts literal translations for proverbs.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Dcarl1
Dcarl1
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Well I think the goal is fluency, not literal translation. Many idioms make no sense literally, and some (not all) don't translate across cultures.

For example, if you were to translate "it's raining cats and dogs" into Italian it would just be baffling to a native speaker. And to translate "essere come il prezzemolo" literally as "To be like parsley" misses the point that it means "to have a finger in every pie" or "to be everywhere."

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/botsnlinux

But is the fluent translation of an idiom necessarily another idiom? I'm not suggesting that we have to translate word-for-word; I'm suggesting that we aim for a natural sentence that matches the meaning.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Adina_atl

I think it would help a lot. If we want to understand the culture as well as the language, learning "a lot of noise and few nuts" as the translation of "Mucho ruido y poco nueces" is going to be more informative than...whatever Duolingo wants as the translation of that, I don't even remember. Once we understand the words, we can start to understand the meaning. Otherwise we'll never understand the meaning, we'll just memorize the expected answer.

The majority of idioms even native speakers can't agree on the meaning of. So you have a dubious meaning of a Spanish idiom, arbitrarily equated with the dubious meaning of an English idiom?

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Rob2042

The idiom you provided makes sense to translate it as you did but most idioms translated literally make no sense at all.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/DeanG6
DeanG6
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I agree with you that it is more helpful in learning the language to translate what Idioms actually say, rather than convert them to another Idiom. It helps build vocabulary and gives an insight into the new culture. People keep saying that the literal translations don't make sense but they actually do. If they didn't, then they never would have become sayings in the first place!

But this is an age-old debate between 2 camps: Literal Translation vs Paraphrase Translation. The battle will go on forever and it's near impossible to convince the other side (the Paraphrasers) that we (the Literalists) are right. :-)

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/thenoblesunfish
thenoblesunfish
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I think that what you're describing essentially already exists in the Italian tree. The "best translation" is an English idiom, but literal translations are accepted in many cases.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/ngpaez
ngpaez
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I am a native Spanish speaker and I can tell you that virtually every other idiom in our language cannot be literally translated to English, we use a lot of "poetic license" so to speak and a lot of the time our expressions wouldn't make sense if you try to translate it exactly as they are.

For example:

*** "Las cuentas claras y el chocolate espeso" ---> literally "clear accounting and thick chocolate", which makes absolutely no sense in English, it refers to people liking their money to be handled in a transparent way, that only chocolate should be dark/thick, not accounting.

Also, Spanish changes a LOT across countries, the idioms used in Spain are not necessarily the same used in Colombia, the language is very rich and the cultural exchange has made it unique versions of Spanish per country, you can still understand each other but many words and idioms are different or have different meanings due to context.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/PolianaBellini

Honestly, seems like you are just making it more time consuming and complicated than it is already. Personally, whenever I learn an idiom in English I will immediately look up for a translation into my language, regardless it literally makes sense or not, and then I translate word by word in order to widen my vocabulary knowledge. These days, I quite usually manage to work out the meaning of words individually which saves me time to do something else like ' To hit the sack" . Once I do that, I will try incorporating that idiom, and news words into my speech as often as I can without focusing on the version of it in my language. It is kind of having 2 brains - 1 in your native language and the other one in the language you are learning. Believe me, keeping them separate will save you from some frustration, even though ' It is easier said than done". After all, you will not able to remember new content ' Off the top of your head" until you have gone through it over and over again. Repetition is key to acquiring a new skill. And remember 'Practice makes perfect". Lastly, figuring out idioms in your own mother tongue will not always work out either. Take these Brazilian Portuguese idioms ' Vai ver se eu estou na esquina"; Fazer vaquinha; Chorar pitangas; Matar cachorro a grito; Chato de galocha; Amigo da onça, etc.. Would you be able to explain what they mean without googling it up? Anyway, keeping it simple is my go to rule nowadays when it comes to studying English.

6 months ago
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