As you know, I’m living the busy student life so I can’t always afford the luxury of doing some intensive language learning. There’s just no time for it. This doesn’t mean, however, that I give up on language learning altogether – that would be very unlike me! Instead, I just have to resort to some pretty unusual methods to keep up the work.
The last time I found myself in this sort of situation, I set myself a mission: to incorporate a bit of language practice into my day-to-day activities. So I started listening to Greek podcasts whilst ironing, singing along to Hebrew songs in the kitchen, and so on. And then the idea was born – I switched the language on my Facebook user interface to French! A month later I felt like I needed a change… so I took on the Greek challenge. And so it became a habit. 9 whole months of regular exposure to my favourite languages, all thanks to Facebook. Here’s how I got on!
June 2016: French
I’d say French was the only one out of the nine I didn’t have any trouble with (yes, Hungarian included!). I understood everything and I was navigating it with ease. If anything did annoy me a little, it was the fact that automatic translations came up in French – well, I forgot about that bit. Quite often these translated sentences were beyond my level, so the whole tool was a bit pointless for me. Oh well, there was such a benefit to learning all the Facebook lingo in French that I didn’t mind having to open Google Translate to get a glimpse of what my Pakistani friends were posting.
July 2016: Greek
The only negative experience that comes to my mind is being addressed in a rather formal way. The Greek Facebook makes use of the formal σας [sas] form of the pronoun ‘you’, as opposed to the much friendlier σου [sou] form. For some reason, this annoyed me more than it did when the French Facebook addressed me as vous. It’s exactly the same scenario, but it still gave me a different impression. Besides that, you wouldn’t believe how often I was surprised that the automatic translation button didn’t show up under my Greek relatives’ Facebook posts. “Oh wait, I speak this language… apparently!”
August 2016: Italian
Finally, I’m being addressed as a friend! The Italian Facebook uses the tu form. It might not be a big thing but once you’ve been exposed to such coldness for two whole months, it’s a massive relief! The only thing I couldn’t get used to is that the ‘Home’ button in the navigation bar said Home. The Italian translation is 100% complete so I guess it’s been borrowed along with a bunch of internet and technology-related words to refer to a website’s homepage. Still annoying, though.
September 2016: Esperanto
As you can imagine, this is one challenge I’d been very excited about! I rarely get (or seek) the opportunity to communicate in Esperanto, so being able to control my online activities in the language is quite a nice feeling. Most importantly, the ‘Home’ button was labelled as Ĉefpaĝo, so I no longer had to stare at that seriously misplaced English word every time I logged in. Funnily enough, the Esperanto translation is so accurate that even ‘Messenger’ (the proper name of Facebook’s instant messaging service) is renamed as Mesaĝilo!
So overall, this was a pretty good experience and I had no major issues with the Esperanto version, except that suffixes were just added to everything as if they were Esperanto words. So according to my profile, I studied Public Relationsn (with -n being the accusative suffix after ‘Public Relations’). I also had some problem with the translations not being coherent. A notification about someone’s birthday said their naskiĝtago (birthday) was coming up, but if two or more people were involved, it referred to their naskiĝdatrevenoj – which is more often used to mean the anniversaries of deceased people’s birth.
October 2016: Hebrew
Hebrew was undoubtedly the most difficult month – the whole interface was mirrored, after all! And so even if I fully understood everything, I just couldn’t get rid of the habit of clicking the button on the left hand side of a post to ‘like’ it (or אוחב it, to be accurate). Yes, that was the ‘share’ button, indeed!
There was only one thing I found even harder to get used to – and that was the mixed direction of the text. Names and other text supplied by users showed up in their native form in the Roman script, of course. Now imagine all this being added into the middle of a Hebrew sentence. My eyes kept jumping from place to place… I started reading from right to left in Hebrew, then had to find the first letter of the English name, read it from left to right, and then jump back to the first letter and continue reading the Hebrew sentence from there onwards, from right to left. It does get frustrating after a while. I wouldn’t be surprised if even Israelis and other native Hebrew-speakers were annoyed by this – Hebrew is quite skilled at transcribing proper names, so they only really have to deal with this mixed direction issue when the sentences are formed automatically using user-supplied data.
November 2016: Catalan
This must have been one of my favourites – although I may be slightly biased due to my obsession with the Catalan language which I developed during my visit to the beautiful Mallorca last July… or even before, actually! Although at this stage I could already recognise and understand plenty of common nouns and verb roots, it’s probably due to my knowledge of French and Italian that I had absolutely no major problem getting used to the Catalan Facebook. In fact, I was so confident that I set up events and uploaded photo albums without having to consult any kind of dictionary.
So as soon as I get bored of the Polish version I’m using at the moment (it might take a while, I’m also a bit Polish-obsessed!), I’m quite likely to switch back to Catalan for month or two. Besides putting a smile on my face when I scroll through Facebook in the morning, it would also have its practical benefits – I’m going to Catalonia at the end of April! But I’ll tell you more about this exciting trip at a different time. There’s no doubt you’ll hear a lot about it.
Linguistic Relativity makes so much sense when I think about using Facebook in Catalan! I used to “Like” a lot more things than I “M’agrada”
— Balint Brunner (@balintbrunner) November 3, 2016
December 2016: Hungarian
However funny it may sound, using Facebook in my native language was a lot more challenging than I expected! As I reached the last page of my calendar, I thought a bit of nostalgia would help me get into the festive spirit. I haven’t used the Hungarian translation of Facebook ever since my English got good enough to handle the English version. As I got into the habit of Googling things for my school projects in English, I eventually began to see the limitations of any Hungarian translation. I was irritated by Facebook’s Hungarian terminology and didn’t see it as a good reflection of the original English terms.
Did my views change at all after so many years? Not really. It’s a bit confusing that while most translations refer to my Facebook connections as my ‘friends’, Hungarian uses the term ismerős, meaning ‘acquaintance’. The reason might be that before the emergence of Facebook in Hungary, we had a popular social network called iWiW which made use of the term. So as Facebook came in (and eventually kicked iWiW out of business), the translator community was quite attracted to the word. However, with new Facebook features such as the Friends’ Day videos coming in, the word barát (’friend’) began to appear in more and more translated sentences… Is it just me, or would it be more better for all if they just picked one and stuck with it?
There are some positives, however. As Hungarian requires that we mark cases with suffixes that can change even according to the vowels in the root word, translators had to find a clever solution for implementing names and user-supplied content into automated Hungarian sentences. And they did a great job! Instead of trying to translate “John Doe was with Mary Smith,” the Hungarian version would say “John Doe was with them: Mary Smith.” This saves us from a handful of very unappealing incorrect case suffixes such as the Esperanto accusative case I mentioned earlier.
January 2017: Corsican
“New year, new me,” I thought to myself, as I switched my Facebook to Corsican. I wanted something more “exotic” this time and the beautiful lingua corsa was perfect for the occasion. I must admit I was hoping to find Sicilian on the list as I’ve learnt a bit of that in the past, but I wasn’t successful. Corsican, however, proved to be less of a challenge than I expected it to be. My biggest issue was that the translation wasn’t complete, and a lot of text still appeared in English. I also found myself procrastinating even more than before, as I spent a lot of time checking Wiktionary for the standard Italian translations of Corsican words. Just out of curiosity. So for these two reasons, I ended up breaking the rule and switching to Polish a few weeks early.
February 2017: Polish
Those of you who know me won’t be surprised that this was one of my favourites. I’m quite a fan of the Polish language so I took a lot of pleasure in navigating Facebook po polsku. On the good side, I feel it’s helped me learn and practise a great amount of verbs in their context. Simple verbs like szukać (to search) and wybierać (to choose), and tougher ones like zobaczyć (to see) – which I still don’t know how to use properly!
On the bad side, Polish has some very unique names for the months and I’m still struggling to get used to them. April is kwiecień, October is październik, and so on. However I must say many Slavic languages are quite purist when it comes to months and so I shouldn’t single out Polish for this reason. I’ll just sit down and spent an hour (or two, or three) memorising them all.
— Balint Brunner (@balintbrunner) February 11, 2017
So after nine months, I’ve run out languages I sort of understand. Well, not exactly, I still have Spanish and Portuguese (as well as maybe Galician and Romansh) on the list… but perhaps it’s not very advisable to confuse myself weeks before my visit to Barcelona. So just to be safe, I’ll switch back to Catalan and get myself mentally prepared for a week in the Catalan metropolis.
Have a great weekend,
(Balint – Korean Hangul script)