Google Translate

I use Google Translate in my work, and like to introduce it to advanced English students who need to do translation at work. But you need to study very closely what this great tool does and doesn’t do. Based on the World Wide Web, Google Translate is really quite helpful for suggesting collocations (word partnerships) and colligations (grammar structures following given words), such as, in the example below,

  • adverbs after verbs, e.g. “think independently”
  • gerunds after prepositions, e.g. “without losing sight” or “dynamic way of doing”

But you naturally need to rearrange and adjust the various parts of speech, since German sentence structure is so different. I’ve highlighted the corresponding sections in the slide you see below. Also, German abstract terms carry meanings not transported in the more common sense English translation, and therefore need to be extended:

  • Unternehmer ist er weniger im Sinne … sondern …
  • His entrepreneurial qualities lie less in … than …

Note that when you use Google Translate, you can mouse over to view and select additional suggested translations. The more reference material goes in, the better Google Translate gets. So have a look:

German: In Max Mustermann begegnet man dem fast klassisch zu nennenden Vertriebsmann, der ausgeprägte Macherqualitäten besitzt und unabhängig denkt und handelt. Unternehmer ist er weniger im Sinne eines ganzheitlich denkenden und sorgfältig analysierenden Managers, sondern eher in Hinblick auf seine zupackende und dynamische Art, die Dinge anzugehen und umzusetzen, ohne jemals das Ziel und das gewünschte Ergebnis aus den Augen zu verlieren.

Google Translate: In Joe Blow, one encounters the most classic to be mentioned salesman who has distinctive makers qualities and thinks and acts independently. Entrepreneur, he is less in terms of a holistic thinking and carefully analyzed manager, but rather in terms of their purposeful and dynamic way of doing things and implement without ever losing sight of the target and the desired result in mind.

Improved: Joe Blow has many of the distinctive qualities of the classic salesman, a man of action who thinks and acts independently. His entrepreneurial qualities as a manager lie less in holistic thinking and careful analysis than in his purposeful and dynamic way of approaching and implementing things without ever losing sight of the target and the desired result.


Marlee Matlin and Jack Jason

An article by Nataly Kelly landed in my intray, and it was interesting to follow up: Jack Jason is actress Marlee Matlin‘s interpreter. Watch them interact here: Do you notice the places where she “says” nothing, but gives us this look, this fabulous body language, this space where we infer and bond and relate, and he puts that non-verbal communication into phrases marvellously, filling in the blanks, repeating what is already understood, adding warmth and stress and intonation… the way we do when we’re doing it well? With phrases like: “Guess what, girl:” “You know? I did. I really did. I had that opportunity.” What he’s doing here is definitely worth noting for learners of English. In this case, particularly female ones, though. A man interpreting a woman. He connects and accomodates just like a woman.  (Communication Accomodation Theory on Wikipedia) Do you forget that you’re hearing a man’s voice when she speaks, is it just her voice? Or are you hearing a man sounding like a woman?

Tangent time. Thinking about what this means for me when I teach men: I sound like a woman, I minimize differences between us, I converge as a part of building rapport. Do they use any aspects of my language as a model? I can’t really see that at all. If they did model anything on me, they would have to correct out the “female factor”, right? But I’d probably notice that, wouldn’t I, because I don’t really see how a learner would do that without sounding really weird. It’s more likely that they don’t apply any model of accommodation based on phrases at all. It’s far more essential than that, closer to Noam Chomsky’s universal grammar, “an innate set of linguistic principles shared by all humans”, so that the way anyone, including a learner of English, will accomodate another can only come out of a lifetime of practice, using multiskills honed in real interaction.

I’m buying into Merrill Swain’s concept of “comprehensible output“. This says that when a learner encounters a gap when speaking English, he or she becomes aware of it, and this leads him or her to want/try to modify it, providing the imulse to learn something new about the language. So there is clearly still a place to teach those phrases on an on-demand basis.

PS: Unfortunately the video has been made private. Here’s an alternative that shows the two interacting – if not quite as eloquently:

Marlene Dietrich: Falling in Love again – Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuss

Marlene in English and German and then again in English, great German accent; followed by Caroline Nin singing franco-anglo-tinged German.

(Friedrich Holländer)
Marlene Dietrich

Ein rätselhafter Schimmer,
Ein “je ne sais-pas-quoi”
Liegt in den Augen immer
Bei einer schönen Frau.
Doch wenn sich meine Augen
Bei einem vis-à-vis
Ganz tief in seine saugen
Was sprechen dann sie?:

Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuß
Auf Liebe eingestellt,
Denn das ist meine Welt.
Und sonst gar nichts.
Das ist, was soll ich machen,
Meine Natur,
Ich kann halt lieben nur
Und sonst gar nichts.

Männer umschwirr’n mich,
Wie Motten um das Licht.
Und wenn sie verbrennen,
Ja dafür kann ich nicht.
Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuß
Auf Liebe eingestellt,
Ich kann halt lieben nur
Und sonst gar nichts.

Was bebt in meinen Händen,
In ihrem heißen Druck?
Sie möchten sich verschwenden
Sie haben nie genug.
Ihr werdet mir verzeihen,
Ihr müßt’ es halt versteh’n,
Es lockt mich stets von neuem.
Ich find’ es so schön!

Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuß
Auf Liebe eingestellt,
Denn das ist meine Welt,
Und sonst gar nichts.
Das ist, was soll ich machen,
Meine Natur,
Ich kann halt lieben nur
Und sonst gar nichts.

Männer umschwirr’n mich,
Wie Motten um das Licht.
Und wenn sie verbrennen,
Ja dafür kann ich nichts.
Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuß
Auf Liebe eingestellt,
Ich kann halt lieben nur
Und sonst gar nichts.

(Frederick Hollander / Sammy Lerner)

Falling in love again
Never wanted to
What am I to do?
Can’t help it

Love’s always been my game
Play it as I may
I was born that way
Can’t help it

Men flock around me
Like moths around a flame
And if their wings burn
I know I’m not to blame

Falling in love again
Never wanted to
What am I to do?
Can’t help it

Love’s always been my game
Play it as I may
I was born that way
Can’t help it

Men flock around me
Like moths around a flame
And if their wings burn
I know I’m not to blame

Also recorded by:
The Beatles; Diahann Carrol; Chas & Dave; Petula Clark;
Rosemary Clooney; Sammy Davis Jr.; Doris Day; Roy Eldridge;
Marianne Faithful; Brian Ferry; Crystal Gayle;
Benny Goodman; Billie Holiday; Nana Mouskouri;
André Prévin; Alan Price; Linda Ronstadt; Nina Simone;
Jo Stafford; The Three Degrees; Don Williams; … and others.

Samuel L. Jackson reads “Go the F*ck to Sleep”

Samuel L. Jackson reads the book “Go the F*ck to Sleep” by Adam Mansbach.

Not in my parents’ generation, and not among some of my brothers’ families, but I do think “what the f*ck” and other similar phrases using “the fuck” as an intensifier are very prevalent indeed even in everyday family talk. I had an interesting conversation with a housemate here in Potsdam last week who said our next-door neighbors, who are from the States and have a great big yard, so we get an earful of their life through the garden fence, yell at each other a lot and use expletives. My response was, well, I frankly hadn’t noticed, but yes, that just might happen among American couples, sure. It’s sort of like saying “verdammt” in German, except of course nobody says that. Every region here in Germany has its own colorful language. Take Bavaria – and take the Schimpfwörter-Quiz.

But Mansbach’s book has in fact been translated into German by Jo Lendle, and the title translation is perfect: “Verdammte Sch*e, schlaf ein!” It’s sparked controversy among German parents, as summarized in the Atlantic Wire (with sample translations.)

Would I teach the various uses of “the f*ck”? We’ve discussed this before, but I’m revisiting the issue.  In my EFL classes, the most popular phrase, WTF, is generally acquired correctly anyway and learners won’t really have much occasion to use the other phrases until they are deeply enculturated and using them would be appropriate, by which time they’ll be acquired. I generally react to the way learners use language in class, so of course if students used incorrect phrases like “I’m not going to the f*ck do this!” I would correct to “I’m not the f*ck going to do this”, to get at least the grammar cleared up. LOL. But learners don’t, you see, so I haven’t! Thinking through acquisition and learning, I get the sense that even a long chunk like “Where the f*ck do you think you’re going (e.g. with my bicycle)?” will be acquired seemlessly if the affective filter is low enough. So the chunk will be acquired, but its appropriacy – who thinks what is ok, and where and when – must be taught. So, yes, “the f*ck” should most definitely be a part of the curriculum.

Putting this stuff out there is what blogs and Moodles are for! Many thanks to Eamonn for posting the link.

PS: Ash just posted that an Englishman would say “go to f’cking sleep.” Really? Not “Will you f*cking go to sleep”?

Kleiner, uralter Gott – Ancient little god

In a week we’ll be burying my mother’s ashes on Drummond. We’ve decided to read some of her poems, with a translation into English. She published a volume of them in the Wilhelm Andermann Verlag in Vienna in 1944 when she was 21; a miracle, since paper was so rare towards the end of the war. Her friend Stefan Hlawa provided the cover illustration.

A note on translation: With this particular poem I found you really do have to change the sequence of adjectives in English. I also found it interesting to consider the different meanings of “little” and “klein” (descriptive, diminutive, romantic/endearing…) In German, for example, Little Red Riding Hood is simply Rotkäpchen. I briefly considered writing “Tiny ancient god“. Or “Little, ancient god“, after all? Still thinking it over.

My brother Chris first introduced me to the poem when he gave me these, from a cycle he drew in the ’70s, pastels and wash on paper:

Christoph Hodgson: Kleiner uralter Gott Zyklus

Kleiner, uralter Gott meines Herzens
Getrud Berninger

Kleiner, uralter Gott meines Herzens,
der lächelt,
wenn schon die steigenden Tränen
den Schmerz bespülen.

Zärtlicher kleiner Gott ohne Namen,
ohne Gesicht,
tausendjähriger, süßer Samen
des Frühlings,

in mich vergraben, untergetaucht,
schweigend und gut,
wenn schon die Trauer der Reife
jäh überströmt.

Guter, kleiner, geliebter Gott,
einsam und dunkel wie meine Träume,
die dich verschweigen,

kleiner, uralter Gott meines Herzens.

Ancient little god of my heart

Ancient little god of my heart,
even as tears rise
to wash over my pain

Tender little god, without a name
without a face,
sweet millennial seed
of spring,

hidden deep down inside me,
silent and good,
even as suddenly the sorrow of maturity

Good little beloved god,
my own,
solitary and dark as my dreams
that conceal you,

ancient little god of my heart.

Second graders

Joan sent me a presentation with quotes from German second graders. Most of them are mondegreens that won’t work in English, but I’ve translated some of the others into English for fun:

  • Garden gnomes have red hats so they don’t get mowed down.
  • Men can’t get married to men because then who would wear the wedding dress?
  • Life insurance is the money you get if you survive a fatal accident.
  • Daddy won the prize for best rabbit at the animal show.
  • My parents buy the grey toilet paper because it’s already been used, and that’s good for the environment.
  • Adopting is actually better. Then parents get to choose their own kids and don’t have to take what they get.
  • Adam and Eve lived in Paris.
  • During the week God lives in Heaven. On Sunday he goes to church.
  • The northern and the southern hemispheres turn in opposite directions.
  • Cows have to walk slowly so they don’t spill their milk.
  • Worms can’t bite because they’ve got tails at both ends.
  • A peach is like an apple with a rug on it.
  • If you eat mad cows, you’ll get ISDN.
  • Fishsticks are long dead. They can’t swim.
  • I haven’t been baptized, but I’ve been vaccinated.
  • When people stopped being monkeys, they became Egyptians.
  • The train came to a grinding halt and the passengers emptied themselves onto the platform.
  • The whole world listened when Luther posted his 95 prostheses on the door of the church in Wittenberg.
  • Spring is the first of the seasons. In spring chickens lay eggs and farmers lay potatoes.
  • A circle is a round square.
  • The Earth turns 365 days a year. Every four years the year takes an extra day to finish, and that just happens to be in February. I don’t know why that is. Maybe it’s because it’s so cold in February, which makes it a little harder.
  • The pig is one of the most useful animals there is. You can use everything from the pig, all of it front to back for meat, its hide for leather, its bristles for brushes, and its name for a bad word.

German originals: “Erkenntnisse aus Schulaufsätzen” on

The bare necessities

The students at the biotech company I teach at work veeeery hard, and I’m just translating a study on biotechnology and pharmaceuticals in Munich that is super interesting, so you’d think that’s what we’ll be discussing next lesson, right? Wrong. There was a request, you see, to compare the German and the English text of the Walt Disney classic, The Jungle Book. Some of the questions will be: Why did the writers change the text? How different is it in meaning? Can you translate the German text back into English? Rhythmic choral reading and a short dictation will be a part of the lesson, too. Looking forward to it! (Handout with lyrics: the-bare-necessities)

Probier’s mal mit Gemütlichkeit

The bare necessities (Phil Harris, Bruce Reitherman)

englischlernen mit liedern :-) learning english with songs