Teaching and learning different language involves examining the strong cultures and traditions present in your mother tongue and the foreign language you are learning.
Though it’s not just me realising these things – students and colleagues at the Scuola Vivante gradually begin to notice them too. Even beyond false friends and comparable yet different systems of grammar; when I’m compiling lists of vocabulary in English related to students‘ work elsewhere, interesting differences in vocabulary and culture emerge.
Even simple mathematical terms such as der Geodreieck or der Deziliter denote concepts that are either difficult to explain, or else are socially redundant in English. Der Geodreieck denotes both a set square and a protractor contained within it. The latter is a translation of the decilitre – a unit of capacity used widely in Europe but not at all in the UK. This is to the UK’s move from imperial to metric measuring systems. The dl measurement was not considered useful, and millilitres (ml) were adopted instead. Even our search for a good English translation of the verb tüfteln for the Brütwerk made us realise that the culture contained in certain words cannot easily be translated.
These examples may sound trivial, though when children are in the first stages of learning a second or third language, they will inevitably look for equivalents and translations in their own language and culture. But understanding at the earliest stage possible that language and culture are rarely directly transferable is a significant realisation that will enable them to avoid misunderstandings and frustrations later.