Reading the signs…

August 29, 2011 by 7 Comments

I’ve beenMultilingual sign on a train in Poland in Poland for three weeks now already.  Just under a week left and I will be back on the road…

Learning a language in-country is a luxury and it is not always an option.  It is still possible to study a language successfully to a high level without going abroad.  We live in an age where technology has dramatically changed the way we can learn and interract with each other.

In-country there are many bonuses to learning a language well and at an accelerated rate…if you read the signs.

How do you read the signs?

Well it is what it says on the tin.  You should be aiming to notice the language in everything you do as you go about your daily business.  Shopping, walking down the streets and listening to snippets of conversation on the way.  You can practice a wealth of vocabulary and grammatical structures this way, without even thinking about it.

Combining this with active study is most effective.  Language, regardless of what some might say, does not go in just by osmosis.  If you want to learn a language well, you need to make some effort too.  Well…unless you have a very long time to live amongst very patient native speakers…or if you have some kind of E.T. ability.  😉

Making the most of reading the signs…

When you hear or see something in your target language that you don’t understand, try to imagine what it could mean.  Then, find out the meaning in a dictionary or ask someone, if possible.  Look in the dictionary at the words connected to it aswell. Usually they appear around the entry for that word. This is a good way of raising your understanding and awareness of the language.

Reading the subtitles…

Subtitles can be a great way to pick up on language structures and vocabulary.  It also gives you a look into what the language can do to express ideas you might know in English.  Sometimes direct translations are not possible, so look out for translators compensating for translation loss.  This is where a translator adds in clever linguistic features into the target language, not present in the original.  This is done to make up for other idioms, allusions and the like in the original that could not be translated so well.

The other great thing about subtitles is that they appear on most DVDs nowadays and you can change between languages easily.  Just check the back of the DVD case to see which languages are available.
Spotting colloquialisms and mistakes…

Common mistakes in film translations I have seen are usually in figures.  There are also often words in English that might sound similar but the wrong sense is given in the translation.  This happens in translations of book too.  Spotting them is intectually rewarding, albeit a little geeky.

Reading the free stuff…US film titles in Polish

You may also see translations of signs, so you can compare languages.  You might look at other notices and flyers too.  My personal favourite is seeing how film titles are translated when I go to the cinema.  It can be a good talking point with natives to see why a certain title might have been changed.  The film “Bad Teacher” is called “Zła Kobieta” in Polish, which means “Bad Woman”.  My Polish friends could not explain why the word changed in translation.  Other translations, like “Geneza Planety Małp” (the genesis of the planet of the apes) make more sense to me.

Have you seen any weird film titles or translations?  Send your examples to me and I will include some of them in a future post.

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This post was written by Richard


  • ZŁA KOBIETA says:

    Gdzie jest video po polsku?! Zostały tylko 3 dni.
    weird translations : Dirty Dancing = Wirujący seks

  • Seb says:

    Many movies in Poland are translated differently. I wonder why they don’t translate them literally (sometimes the title is too long or too strange when translated literally, but I think they overuse it anyway), I’ll give you some examples:

    Liberator – Under Siege

    Prowokacja – Today You Die

    Mroczna dzielnica – Exit Wounds

    and you can find a lot more

    Waiting for video from Poland 🙂 I watched your video where you speak 16 languages. It’s amazing and I wonder how you did it. I also like to learn foreign languages. Cheers!

  • Šimi says:

    Yeah right, many movies got different names and it’s quite common in here. F.e. Flying Virus was translated as Panika (Panic).

  • Šimi says:

    Oops I’ve almost forgotten this one: I’ve always had trouble to tell which movie was Smrtonosná zbraň (Lethal Weapon) and Smrtonosná past (Die Hard, but literally Lethal trap) starring Bruce Willis. One more: Klub rváčů (Fight Club) and Klub sráčů (Kevin and Perry Go Large, but literally ( F..kers Club). Not to mention I didn’t get a joke in some of the nicepeter’s latest video : “I’ll chop you into 4 black dudes and re-make Cool Runnings.” Because Cool Runnings were aired as Kokosy na sněhu ( Coconuts on the snow). Funny and I’m looking forward to read some more weird translations. Good luck with your Polish studies.

  • Michael says:

    In the French speaking world, the movie “The Other Boleyn Girl” is called “Two sisters for a king”

  • Polksa_Bialo_czerwoni says:

    I think “zla nauczycielka” would sound in Polish as “incompetent teacher”, the term zla kobieta, does not have such connotations.
    I believe it could be the reason.

    • Agnieszka says:

      Additionally, “zła kobieta” brings to mind a quotation from the once (in)famous movie entitled “Psy”- the quotation goes “bo to zła kobieta była”; now an expression sometimes used in a joking manner.

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