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Foreign Language

How to turn your idea from avorrit to surpreendente, using a different tongue (and a bit of help from Google Translate).

You probably don't think translating a foreign language is all that creative. After all, mastering another language usually involves a lot of rote learning and repetition to make it stick.

But the process your brain has to go through to perceive a word, recognise the language, understand what the word means, and turn it into your mother tongue (if you want to say it out loud) is a creative process. Because like a lot of brain functions, the mind is looking for patterns.

I'm personally not a natural linguist.

In my GCSE French oral, I thought my examiner asked me:

"What do you eat at lunchtime?"

And since I ate ham sandwiches most days, I said: "jambon".

She seemed surprised/annoyed.

I figured maybe she was a vegetarian or something.

Turns out she'd asked me: "What do you talk about with your friends at lunchtime?"

Oh. But we could have been talking about ham, right? The examiner wasn't interested in this technicality though, and I got a D.

My best experience of language learning - and the one that revealed to me the creativity in languages - was with Michel Thomas. If you've never heard of Michel before, his life story is fascinating. A Jewish WWII veteran, he had a natural mastery of languages that allowed him to adopt many identities to survive Nazi torture and concentration camps, before going on to fight in the French resistance and serve in counterintelligence. At the end of the war, he moved to Los Angeles to set up a number of language schools, teaching foreign languages to the famous and non-famous alike.

Michel's unique teaching method shows you that many words in your own language are already very similar to other languages - and you can combine these with new phrases to help build up sentences. It's an extremely creative way to help your brain make those connections more easily. What's more, even if you don't get everything 100% grammatically correct, you'll still be understood. And isn't that the aim for most people? If you want your mind blown, check out this 1997 BBC documentary showing Michel transforming the language skills of some London 6th formers in a matter of days.

Of course, I'm not advocating learning a whole new language if you happen to wake up one day feeling a bit short of ideas - this is meant to be Faster Ideas after all.

But when you want to shift your brain into a different gear, there's a simple, fun way to speed up your creativity using foreign languages. And that starts with Google Translate.

There are around 170,000 words currently in use in the English language. And there are 108 languages currently on Google Translate.

Start by playing around with some favourite phrases and sayings. Or maybe a campaign idea, or business idea. See how they look in different languages. Hear how they sound - Google Translate has a 'listen' function so you can hear how words and phrases are pronounced (compared to how you've mangled them).

One of my favourite phrases is: Make it happen

So let's see how that looks...

Bunu reallaşdırın (Azerbaijani)

Tedd valóra (Hungarian)

Fac ei ventura (Latin)

Or what about in a non-Roman alphabet...

इसे करना ही होगा /

ise karana hee hoga (Hindi)

...all of which collides in my head (for some reason) and makes me think: Ted Valora is gonna realise adventure is just around the corner.

Yeah, just me maybe.

Point is, none of this is an end in itself. It's simply another way to warm up your creative muscles. And when you flex those muscles, who knows what else might occur.

Very soon your avorrit (Catalan for boring) idea could well become a surpreendente (Portuguese for amazing) idea.

And with regular practice, perhaps you'll begin to construct ever more sophisticated (and technically correct) sentences - such as parler du jambon avec vos amis à l'heure du déjeuner.


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