Control your mind is a section in my free mini-course, Tips to Speak English Confidently.
A long time ago, European monarchs spoke many different tongues. Elizabeth I is known to have been proficient in many languages. All the websites say something different, but most of them say that she spoke English, Latin, French, Spanish, Greek. Other sources also list Italian, Welsh, and Flemish.
In any case, the point is that she would have been able to use an expression, or say something in whichever language best suited the purpose. The more languages you speak, the more ways you have of thinking and reacting to situations. Your repertoire of expression is larger. The way you see the world changes.
I see this a lot in my own life. With my family, I speak English and a dialect of Chinese. My sisters and I all have English as our first language. But even if we are able to express anything we want in English, we still have another culture inside of us, a whole other repertoire of expression! We have words in our dialect that you can’t translate to English. We can try to explain them, but it just doesn’t sound the same.
So, when I talk with my sisters, we’ll just drop the occasional Chinese word in when we are speaking English. It saves time and feels much more meaningful.
Similarly, there are things in your native language that are not easily translated into English. In English, we could probably express the same idea, but we won’t say it the same way. Instead of translating word for word, it’s better to translate an entire expression.
French: C’était la goutte de trop. / qui fait déborder le vase.
English: It was the last straw. / the straw that broke the camel’s back.
I know this is an extreme example. But it shows that the exact same meaning is expressed using two different expressions that if translated word for word, can still be understood, but don’t sound idiomatic.
So if you don’t know the exact expression to use, how THE HECK are you supposed to “translate” it?
You could try. For example if you said, “It was the drop that made the vase overflow”, that mental image would be enough for English speakers to understand your meaning, even if we don’t say that. Artistic and creative people in particular might really like you because you conjure up new images in their minds, and give them a new way to see things.
The ultimate goal is to build your reflex. When something happens, you have an automatic response, and there is no need for translation, which can sometimes cause more confusion.
So how do you do that? Listening makes you a better speaker. This takes a lot of time and effort, but who said mastering a language was easy?
Your homework is to watch or listen regularly to something in English (choose something with a lot of conversation), and listen for common expressions. Your goal is to understand how they are used in context. They could be the same, or completely different from your native language. The more you listen, the more your brain will know where to put what.
You will know you’re on the right track when your brain automatically reacts for you in English.
Another example from my own life:
A friend sent me a photo of a new tea that they purchased. The flavour was called “Sugar cookie sleigh ride.” Bizarre, but interesting right? So I asked, “Have you tried it?” and the response was, “Yeah, it’s pretty good!”
Tant mieux, I thought. But instead I awkwardly said, “That’s good!”
The English unfortunately, doesn’t sound as good as the French. If my friend also knew French, I likely would have used the French.
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