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Sunday, March 16, 2014

Fluency Confusion

whoever makes movies and tv shows never had to learn a new language

21 comments:

  1. I laughed out loud at this one. I was particularly thinking about future tenses this morning as I was trying to figure out exactly the way to translate a song lyric - "et nous serons vivant sur une terre paradis". (I prefer "will be living" over "will live" for accuracy...)

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  2. Hahaha fluent at grammar but sucks with simple vocab. Only on tv.

    http://darjeelingwanderer.blogspot.com.au/

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  3. Actually, the tense exists in French and conjugation is way simpler in English, so it could make some kind of sense that the Frenchman gets the conjugation right and but the same time lacks vocabulary...

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    1. I used the future perfect as an example because a German friend of mine cited it as a particularly complex English tense, but now that you mention it, German doesn't have anything like it, so perhaps you're totally right!

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    2. But in german you could use ", dass wir nächsten Monat seit zwei Jahren zusammen gewesen sind?"
      But it's really uncommon.

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    3. "... zusammen gewesen sein werden"?

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    4. It is uncommon in German, but this tense is really common in Serbian. Actually I only learned to use that tense correctly in Serbian when I realised it's that uncommon tense in German.

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  4. I fail to see the problem with not remembering the word "waiter". According to Project Gutenberg (http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Wiktionary:Frequency_lists/PG/2006/04/1-10000), the word ranks as the 6221th most commonly used word in English.

    Although not too uncommon, the word does not seem to deserve too much priority; I wouldn't call it "simple vocab". I'm fairly sure the future perfect is a more useful concept than "waiter" is.

    (I am, however, surprised that he could not summon the word "miss" despite knowing "I will miss you" is a common expression. Moreover, he could have just shut up until he remembered the word instead of voicing his ineptitude.)

    As an anecdote, I remember somebody once say something like "People often think they're good at English, yet cannot translate simple words like 'dustpan' or 'kale'."
    (Note: this sentence was originally written in Dutch, "people" referred to Dutch people.)

    Thing is, neither "dustpan" nor "kale" are remotely common words. Neither of them even show up on the 10,000 most commonly used words in English according to Project Gutenberg. According to Wolfram|Alpha, they've respectively got a frequency of ~300 per billion and ~90 per billion. For comparison, the 10000th most commonly used word has a frequency of ~3900 per billion.

    If you think about it, how often would "dustpan" get used outside of your own household? How often would a book or movie actually contain a scene involving a dustpan? Even if such a scene exists, the characters will most likely just say "clean it up" instead of "use a dustpan".

    Just because words may sound common to you does not mean they actually are common.

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    1. Good point. I did not search the Project Gutenberg database of words when I wrote this comic, I simply tried to find a word that seemed common enough, but wasn't already practically the same in French (like "policeman" or "doctor").

      Counter-point: "waiter" may not be a common word, but if it's his job, it's probably one of the first ones he would have learned. Usually we learn the words about our professions when we're learning how old we are and what time it is. The joke being, to beat a dead horse here, that the writer of the show is not aware of when you learn which vocabulary or verb tenses, as he or she has never learned a language.

      Additional point: it's not a "problem," it's a joke!

      But thanks for bringing it up, I didn't even know there WAS a list of English words by common usage...

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    2. It's worth considering the source of frequency lists. The one Anonymous links to is compiled from Project Gutenberg, which digitizes out-of-copyright books (mainly those published before 1923). So that list reflects not current spoken language, but a skewed sample of literary language, mainly from at least several decades ago. Literary language doesn't mirror spoken language, especially in older works, which seldom attempted realistic dialogue. So if you look at that list you will find that "cellphone" is not in the top 10000 words, but "thou" comes in at #236, which apparently means it's more common than "want", "light", and "water".

      Determining most common words in everyday spoken language is a hard job: when I was studying linguistics, I remember coming across a corpus assembled from business phone calls, but even these are very different from informal speech. To take an obvious example, swear words are under-represented in most corpora compared to their prevalence in actual spoken language.

      Also, I agree entirely that the word for your own job is likely to be a pretty early acquisition for any language learner. Sorry to join in the merciless dissection of a good joke, but I hate to see a lazy nitpick go unchallenged :-).

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    3. Actually, as someone who is currently learning a new language and has at least tried to learn a couple because I hate to be speechless even if I'm only going to be in a country for a week or so - "waiter" is one of the first words you'd learn. At least in adult language education books going to the restaurant and ordering/asking the waiter for the bill is usually one of the first 3 lessons. So, even if the word is not ranked as very common it's still one of the first ones you learn. It's not true if you learn a language as a kid in school because in school books the stories usually center around school life but in language books for adult learners it's a pretty sure bet you'll have encountered a restaurant story by lesson 3.

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  6. On tvtropes, this phenomenon is known as "Poirot Speak":

    I remember, as a kid, finding it odd when he would offer some complex hypothesis in English and finish with, "Ne c'est pas, mon ami?" Guess he was trying to give the Englishmen beginners' lessons all the time.

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    1. Makes perfect sense. I recently read a Poirot mystery and I felt like he was doing that so as not to completely abandon his beloved French language...

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    2. Oh great, just got done binge reading these comics and now that you mentioned tvtropes I'll be probably reading them for the rest of the night.. I had things to do! *sigh*

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    3. You're doing the right thing, Stu. Stu always does the right thing.

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  7. Sounds logical and probably true for most people, but to be honest, it's actually a problem I have. I use lots of different tenses, the gerund, condizionale and congiuntivo, (in Italian at the moment, as this is my latest begun language) but can't remember easiest words like "to learn" or whatever...

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  8. Good blog and fluency confusion is indeed wonderful experience for me!! I've enjoyed reading such awesome piece of post and looking forward to check out more like this. Thanks.

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  9. The plight of Frenchy D'France is actually a fairly accurate depiction of my experience with learning Spanish and I'm not sure what that says about me or my learning methods.

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