The approach to language learning can be uninspiring and lust-less. You can really only begin to learn the magics of a language once you step out of the classroom and into the eyes & heart of the country.
I began thinking about this post by researching endless facts and figures, but then it hit me; would recycling these statistics genuinely reach people, or encourage them to learn? Heck no! I write to express my views, to inspire, and to lose myself again and again in new expressions and words. As I am writing this to the beat of one of my favourite Spanish songs, La Cintura, I do know that language has so much more to give than you may realise. It is not the vocabulary sets you learn week after week, nor the repetition of vowel sounds, but the heart and soul of a country. It’s identity, character and emotion that can reach people in such diverse ways.
Even if you go away from this post with a slight spirit of inquiry, I will have succeeded. Learning a language doesn’t just equate to a long list of vocabulary to learn, but an eagerness to discover and a sense of curiosity that could take you down a road of unlimited possibilities. You will be gathered with friends eating food and drinking wine as you lose track of time during a sobremesa* before you know it.
(*A Spanish term for the action of gathering with close friends and family for a meal. It refers to the whole experience of laughing, chatting whilst sharing food that we lose track of time in great company. In Latin cultures , this is a common practice.)
What I fall in love with over and over again, is the passion that we can express through our words, or indescribable moments such as a sobremesa that each person feels in their own way. Think back to a situation where you were not just happy, but euphoric! Or the time you weren’t just comfortable, but contently snug as a bug! Even in English, we use our metaphors, synonyms or expressions every day without question to add that important dose of spirit and personality. It can be what defines us, and through language, these emotions and daily pleasures can be experienced by others as well.
In this way, language can be whatever you want it to be. Below, take a look at the list of words that have no direct translation into English. Even by learning these, you have already immersed yourself in a different way of thinking! Easy right?! I have read various interpretations of these words and then described them as best as I could in how they make me feel. Therefore, take what you want from my descriptions, and let your imagination run wild!
Saudade in Portuguese
was once described as ‘the love that remains’, which I think is beautiful. It can symbolise the feeling of missing something or someone with bittersweetness as even though they have physically left, emotionally they are still there.
Hyggelig in Swedish
This has become more well-known recently. It describes a cosy winters evening at home with candles flickering, or an open fire crackling that leaves us feeling warm and content. Add to this what you wish; whether it is a good book or good company to unwind with.
Jays in Indonesian
This is such a highly relatable phrase, that it made me laugh (ironically) because it is a word to express when a joke is so poorly executed, that it becomes funny and you can’t help yourself but laugh. These moments are sometimes the ones in which humour can be shared with everyone.
Komorebi in Japanese
This is the word that represents the sunlight that filters through the treetops, flickering softly. It serves as a great example of how certain words cannot have a direct translation to another word. For example, In English, this action is not associated with our climate or weather and therefore a word is not needed.
Abiocco in Italian
The closest translation would be a ‘food-coma’(which we can all associate with). Yet this word refers to feeling happily full from good wine and homemade fresh food. The kind that you go to your Grandma’s for, or don’t regret eating too much of.
Flâner in French
This word is a gift to us from the French language. It is a word for wandering the streets with no specific direction or goal, yet to just appreciate your surroundings. In a world where we are all rushing from A to B, with our faces glued to our screens, perhaps the art of flâner will allow us to slow down and look up once in a while.
Sisu in Finnish
The Finnish concept of sisu represents resilience, determination and persistence to keep going — in other words, what we have all demonstrated by making it through the year or 2020!
Mamihlapinatapai in the Yaghan Language of Tierra del Fuego
Known as one of the most difficult words to translate; it refers to a moment when two people look at one another and communicate, without words, their desire for the other person to initiate something or offer something they desire, but neither are willing to do so — leaving them in a state of seemingly perpetual limbo.
Lagom in Swedish
A little of this, a little of that – lagom teaches us about the principles of balance and moderation in all aspects of our lives. From what we eat, what we consume and what we buy, lagom can help teach us about sustainability, mindfulness and to avoid anything in excess.
These are just some examples to demonstrate how language can be a powerful tool to inspire, connect and bring us closer to one another.