Let’s Make Love in English
Danny Singh, UK and Italy
Danny Singh, born and raised in London, but now based in Rome, gives creative English language lessons and teacher training courses all over Italy and abroad. He also offers stimulating monthly presentations on language related issues at Rome’s biggest international bookshop and is visible on web TV www.inmagicartwebtv.eu with a series of interactive English video lessons. He regularly attends Pilgrims TT summer courses as a Guest Speaker. Website: www.laughnlearn.net
Let’s make love in English
Another language, another character
Cock a doodle doo
Suffering pain in English
Laughing in English
Watching football in English
I looked at her longingly and said, Let’s make love in English! If I had simply said, Let’s make love, or even asked in a more polite form, Shall we make love?, the responses could have been quite varied. Yes of course! Why has it taken you so long to ask? What? How dare you! In your dreams, young man! OK, your place or mine? Can I bring a friend? I’m a married woman! Well actually, why not? What, here? Only if you let me touch your red nose. What, again?
As you can observe, I have had a lot of experience in making this suggestion. However, in this case, only one answer was possible and I knew it, even before I’d popped the question. That’s assuming you can call it a question, as it is really an imperative, although the recipient does have the right to
say no, without being considered strange.
Her response was predictable. In English? Yes, I reiterated, in English! Is there really a difference between making love in English and making love in Italian, Spanish or any other language, she asked? Of course, I replied! Let me show you! And I did!
I’m sure you all know people who say they speak French, Russian or Japanese, a language that you don’t know, but then when you hear them speak it, it seems as if you understand every word. In fact, it doesn’t appear to be Japanese at all, but their own mother tongue. They speak with the same mannerisms as when they speak their own language, their pronounced accent interfering with what should be the correct phonetics and it all sounds horribly wrong! Why is it, that you can understand what they are saying, when you know little or nothing of this language? Worse, why do they seem to be the same person as the one who confidently speaks his/her own language?
The reason as many of you already know, is that they are not really speaking the foreign language very well. When a person speaks another language, he/she changes character. A different part of that person is coming out and being revealed to the listener. If you speak another language well, you must sound like a different person. Your facial gestures and movements of lips, tongue, cheeks, jaw, eyes, teeth and even nose will be noticeably different.
My two main languages are English (of course) and Italian. There are several expressions that I use in Italian, which I deem to be untranslatable. Yes, someone including Google, will try to translate it, but it just doesn’t have the same effect. I know when to use these strange expressions, just by habit and experience. I don’t think about it. I just do it and I usually get it right. In many cases, even with a translation, we wouldn’t say that in English. It just doesn’t have any sense. This is true when using some English expressions too. There is just no comparable Italian expression in that situation. This argument is also valid when comparing other languages. This is the reason why in some conversations, someone will suddenly come up with an expression from another language, not necessarily to show off, but because it sums up what he/she really wants to say, better than any phrase in his/her own language would.
Primary school teachers all over the world know that each animal makes a different sound, depending on its nationality and where it lives. I am fairly certain that Italian dogs do not say, Woof Woof, while Norwegian sheep do not say, Baa, Baa. French hens definitely do not say, Cock a doodle doo. If you want a full list of animal sounds from all around the world, ask a primary school teacher. The point is, why do animals make different sounds, simply based on where they are located? Does it really matter anyway? I would say it doesn’t, but it may help to explain why in every country, the sounds we make, never mind the languages we speak, vary so much.
Pain is subjective. What is painful to one person, may not necessarily be so to another. There are varying degrees of pain too. Some people show it all the time, by the grimace on their face, the limp as they walk, or a deep sigh as they move any part of their anatomy. Others go through life, seemingly unaffected by how much pain they might have to suffer through physical illness, heartache, or watching their favourite team lose a match.
What is interesting however, are the sounds made as we suffer our pain. Take a small English child who suffers some physical pain. I’m not suggesting that you set this up as an experiment using kids as guinea pigs, otherwise, we’ll all get into trouble! If a small English child, or even a big English child suffers a moment of pain, the sound he/she makes will be, Ow or Ouch! This sound rhymes with cow, wow and how, or even ciao and miao, if you’re Italian. Compare this with an Italian child, who will make a completely different sound. Aia (pronounced AyeA). This rhymes with fire, hire and wire. Why is it that what should be a relatively similar form of pain elicits such different sounds?
It is said that we all laugh in the same language. That may be true up to a point, in that it is one of the most powerful methods of communication and goes beyond language, religious and cultural barriers. However, as with pain, there are some noticeable differences.
Those of you who attended my laughter yoga workshop at the IATEFL Slovenia in 2013, may remember the mantra, ho ho ha ha ha. Sounds simple enough. However, in an Italian LY session, you will be more likely to hear, oh oh ah ah ah, as the “h” in Italian is silent and not pronounced, except in Tuscany, where it is used to replace a “c”.
This extends to the written form. While chatting on a social network, I may write hahahahaha to indicate that what I have written is not intended to be taken too seriously. The reply from an Italian is usually, ahahahahahah.
The difference in the pronunciation of vowels is noticed when we do our vowel laughs. The Italian “o” will be pronounced like hot or pot, while the English one is more like hope or Pope.
A while ago, during one of my popular English in the City courses, my students and I stumbled upon some amazing observations. We were doing our lesson in a pub, nothing strange there, when all of a sudden, the volumes on all seven or eight TVs in the pub were turned up so loud, that it was almost impossible to hear yourself speak. The Champions League matches had kicked off. There were about fifteen minutes of the lesson left. As usual, I didn’t panic. This group of students had quite a low level of spoken English, but were always willing to follow what I asked them to do. I told them to go around the pub in small groups and observe the behaviour of the people, then come back to me, which they did. I could never have imagined what they had noticed. In fact, I was so shocked, that I asked them to repeat it, outside the pub.
What they had noticed was the difference between English and Italian men, as they watched their respective matches. As the English team approached the goal and looked likely to score, but then narrowly missed, the sound uttered by all the Englishmen was the same, Ohhhhhhhh! Compare this to the Italian men in the same situation. Ahhhhhhhhh! What does this tell us? Nothing immediate perhaps, but bear in mind that for most men, watching their favourite football team score a goal is more satisfying than spending time with their favourite woman!
How many different ways can you think of to respond to the proposition, Let’s make love! (in your language)?
Find someone who speaks two or more languages fluently. Watch them as they speak in those languages. What differences do you notice in their facial gestures and movements? How different does the person seem?
Can you think of any expressions in one language which cannot be translated to give the same meaning in another language?
What sounds do the animals in your country normally make?
What sounds do people in your country make when they suffer pain?
Are there any sounds in your language, which make laughter slightly different from others?
What sounds do men in your country make, when their favourite team comes close to scoring?
We have seen that the sounds that an animal makes will vary according to the country it finds itself in. Your way of expressing pain varies, depending on your nationality. Your facial gestures and movements will differ according to the language you are speaking. Even your laugh may vary, according to where you come from. The sound you make as your football team comes so close and yet, so far, differs again according to nationality. So, the next time that someone asks you to make love in English or in any other language, don’t simply disregard it as a stupid question. Try it and see what differences you notice!
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