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It's an idiomatic expression. I think the issue is less a question of them accepting the literal translation, and more of giving mention of it as an idiomatic expression before the lesson starts.
Perhaps at least at first these questions could even be flagged as idiomatic expressions depending on what level you're at on the site, so you know it's not the literal they're looking for. I think to accept the literal translation would be confusing and misleading, just like in many other cases of idiomatic expressions used on the site.
There's quite a few of these you'll encounter as you go through the lessons on here.
On the one hand, I have to agree with you that it should be specially treated as an idiomatic expression. It's totally fair! However, the way it is displayed, without any warning or clue, is similar to the way we'd have encountered it in real time speech. Then by trial and error we would spot the special use, assign the correct meaning, "highlight" it in our vocabulary, and finally master the meaning of the phrase on the fly.
I kind of agree, but I'm glad that's not how DL does it. By throwing you right into it, you're learning how Spanish idioms work, so you're more prepared to understand them when new ones are thrown at you in the real world. Giving you the answer would deprive you of the practice you get from reading "how-many-years-do-you-have" and connecting the dots, or maybe missing that connection and then thinking a little harder next time such a puzzle presents itself. You should have seen my face the first time I lost a heart over "qu'est ce que..." but now I know it a thousand times better after working it out word for word. The frustration is painful though.
I think the issue is not whether or not the translation is correct -- it is definitely a common idiomatic expression. But the point is that Duolingo should have a mechanism for teaching idiomatic expressions beyond the user getting the question wrong and wondering why. Maybe something similar to the photo panels?
It is not an idiom. An idiom is something that sounds ridiculous and doesn't literally mean what it is saying.
"It's raining cats and dogs" = "We have heavy rain"
"Hold your horses" = Be patient
No one's going to believe that there's animals falling out of the sky or that you are able to hold a horse! Because it is absurd, it is called an idiom.
Well, I'm not a native speaker, but nobody has answered your question so I'll take a guess. I'm guessing that they would add another word to clarify. You can get some examples of real world usage if you search for a phrase on http://www.linguee.es/ (it will give you some things that are relevant and a lot that are not, but it's the best way to do contextual analysis).
¿Cuántos años de experiencia tiene en la producción de café?
Which is translated by the site to this:
How many years have you been a coffee farmer?
But translated literally, it's this:
How many years of experience do you have in the production of coffee?
So I'm guessing that in the case of AA, they would ask how many years of sobriety, and in the case of prison, how many years of prison, etc. Or they might phrase it differently using past/future tense; I'm not sure.
EDIT: for sobriety, I think llevar is used more often than tener. Look at the usage here: http://www.linguee.es/espanol-ingles/search?source=auto=a%F1os+de+sobriedad
And if you go to Google translate and put in this:
¿Cuántos años de sobriedad tienes?
It comes out as this:
How many years of sobriety have?
But if you put in this:
¿Cuántos años de sobriedad llevas?
It comes out right:
How many years have you been sober?
I gave the answer "how many years do you have?" and it was marked incorrect. However I think it should have been correct in that it was the literal translation. If duolingo had some distinction of idiomatic expressions I might say otherwise, but everything so far seems to be literal so that was a surprise.
This comment should be on top and receive the most thumbs ups. I am using the mobile app so I cannot give any lingot. If I was on a PC I would have given you a lingot. But giving a lingot doesn't justify how much I liked this comment. It's one of the best ever I had on this site.
Just shows you how funny English actually is and flawed as well
I just downloaded this program for accent shortcuts: http://www.onehourprogramming.com/spanish-accents/ Highly recommended (windows)! Just press caps + your letter of choice for accented version. Finally a good use for CAPS!
On a Mac, precede a letter with option-e to add an accent. That is, ó is option-e followed by o. Precede n or N with option-n to add a tilde. Precede u with option-u to add an umlaut. Use option-? and option-1 to get upside down ¿ and ¡. Note that with question mark, you are also holding down shift as you usually do for question mark.
But we're not all here to learn literal translations of words. If you wanted to do that, you could just get a English-Spanish dictionary.
We are here to learn how to converse in Spanish. So you have to learn that when someone asks you "¿Cuántos años tienes?" they're asking how old you are, and not how many years you have left on a prison sentence or something like that.
This is such a tough sentence to translate from English into Spanish for the simple reason that the Spanish literal translation is "How many years have you or you have?" which is nothing at all like "How old are you?"! A classic case of really having to think about how the Spanish language would construct this sentence.
Just as a side note: many European languages (for example, French and Italian ) also have the exact same logic, as in Spanish, while others ( German) use the same structure as English . I think this has something to do with the origin of the language; if I have to guess all Latin/"Romance" languages would have the construction "how many years you have", while Germanic group languages will use the "how old are you".
Learning literal translations is important so you can understand the syntax and the logic behind the grammar. You don't get that from translated-as-intended like you do from translated-as-written. The fact that it offers "how old are you" as another acceptable answer bridges the gap of understanding between the message as written and as intended.
Because of a traditional mindset in language education that (1) the literal is almost always wrong and (2) that somehow the English-speaking mind cannot process the concept that age, fear and a host of other things can be conditions we have rather than things we are. This, even though virtually every other European language expresses things in this way.
I'd argue it's equally important to know both the literal and idiomatic meaning. That's how all the translation works...
You're not supposed to do either.
You're supposed to think about how this sentence would be constructed in Spanish, which bears no relationship whatsoever to the English sentence structure. Yes, English and Spanish grammar and sentence construction are quite different - understanding those differences is the key to translating backwards and forwards between them.
It is true that the "correct" answers switch between word-for-word translation and translation into "natural English", and this is certainly a case of that. As was stated, this is more of an idiom in Spanish but it conveys the same syntax. Maybe prefacing some of the idioms with slides explaining them before quizzing them would be a good change and help with some of the ire being generated by some of these questions.
It's really Spanish for "How old are you?" although I think it accepts a more literal translation. In your translation you miss out an essential word. To make it proper English, you would need to say "How many years do you have?".
But, as I said above, this isn't really the meaning.
So in this case we are to conclude that "How many years do you have?" references "How old are you?" ... Are we learning by assumption or are we logically translating as would a computer... A computer program would need to have a "fix" or "patch" for this phrase to make the output correct/acceptable.
Your translation is literal. However it is correct-ish only and not considered correct by Duo, because whenever you would ask "How old are you?" in English, a Spanish speaker would ask "¿Cuántos años tienes?" (tú - one person, informally), "¿Cuántos años tenéis?" (vosotros - multiple people, informally), "¿Cuántos años tiene?" (usted - one person, formally) or "¿Cuántos años tienen?" (ustedes - multiple people, formally). From all these possibilities "¿Cuántos años tienes?" is by far the most common. Some things can be translated literally, and they would make sense, but some cannot. Languages differ and we have to live with it. ;) Cheers.