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    Words that don't translate well

    I have a student who is very intelligent and is able to memorize large quantities of material. However, she is not able to fully understand what she memorizes because of the language differences. She is from Vietnam. There are words she doesn't understand--like alley, curb, divert, etc. For example, she was studying the nervous system and couldn't understand the "fight or flight" concept. When she translates flight, she understands the word to mean a bird flying or an airplane in flight.
    My question is this--is there a book I can get that would list a lot of vocabulary words that are difficult to understand when translated?
    I would like to be able to help her and others like her. Apparently this is a big problem with ESL students.

    Thank you.

  1. Mister Micawber's Avatar
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      • United States
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    • Join Date: Sep 2004
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    Re: Words that don't translate well

    I've never seen one. Words difficult to translate vary with the language and the student. I am sure that your student's dictionary, for instance, lists several meanings for flight-- the usual problem is that the student does not know how his/her dictionary works, pulls out the first definition in the entry, and has done with it.

    The student must learn how the dictionary was constructed (most common meaning first? concrete meaning first? oldest/newest meaning first?) and be aware that bilingual dictionaries must abbreviate some definitions and omit others. Some of the sloppier Jp-Eh dictionaries, for instance, have taken only the first couple of several definitions in a comprehensive Oxford or Webster's English dictionary-- and ended up with only the archaic definitions!

    Frankly, I see nothing particularly intrinsically difficult about the concepts of alley, curb, divert or flight-- all could be adequately defined in a terse, simple phrase-- irrespective of the language. You need to work with the students and their dictionaries until they can make efficient use of them. Good lord, some of my students are unaware of the IPA or the abbreviations for the parts of speech in an entry; they are unaware that they must look up the bare infinitive form of a verb; they have difficulty identifying the keywords of idioms, etc.

    And above all, they need to be aware of context-- that the definition they have selected simply makes no sense in that sentence. It continues to amaze me how rational, intelligent students can expect logic in their own language, but seem to presume that English or another foreign language, when they come to translate, has none.

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