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Language TED Translators

Learning_a_languageBy Krystian Aparta

They say that children learn languages the best. But that doesn’t mean that adults should give up. We asked some of the polyglots in TED’s Open Translation Project to share their secrets to mastering a foreign language. Their best strategies distill into seven basic principles:

  1. Make new friends. Interacting in the new language is key — it will teach you to intuitively express your thoughts, instead of mentally translating each sentence before you say it. Find native speakers near you. Or search for foreign penpals or set up a language tandem online, where two volunteers help one another practice their respective languages.
  2. Do not worry about making mistakes. One of the most common barriers to conversing in a new language is the fear of making mistakes. But native speakers are like doting parents: any attempt from you to communicate in their language is objective proof that you are a gifted genius. They’ll appreciate your effort and even help you. Nervous about holding a conversation with a peer? Try testing your language skills with someone a little younger. “I was stoked when I was chatting with an Italian toddler and realized we had the same level of Italian,” recalls German translator Judith Matz. And be patient. The more you speak, the closer you’ll get to the elusive ideal of “native-like fluency.” And to talking to people your own age.

What’s funny in one language isn’t necessarily funny in another. Maysoon Zayid’s “I got 99 problems … palsy is just one” presented many challenges for TED translators bringing the hilarious talk into their language. As she tells stories from her life as a Palestinian-American comedian with cerebral palsy, Zayid cracks with wordplay. For translators, it’s ]

“In this place, you can connect to people that have been drawn apart for years by nationalists and the war. You can put them together in the same room and … people are talking about the greater good.” This quote was recorded at the first regional Open Translation Project workshop held in Novi Sad, Serbia, ]

  • comedian

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  • Conferences

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  • English-language films

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  • Films

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  • Judith Matz

    Bernadette commented on Nov 5 2014

    I’m learning Korean, and I found that just watching Korean drama (with subtitles) and listening to Korean music really helps. I don’t know the letter names to each of the letters of the Korean alphabet, but I do know how to write each letter, and what they sound like. I almost gave up learning the alphabet (hangeul) because it was difficult for me. Then, one day, I printed out the lyrics (from one source who provided all three: Korean, the romanization, and the English translation). I played the song (Crooked, by G-Dragon) on a loop as I copied down the Korean lyrics and trying to sing along to it the best I could. By the time I was done copying down the entire song, I realized that I knew how all of the letters sounded and were written.

  • kifield commented on Nov 4 2014

    Great advice in this one! I employed many of these principals in learning Spanish but I must say that by far the best thing you can do to learn is to fully immerse yourself in the language, go somewhere and make sure you are forced to speak it, then employ many of the tips stated here, especially chatting with those younger than you! Amazing way to learn, their vocabulary is simpler and they speak slower, perfect for someone who is learning!

    That said, I understand we do not all have the luxury of time and money for travelling to your language of choice for said immersion so employ these tips whenever possible…. a personal favourite of mine, used more than I should probably admit… ha… this -> “live-narrate parts of your day to an imaginary foreign friend.”

  • Krystian Aparta

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  • language tandem online

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  • Maysoon Zayid

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  • Rana Muhammad Waqas

    emily’s thoughts commented on Nov 4 2014