North Texas Daily

Lost in translation

Lost in translation

February 23
11:00 2018

“You are clear that if you want to exit with a dog you will have to mentalize you maybe cannot trust him.”

I know, that sentence was very confusing. Let’s try this again:

“You need to know that if you go out with a player, you may never trust him.”

Okay, way better.

If you are wondering what you just read, I was translating word-by-word what I wanted to say in English from my native language, Spanish. Then, I did it with the logical translation of the phrase, and it made more sense.

These translations are not something that just happens naturally, though. Newly-arrived students from all over the world come to UNT and to all parts of the United States for college. But before all the magical college experiences can happen, there is a required course called the English as a Second Language (ESL), which prepares international students to speak English fluently and at a university level.

At UNT, this program is called IELI (Intensive English Language Institute), and it teaches you how to write papers, how to give presentations, how to read long, complex texts and how to use proper English.

It’s a very efficient program, but there is one thing they don’t teach you: how to socialize with your future American friends.

By socializing, I don’t mean talking to your teacher or sending formal emails. All that is covered. I mean actually hanging out with someone in their 20s and developing a connection.

I can tell you that learning English is tricky, but just knowing the right sentence structure does not get you friends here at our beloved UNT. Or in any social environment, for that matter.

What really makes you connect with others is using the American slang, as cliche as that may sound.

Something about about speaking in a youthful, casual speech makes you have a better interaction with someone, and it creates a sense of comfort, rather like sounding like a talking textbook.

There are so many words that may mean something, but are used in different contexts. For example, the expression “it’s lit.” I made some mistakes with this phrase.

The first few months I started living here, the word “lit” was trending. The first time I heard it was in a conversation with an American student, and I was telling her about a crazy party I went to. Then, she said, “Oh my god! That’s so lit.”

I automatically turned around and started looking everywhere to see if something was lit on fire. I, obviously, got it wrong. I had to look up the definition on Urban Dictionary, which defines “lit” as “exciting, fun, turnt, pumped-up or overly excited.” I guess that made more sense.

That being said, it is very important to understand how slang works so that if someone asks you to “Netflix and chill,” you don’t think it means to watch Netflix and be cold.

It may not seem like a big deal, but for a newly arrived immigrant, it is important to be aware of the different meanings of words, not only the ones in the formal dictionary. The informal English venacular is always evolving, and social media is a great medium to keep up with its changes. 

Translating everything in your head before you speak is difficult, but it’s not this way forever. Reading, writing and even watching shows in English helps a lot. However, socializing with native speakers is the best way to conquer any language.

Featured Image: Illustration by Gabby Evans

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Oriana Valderrama

Oriana Valderrama

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