"A different language is a different vision of life," said Federico Fellini. As our world becomes smaller and flatter and more people get exposed to foreign languages, the wisdom of this observation begins to sink in.
As you become more fluent in a foreign language you will learn to avoid the common misconception about translators and interpreters. Many U.S. companies often assume that any individual who speaks a foreign language is automatically a translator. But just because you grew up speaking Portuguese doesn’t mean you’ll automatically be a good translator.
Translators vs Interpreters
There are two categories of foreign language experts. The interpreter’s job is to translate orally from one language to another everything that is said, preserving the tone and style of the original speech. Translators deal with written documents, taking into account various language and terminology issues and the context.
In other words, translators translate documents, and interpreters interpret speech.
There exist some language professionals who are great at both translating the written word and interpreting the spoken word. But more often than not, they are an exception, not a rule.
What Translators Do
Language translation is a very specialized field. In addition to being linguists, some translators are professionally qualified in specific technical disciplines, such as aerospace, biochemistry, hardware and software, electrical engineering, finance, law, mechanical engineering, medicine, pharmaceuticals, and telecommunications.
Some only translate patents and others concentrate only on translation of technical manuals, or only on translation of legal contracts. Most of the professional translators work only in a single language pair and in one direction (e.g., English to Chinese).
Because professional translation requires training and expertise, it has a high cost for failure. An article in the National Law Journal relates an instance where a large Italian bank was being sued as a loan guarantor. When the loan document was translated literally from Italian, it stated that the bank guaranteed the loan. However, the word "guarantee" has different meanings in Italian than it does in English, and a literal translation did not accurately convey the document's meaning. The court dismissed the case, deciding that an Italian "guarantee" was different than an English "guarantee" - and the bank was not responsible for the loan.
As you find out more about professional translators and interpreters, you will learn that it is a good sign if the translation company, whose services your company uses, provides professionally executed legal, corporate and technical translations and utilizes translators, who are certified by the American Translators Association and who translate only into their native language.
Where Interpreters Work
There are two types of foreign language interpreters: simultaneous and consecutive. Simultaneous interpreters facilitate conferences with a large number of attendees. For small meetings, tradeshows, depositions and social events, companies need to hire consecutive interpreters.
As you begin to experience in a different culture, you will learn how easy it is to create a misunderstanding by viewing people from other cultures, as if they are similar to us.
Imagine that your company sends you to Japan for a technical meeting. The Japanese company’s representative comes to your hotel room and inquires if you have had your lunch. You tell him that you want to try some sushi. You feel great when he invites you to a restaurant, where a gracious waiter encourages you to try various kinds of sushi. A while later, you begin to feel ill at ease, when you realize that your host has just paid about $400.00 for your lunch.
Language and Culture
Incorrect assumptions about cultural similarities may cause us to misjudge people and situations. In our culture, smiles, for example, are associated with pleasant emotions and project friendliness. Some Asian cultures, on the other hand, use a smile as a mask when dealing with unpleasant situations.
As you continue to enhance your knowledge of a foreign language, your competence in the culture of the country whose language you are studying will also increase. And little by little you will be able to see and interpret any situation from two different viewpoints. And you will then understand what Federico Fellini meant when he said that a different language is a different vision of life.
Enjoy the beautiful journey as your growing fluency in another language and in another culture will continue to enrich your life and your worldview.
Bio: Nina L. Ivanichvili is CEO of All Language Alliance, Inc., a legal translation and interpreting company providing multilingual legal translations, certified translation services and deposition interpreting services in more than 100 foreign languages. You can contact her at 303-470-9555, at www.languagealliance.com, and follow her legal translation blog Translation for Lawyers.
Are you thinking “I love Paris in the springtime...” as in one of Frank Sinatra's wonderful songs?Maybe you are traveling to France or even to Paris soon? (Picture left: Place de Vosges in spring 2008)
Then you should also know some French phrases and try theses French language games.
We won't promise you that you'll speak French fluently after reading this post and playing the four games. We are convinced, however, that you'll remember some of the phrases and will be able to use and pronounce them.
A good way to learn phrases and expressions is to practice them as "chunks," not as a series of individual words.
As we know, some phrases are idiomatic and have a meaning that's quite different from the meaning of the words in it.
Always say phrases aloud, or if you're on a bus or in a line, mouth them to yourself, silently. Then when the coast is clear, say them OUT LOUD from memory.
Lots of repetition is essential. We rarely learn something just by hearing and saying it once.
Our mouth has to learn what muscles to use to make the right sounds. The particular combination of sounds that makes up a phrase has to get lodged in our brain. And, our brain has to connect sound to meaning.
1. Everyday phrases
No matter what your approach is to learning French, knowing a few conversational phrases is always useful.
Here's a game (or, just click on the picture!) to playfully learn and practice 8 conversational phrases that you're guaranteed to use often when talking in French - online, on Skype, or directly with someone at a party, at a store, on a ski-lift, in a café, etc.
2. The Verb "être" (to be)
The verb "être" is useful in many contexts. Whether you're talking about yourself, asking for information or directions, sharing stories, etc., some form of "to be" is bound to come up.
With this game you'll do a quick review of "être" as a full verb in the present, future, and conditional tenses.
(In a future game, you'll learn and review "être" as an "auxiliary" or, "helping" verb. As such, "être" is used to make compound tenses for certain verbs.)
Mastering the numbers in a language can be quite empowering, especially when you travel to a foreign country. But you need to be able to understand them as well as say them.
Numbers come in handy for buying at a market, paying the bill in a restaurant, buying tickets, making reservations, arranging a time to meet someone, exchanging phone numbers, giving your address, etc.
In general, knowing the numbers 1-100 will suffice. Still, French numbers from 70 to 99 are tricky and need extra attention.
When speaking English, you move your lips or tongue a certain way, for example to say "the," "he," or "rob." These are hard to pronounce for French speaker because the words contain sounds that French does not have: "th" "h" or our "r."
Similarly, French has sounds that are hard for English speakers. To produce them, you need to move your lips or tongue differently. In other words, you need to use different "mouth mechanics."
One difficulty may be that you can't really hear sounds that are not in the English language, because, like most people, you've gradually lost that ability in the course of growing into an adult.
However, with practice and application, you can recapture your ability to hear and say non-English sounds, such as the French "u," French nasal vowels, and the French "r." And even if your French pronunciation won't get to perfection, it will get much better in time.
So play our games to practice the French "r" or "vowels and accents." You'll be amazed how a little practice will let you get the hang of it and become more comfortable in speaking.
And if you're having fun with our approach and these games, you'll find additional Quick Games for French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Inglés on our site.
Or why not try our FREE French Story: “Daniel en France”. With its 36 fifteen-minute Scenes you'll learn over 600 new words. But, even more importantly, you'll practice the phrases and sentences of a travel story – useful, real life language that you'll be able to put to use when visiting Paris or traveling around France.
And just maybe you'll also get enchanted by French songs such as Edith Piaf's “No, je ne regrette rien”or Joe Dassin's“Si tu n'existais pas...”. Both songs are topics of earlier posts for “learning French with a song”...
Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of Gamesforlanguage.com. She has been a life-long language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.
Last month we reviewed “Frantastique,” our first partner site for learning French. Searching for an online language program for learning Spanish that would fit well with ours, we came across Lingualia.
Right from the start we liked some features that are similar to our Gamesforlanguage courses: the context of a dialog with each lesson, coupled with fun and effective ways for practicing words and phrases used in the dialog.
This review is based on Lingualia's Spanish course with English as the teaching/translation language.
(The program also works for teaching English. As with the Spanish course, you have a choice of a number of different teaching/translation languages).
I am learning with the Free version. As part of our partnership agreement, Lingualia provided us also with a free 6-month premium membership, which my husband Peter is using.
I've chosen to use my computer or laptop. (On my iPhone, or iPad, the audio for the dialogues is available only with Premium.)
Similar to Frantastique, an initial test places a learner into a Level ranging from A1 to B2 (according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages).
You can also choose your own starting level, if you want. I decided to start at the beginning of A1 to see how the course is built up. After his test, Peter was to start at level A2.
THE SETUP: The Dashboard
Clicking on Lingualia or Home gets you to the Dashboard with the choices of “Home,”“Lingu,” “Lessons,”“Challenge,” and “Activities” on the top bar.
The dashboard sample (right) shows my current status, i.e. I've completed 35% of Spanish A1, and 41 of 82 “Concepts” - these are words, abbreviations, grammar points, phonetics, etc.
Clicking on “Statistics,” I can see that I am behind in my vocabulary learning and my reading (both of which are accelerated with “Lingu” - see below).
The “Social” tab lets you compete and connect with other learners – a feature we have not yet taken full advantage of. There you can invite your friends from various other social sites (Twitter, Google+, Facebook, Yahoo) or you can simply send them an email. You can also connect with others on Lingualia by following them.
LINGU is your individualized “made-to-measure” teacher that adapts the course to your rate of progress and your level. In the free version, you are limited to learning and practicing 8-10 concepts a day with Lingu. (In the Premium version, you are not restricted.) Lingu prepares you for each of the lessons.
As you do your lessons, Lingu tracks how often you've recalled a certain word or concept. Then, in your practice session with Lingu, you'll review it in different ways until you've mastered it.
Here are some examples from my recent practice session with Lingu. In one question type, you hear a word - such as, “microondas” - and then select an image that goes with it. If you don't know what the word is, you can get a further clue by clicking on “Theory” - which gives you a definition in Spanish.
It's fun and challenging to see if you understand the Spanish definition. Here's the one for “Microondas" [mi.kro.ón.das]: “(s., m.) Horno que funciona por generación de ondas electromagnéticas.” If you want a translation, you click on the beginning of the Spanish sentence - which activates Google Translate. (The Premium version will, in addition, give you an example sentence with audio.)
In another type of question, you are asked to click on the written word that you hear, or even type out the word that you hear. The old technique of “dictation” still works well.
In a third type of question, you see a picture with a series of letters that you have to unscramble and type in. The particular picture I just saw was that of the Taj Mahal, and beside it the letters: u o e m n m t o n. The answer is “monumento.”
A fourth type of question would be selecting the definition, in Spanish, of a word, which in this particular Lingu session is “ojo” (eye). The correct definition is “(s., m) Parte del cuerpo que está situada en la cara y que se ocupa del órgano de la vista.” In this case, if you click on the icon “Theory,” you can verify your answer. Again, by clicking on the beginning of the the sentence, you activate Google Translate.
In a fifth type of question, you're given a text of about 130 words to read in Spanish and are asked a (not always obvious) question about it. You answer by picking one of four responses. In my lesson, I am asked: “Según el texto, los egipcios piensan que los gatos...”
with the answer being: “vuelven a vivir después de la muerte.”
These short reading texts provide you with vocabulary that is richer and in the context of more complicated sentences. You learn to absorb a description, an explanation, a brief argument, etc. and see how language is used to connect ideas.
In Level A1, there are 50 Lessons (10 Units, with 5 Lessons each). Each lesson has a Dialogue in Spanish, 13-15 items of new Vocabulary, a Grammar section, a short Phonetics section, and finally a Checkpoint, which tests you on what you learned in the lesson.
In the screenshot on your right, you see my summary for Lesson 26. It shows the vocabulary practiced, as well as the 100 Percent score I received when doing the Checkpoint Test. It should be noted that the Dialogue typically contains more vocabulary than practiced in the vocabulary section.
Dialogue: Lesson 26 has a one-minute Dialogue (audio and written): “Esta semana he trabajado mucho.” The Dialogues in general are spoken in fast conversational speed.
You can listen to each Dialogue's sentence also individually and play it as many times as you want. This is a great way to improve your listening-comprehension skill. (Note that the audio the dialogues is not available for the Free version is you're using an app.)
I find that I often need several playbacks before I get the meaning, but it also allows me to pay attention to the language melody. (On the computer or laptop you can now get a Google Translation in the language you choose with a mouse left click.)
Vocabulary: The individual items of vocabulary are introduced with their definition in Spanish. For example, “derecho” (right/law) is defined as: “(s., m.) Ciencia que estudia las leyes y su aplicacíon.”
Then, when I click on the beginning of the Spanish definiton, I get an English translation (via Google Translate) - “(S., M.) Science that studies the laws and their application.” (Google Translate, of course, is not perfect, but definitely helps for finding the meaning of the Spanish sentence.)
Grammar: Préterito perfecto: regulares (Regular present perfect) You get a simple version of the rule and the conjugation of regular “-ar” verbs. The rule is given in Spanish, and by clicking on the beginning of the sentence, you get the English meaning.
Phonetics: a tongue twister and description of the ñ sound in Spanish. (To play the audio, though, you need a Premium account.)
Checkpoint: You get 15 questions that put to the test what you have learned in the lesson you just completed.
You can find people to follow and challenge them to a language duel. Peter and I challenged each other a few times and it was fun who could get the better score.
You'll notice quickly that each question has a time limit, so you don't have time to look up the correct answer, if you are really competitive!
Here you can practice your writing and have it corrected by other users. (I must confess that I have not taken advantage of this opportunity yet!)
You have a number of options: Create a profile (with biography, etc.); Interface language (Español, English, Deutsch); Privacy Settings; Notifications you want to receive (Newsletter, Weekly progress, Lingu challenge alerts, Follow, Accepted invitations, Activities); Subscription information
Lingualia is free with registration, and you can sign up here for Spanish or English and try it for free. If it works for you and you want to become a Premium user (see below) look for special offers.
After registration (and until March 31st) you can activate Coupon code GAME25 for a 25% discount by visiting http://www.lingualia.com/coupons/validate/ (The regular monthly subscription rates range from $9.95/month to $24.95/month, depending on the subscription length.)
As a Premium (subscribed) user, you have the following advantages: Faster learning; Access to 15.000 audios to improve pronunciation and understanding; No restrictions when learning with Lingu; All downloads in a PDF file; All these are available on iPhone, iPad, and Android apps; No ads.
WHAT WE LIKE
I particularly enjoy the Dialogues (which get longer as you go along). They are conversational, spoken at normal speed. And, I see the text, and can replay the audio as often as I want, line by line.
The all-Spanish definitions are great, they get me into an immersion mindset. If I don't understand something, I click on the beginning of the line and get a Google translation into English. (While the Google translations are not always perfect, you will always will get the gist of the meaning.)
The exercises are varied, including “write what you hear”; “unscramble the letters” to match a definition or an image; “read a text” and click on the right answer to a question about it; etc.
At the end of each lesson you'll do a 15-question Quiz that tests what you've just learned.
Lingu helps you to practice words and phrases (“Concepts”) often enough until you've mastered them.
You can keep track of what you learned, and go back any time to review.
The tests provide immediate feedback and the dashboard lets you review and understand your progress.
You come into contact with a wide range of words and phrases, which you hear and practice all in context.
I also find the phonetics section with the many similar sounding Spanish words like votar/botar, tubo/tuvo, seta/zeta, rayar/rallar, etc. quite useful.
You learn and practice Grammar in small chunks and related to the Dialogues in each lesson. This part has been very helpful and I feel I'm clearly building my grammar knowledge of Spanish.
OTHER POINTS TO CONSIDER
To practice your pronunciations, you should repeat everything you hear and read, and imitate the native speakers as best as you can..
The standard lessons are short. (Lesson 26 took me 12 minutes.)
By trying out Lingualia for free, as long as you want, you can see if it works for you.
The subscription (Premium) does add various benefits, including unlimited learning with Lingu and being able to progress as quickly as you want.
I've enjoyed learning with Lingualia. When you use it regularly, discover how to get the Google translations when needed, use the “Theory” icon to help you, or practice some grammar points until you've “got it,” you'll also learn how to tailor each lesson to your individual needs and liking - and, most importantly: your Spanish keeps improving!
Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of :GamesforLanguage.com. She is a life-long language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands and Canada. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.
Disclosure: Links above are to a partner's program with revenue-sharing, should you decide to subscribe.
At the Polyglot Conference in New York City last October, not surprisingly, we met quite a few people who spoke more than one language. At lunch with a group of polyglots, the conversations flowed freely from English to French, German, Italian, and Spanish – and these were just the languages we speak or understand and could therefore somewhat judge the speakers' fluency in conversations.
A recent trip to Fribourg, Switzerland not only let us enjoy Swiss food specialties, but also had us marvel again at the ease with which many of those we met, seemed to move effortlessly between Swiss German, High German, and French.
In 2010, François Grosjean, Professor Emeritus of the University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland, published a book "Bilingual: Life and Reality" with Harvard University Press. His website (both in French and English) has many interesting posts and links to related publications.
I especially found this article fascinating: Myths about Bilingualism, which appeared in Psychology Today in 2010, and Grosjean's Myth summary on his website, from which the first 5 points below are taken.
Of the many notions of bilingualism, these my six favorite ones:
1. Bilingualism is not rare.
According to estimates Grosjean cites, more than half of the world's population speaks more than one language or dialect. While this may seem surprising, one should note that there are no “official” estimates due to the great variability and quality of data in many countries.
Also, such bilingual estimates include “dialects,” which increases the count of bilinguals substantially. Of course the distinction between a dialect and a language is not always clear either.
On the one hand, an American with a strong Texas drawl or a distinct Bostonian accent, even if he or she can also speak with a midwestern TV voice, is certainly not “bilingual.”
On the other hand, a Swiss German who has to learn standardized High German in kindergarten and school, may well be called bilingual.
Michael Erard, in a 2012 post Are We Really Monolingual? discusses the difficulty of having reliable data to answer such a question, but he also concludes: “Multilinguals may outnumber monolinguals, but it is not clear by how much.”
2. You CAN become bilingual as an adult.
We marvel about bilingual children and assume that you can only become bilingual if you learn a second (or third) language as a child. Clearly not so.
There are many adults who become bilingual as they move from one country to another. Henry Kissinger was 16 when he moved to the US, I was 26. My father-in-law was 47 when he immigrated to Canada.
Famous writers from Joseph Conrad (Russian-Polish) to Vladimir Nabokov (Russian) became known for their English prose, and there are many examples of writers who became successful even when writing in a language that was not their native one.
It is also true, however, that - unless you live in the country or in an environment where your target language is spoken - it will be quite difficult to become bilingual without intensive study and many conversations.
3. You can be bilingual and still speak with an accent.
Henry Kissinger, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Arianna Huffington all have retained a strong foreign accent when speaking English - to just name a few. But remember: They are certainly bilingual, but cannot (or don't want to) hide their accent.
Research shows that our ability to hear and produce sounds of another language declines in childhood. (See also: Beyond "Learning a Language like a Child".) By the time we reach adolescence it becomes more and more difficult, although not impossible to acquire the particular accent of a new dialect or language.
(As for me, I took several “accent-reduction” lessons some years ago, as I wanted to get rid of my German “w,” a sure giveaway of many English-speaking Germans.)
4. A bilingual may know certain vocabulary groups better in one than in the other language.
I went to school in Germany before the advent of personal computers and the internet. When having conversations in German about such topics, I have some difficulty finding the German vocabulary. For one, German uses many English terms (e.g. einloggen = to log in); and secondly, certain German terms did not exist when I went to school (e.g. Festplatte = hard disk).
Similarly, when I later started to work in healthcare facility planning in the US, I did not know the German or French terminology of this field and could not explain it well to my relatives in Germany and Switzerland.
Furthermore, bilinguals may be able to understand, read, and speak two languages equally well, but often will be better in spelling one than the other.
5. Bilinguals are not “born” translators.
This fact is both related to #4 above – specialized domains use special vocabulary and expressions – and, as Grosjean writes “bilinguals use their languages in different situations, with different people, in different domains of life (this is called the complementarity principle).
Unless they learned their languages formally (in school for example), or have trained to be translators, they often do not have the translation equivalents in the other language.”
I know: My first work assignments in the US involved English to German translations of technical texts. I had no difficulties understanding the English terms, but finding the correct German translation without a good technical dictionary was often impossible.
6. Bilinguals need language practice and updates as well.
Language skills can increase or wither depending on how much you practice them. In this sense they are similar to many of our sport and physical activities: If you don't use them you lose them. Maybe even more so, as languages constantly adapt and change.
The German language underwent a major spelling reform in the early 90ties that I had to read up on while already living in the US.
The French-speaking world is currently in an uproar about over 2000 spelling changes, including “the end of the circumflex,” as proposed by the Académie Française. Although the changes are currently proposed as “options,” it will be interesting to see when or if they will take hold.
When the Real Academia Española (Royal Spanish Academy) deleted two letters of the Spanish alphabet (“ch” and “ll”), together with a few accents and hyphens in 2010, there was an uproar on both the European and the Americas side of the Atlantic.
Among the four languages we cover, only Italy seems to have escaped any “official” language or spelling changes lately.
Being able to communicate in more than one language is for many a daily necessity and for others just a thrill and satisfying achievement.
It's not the purpose of this post to list the benefits of knowing more than one language, but rather to add to Francois Grosjean's “Myths of Bilingualism” a few more personal observations: Bilingualism comes in many variations and language/dialect combinations.
Even as an adult, the choices for becoming bilingual are often made for you by external circumstances. But you can also embrace the opportunities you encounter, and most importantly: STAY bilingual by continuing to speak and practice.
Bio: Peter Rettig is the co-founder of Gamesforlanguage.com. He is a life-long language learner, growing up in Austria, Germany and Switzerland. You can follow him and his wife Ulrike on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.
Deciphering the meaning of words and phrases from local signs and posters when visiting a foreign country is a fun and interesting way to add to your vocabulary. (See #8 for a translation of the sign on the left.)
When you're there in the country, such signs and posters are in your face. They have a context that makes them memorable.
Official signs give instructions, warnings, or prohibit your actions in some way. Ad posters push a product, often using a play on words.
With these signs, you can learn various verbs and verb forms (especially the imperative with official signs).
You can also learn common expressions and forms of wordplay, especially from ad posters.
Besides being fun to read and muse about, such visual language provides great conversation starters with locals.
By simply asking what a word or phrase means, you could end up having an interesting discussion about linguistic and cultural differences.
We had a lot of fun looking for signs and other texts on our trip through northern Germany.
German: Klartext reden - offen seine Meinung sagen; nicht verschlüsselt reden (to speak in plain English; (coll.) to level with/talk turkey with somebody);
The phrase "einfach mal" is a conversational filler, meaning "just" or "simply."
I leave to it you to figure out what "Klartext reden" means in the context of this ad for Smirnoff's Vodka...
2. Alles im Eimer?
This sign on a public refuse bin in Münster, Westfalen, made us smile.
Translation: Everything in the bin?
German: im Eimer sein (umg.) - entzwei sein, verdorben sein (to be ruined; (coll.) to be up the spout)
The fun part about this is the play on words. "Eimer" means "bucket."
The German reference is to "Abfalleimer" which means "trashcan" or "garbage bin."
So the text "Alles im Eimer" literally asks you if you've put "everything into the trashcan" rather than throwing it on the street.
3. "Die Alte Liebe"...
We saw this board at "Die Alte Liebe," a famous jetty with an observation and docking platform in Cuxhaven, a town at the southern shore of the Elbe river where it enters the North Sea.
Translation of the poem on the board: At the dockyard in Kuxhaven, There is a beautiful spot, It's called "The Old Love(r)"; I left mine (my lover) there.
The fours lines are from a lost poem of 1823, by the poet Heinrich Heine (1797-1856), who may be best known for "Die Lorelei."
4. Durchfahrt gebührenpflichtig
This sign marks the entrance to the old car elevator that takes you through the Old Elbe tunnel, in the Freie und Hansestadt Hamburg.
Translation: Passage is subject to charges
German: gebührenpflichtig, i.e. nicht kostenlos (subject to charges, not free of charges.) "Gebühren" are charges, "pflichtig" means "required," "necessary", derived from "Pflicht" or "duty."
During the drive into Hamburg our GPS took us to the end of a parking lot, with nowhere to go. But looking around, I saw this sign, which gave me the clue that something was up.
Indeed, it marked a ticket machine and the inconspicuous entrance to the old car elevator that took us into the city for 2 euros!
The tunnel and the four elevators to it were opened in 1911 and are still in operation.
5. Rote Grütze
This is from the menu at the Restaurant "Schiffergesellschaft" in Lübeck, Schleswig-Holstein.
Translation: red grits/red fruit jelly (typical for northern Germany and Scandinavian countries)
German: Rote Grütze - eine Süßspeise aus Johannisbeeren, Himbeeren und anderen roten oder schwarzen Beeren, die mit Bindemittel aufgekocht werden.
(A dessert made from currants, raspberries and other red and black berries, which are heated with cornstarch to thicken the jelly.)
The word "Grütze," in fact means "grits, groats, porridge," but also has the figurative meaning of "grit, gumption, common sense, brains"; or in German: "Denkvermögen, Geist, Grips, Scharfsinn, Verstand."
We saw this sign on a business vehicle in Boltenhagen, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.
Translation: the workshop of a maker of high quality watches
German: Feinuhrenmacherwerkstatt - Reparatur und Restaurierung von antiken Uhren (a shop for repairing and restoring antique watches)
Germans have a knack for creating long compound nouns.
Starting at the end, you have "Werkstatt" (workshop, repair shop).
Next, you have "Macher" - maker, which here refers to someone who does repairs.
Next, "Uhren" - watches, and then, at the beginning comes the word "fein" - which means "fine" or "high quality."
So, this 24-letter word tells you that it's the repair shop for "Feinuhren" - high quality, antique watches.
The information board at the Water Gate (Wassertor) in Wismar, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern reads:
Regie Friedrich-Wilhelm Murnau. Ein Meisterwerk des Expressionismus. Hier gedreht im Jahre 1921.
Translation: Nosferatu. Directed by Friedrich-Wilhelm Murnau. A masterpiece of Expressionism. Made here in 1921.
German expressions: Regie führen (to direct [a film]); einen Film drehen (to make a film).
Nosferatu, a German Expressionist Horror film, was in fact an unauthorized version of Bram Stoker's "Dracula." Stoker's heirs sued over the adaptation, and a court ruling ordered that all copies of the film be destroyed.
However, a few prints of Nosferatu survived, and the film came to be regarded as an influential masterpiece of cinema. [from Nosferatu, Wikipedia]
7. Iss mir Lachs
We saw this ad poster in Rostock, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.
Translation: Do eat salmon.
German: der Lachs - salmon; "Iss!" is the familiar imperative form of "essen": eat!; "mir" can be used for emphasis: do eat. ("Räucherlachs" is smoked salmon.)
"Iss mir Lachs" is a wordplay on the expression "Is(t) mir Wurst," which means "It's all the same to me," literally "It's sausage to me." Here, the final "t" on "ist" is normally dropped, so the expression sounds like "Is mir Wurst."
However, the word "iss" is the familiar imperative form of "essen," and the word "mir" plays on the sound of "mehr" (more).
So, the ad-message is in fact a clever way of saying "Eat more salmon."
8. Strandbesucher bitte KURTAXE lösen
Official sign at a ticket machine at the beach in Heiligendamm, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.
Translation: Beach visitors please pay Spa Tax
German: "Strandbesucher" - beach visitors. The verb "lösen" has a number of meanings. You say, "eine Fahrkarte lösen" (to buy a ticket), or "Kurtaxe lösen" (to pay a spa tax).
Depending on the context, "lösen" can also have the meanings of "loosen, untie, dissolve, resolve, solve, unravel, or cancel."
This may be a surprise for visitors to a German beach resort area: You pay an extra three or four euros a day for the upkeep of the resort, an extra charge that's added to your hotel bill. Day visitors pay a couple of euros for access to a beach, etc.
9. Heute Probeliegen in der Kapitänskoje
Information board at a ship in the harbor of Sassnitz on the island of Rügen, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.
Translation: Today (you may) try out the the captain's bunk
German: die Probe - test, trial, rehearsal; liegen - to lie down; koje - bunk
No comment, as we wondered who would want to try the captain's bunk...
10. Gute Sitte in Mitte
Germans try to live up to their reputation for orderliness by encouraging the use of public garbage bins with catchy slogans. We saw this one in the central district Mitte, Berlin.
Translation: Good behavior in (Berlin) Central
German: "die Sitte" - Benehmen, Manieren (customs, traditions, behavior)
As you can see, "Sitte" suggests more than just keeping trash off the streets.
"Mitte" - as the word implies - is the central, historical district of Berlin. Most of it used to be part of former East Berlin. Obviously, the German text is catchy because it rhymes, and the English translation does not do it justice.
And finally, a sign we always see, when we visit Fribourg, Switzerland:
11.Hüt! Freu di Hochzitter, du guete Ma,
Morn het am End D'frau scho dini Hose a
This sign hangs over the Rue des Épouses/Hochzeiterstraße in Fribourg/Freiburg, Switzerland.
Translation: Today! Be happy bridegroom, you good man, tomorrow your wife will wear the pants in the end.
Anybody learning German (and for that matter, even native Germans!) will certainly find it difficult to make sense of this Swiss German text with its abbreviations (“di”=dich; “Ma”=Mann; “Morn”=morgen; “D'Frau”= Deine Frau; “scho”=schon; “dini”=deine)
Swiss German translated to High German: "Heute! Freu dich Bräutigam (Hochzeiter), du guter Mann, morgen hat am Ende die Frau schon deine Hosen an."
As Fribourg is a bilingual town, the other side of the sign is in French:
"Voici la rue des Epouses fidèles et aussi le coin des Maris modèles"
It does not give the bridegroom the same warning as the Swiss German version. Rather, it conveys a more hopeful message to those walking under it, and translates to:
Here is the street of faithful wives and also the corner/place of model husbands
We always enjoy deciphering signs when we travel. In languages that we are less familiar with, this is obviously more of a challenge, as the nuances, double meanings, and humor are much harder to “get.”
Reading and deciphering signs can make a stroll though a city interesting and fun; it can also give you an opportunity to ask a native and practice your speaking...
Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of Gamesforlanguage.com. She is a life-long language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands and Canada. You can follow her on Facebook, TwitterandInstagram, and leave any comments with contact.
When you think of Switzerland, what comes to mind? Probably, stunning mountains (such as the Matterhorn, left) and quaint villages. But surely you'll also imagine chocolate and fondue, and maybe Rösti and Geschnetzeltes.
Our recent visit gave us reason to look into the history of some of the Swiss specialties and – being language lovers – their language roots.
Chocolate came to Europe from the Americas in the 16th century, first and foremost as a drink made from the cocoa bean. Linguists believe that the word "chocolate" originates from the Classical Nahuatl word xocolatl, and via Spanish, entered the English language. By the 17th century, chocolate was produced in Switzerland.
In the 1870s two Swiss "inventions" hugely increased the popularity of chocolate. For one, the creation of milk chocolate (by the chocolatier Daniel Peter), improved the taste and appeal of chocolate.
For another, the invention of the conching machine (by the chocolate manufacturer Rodolphe Lindt), allowed chocolate to be processed into smooth, solid bars. Now chocolate became much more than just a drink.
Another interesting, but not surprising fact: More than half (54%) of the chocolate produced by Swiss chocolate manufacturers is consumed by the Swiss themselves.
(Being a great fan of Swiss tennis player Roger Federer, we loved his Lindt chocolate commercial, see clip.)
Rösti (pronounced: rh-EUsch-ti, with a long, stressed "ööö" sound), is a flat round "pancake" made of coarsely grated raw potatoes, finely chopped onions and bacon pieces, fried in a pan. If you think of a variation of "hash browns" - you're on the right track.
It can be a main dish served with other vegetables, fried eggs, sausages, etc., or as a side dish with pork, beef, or veal such as “Geschnetzeltes” (see below).
The restaurant version often uses (partially) boiled potatoes for faster results and Rösti are best prepared in a heavy iron pan.
The German word "rösten" is related to English and means "to roast, grill." A synonym for the Swiss German word "Rösti" would be "gebratene Kartoffeln" or "Bratkartoffeln" (fried potatoes).
Zürcher Geschnetzeltes, in French: émincé de veau zurichoise, is a dish of thinly sliced veal stewed in a mushroom demi-glace (a rich brown sauce). Not an old recipe - Zürcher Geschnetzeltes was first mentioned in a cookbook in 1947 - it has become a favorite for many (including us).
As you may have guessed, the word "Geschnetzeltes" (meat thinly sliced), is related to "Schnitzel" (cutlet, escalope), and both belong to the word family that includes "Papierschnitzel" (scrap of paper), "schnitzen" (to carve), "Schnitzer" (a carver), etc. By the way, "ein Schnitzer" also has the figurative meaning of "a blunder, boob, terrible faux pas."
You can find a recipe of "Züri Geschnätzlets" on Betty Bossi's website by clicking on the image above.
Another Swiss variation of "Geschnetzeltes" is "Riz Casimir." It combines the thinly sliced veal with banana and pineapple pieces in a spicy curry sauce served over Reis.
The Swiss Radio and TV (SRF) reports that Mövenpick Founder Ueli Prager first added the dish to the chain's menu in 1952. It soon became "ein Klassiker" on Swiss tables. (However, as the Wiki entry acknowledges, the recipe is quite likely based on Indian recipes of Kashmir dishes.)
You can get the original Mövenpick recipe by clicking on the SRF link above and then on "Rezept: Riz Casimir," or Betty Bossi's recipe by clicking on its image (right).
La Fondue (au fromage)
Probably the best-known dish of Switzerland is "fondue." The word is French and comes from the verb "fondre" meaning "to melt." Used as a noun, "fondue" is the feminine form of the past participle "fondu." (larousse.fr)
Fondue has a lengthy history in Switzerland. The recipe "Käss mit Wein zu kochen" (cheese cooked with wine) was first mentioned in a Zurich manuscript in 1699.
"La fondue" showed up in 18th century culinary literature as "oeufs brouillés au fromage fondu," scrambled eggs with melted cheese (as noted in the dictionary, Le petit Robert). The dish was particularly popular in the western French-speaking cantons, and there mostly among city dwellers who could afford the rich cheese.
Fondue, as we know it, dates back to around the middle of the 19th century and by 1875, it was named as a Swiss national dish. In the 1930s, the Swiss Cheese Union (Schweizerische Käseunion) used the idea of a national dish for its own marketing purposes. That kind of promotion was continued after WWII.
Fondue was popularized in the US in the 1960s, helped by being showcased in the Swiss Pavilion at the 1964 World's Fair in New York.
The traditional fondue is served in a fondue pot (un caquelon), which is kept warm over a chafing dish (un réchaud). To make the fondue smooth, you add cornstarch to the cheese mixture as it heats. Each one of you gets a long thin fork for spearing chunks of bread (or sometimes potatoes), which you then dip into the cheese. Eating fondue is definitely a social event that also includes plenty of white vine.
Various traditions are observed: for example, if you drop your bread into the pot, you pay a round of wine, or a pot of hot tea.
Cheese Fondue Variations
Many of the Swiss cantons have their own version of fondue, using different combinations of cheeses. For those who want to try, this Epicurious post will give you the recipe for making aperfect traditional Swiss Fondue. Being frequent travelers to Fribourg, the two fondues we know best are the Fondue Fribourgeoise, and the Fondue Moitié-Moitié.
Fondue Fribourgeoise is prepared with 100% local Vacherin cheese. Vacherin from Fribourg is a medium firm cheese made from cow's milk (as the name implies). The cheese is melted in a few tablespoons of water over low heat.To our knowledge, this is the only cheese fondue that does not use wine. Often you dip pieces of potato instead of bread.
Moitié-moitié (or half-half), as its name states, uses Gruyère and Vacherin cheese in equal parts. This fondue is made with white wine, (dry and high in acid) and for flavor a shot of kirsch is often added to the mixture. You eat it by dipping chunks of bread.
We are particularly fond of the town of Gruyère, which gave the cheese its name: Gruyère is also located in the canton of Fribourg and Peter and I were married there in a small chapel just below the fortified town.
Both the little town and the castle are well worth a visit. The castle is one of the most famous in Switzerland and a heritage site of national significance.
Overlooking the valley from the castle you are transported back to medieval times. One can well imagine how the Counts of Gruyère would have enjoyed looking over the valley (see picture) and their dominion from their high perch.
Our foray into the world of melted (Swiss) cheese would not be complete without mentioning the "Raclette." The name is derived from the French "racler," meaning "to grate or scrape" and that clearly describes the method in which it is served: The melted cheese is scraped off the roasted/heated end of a large piece, most commonly half a wheel of cheese (as in this picture).
The Raclette Suisse site traces Raclette's origins to the 13th century. In the German-speaking cantons, convent writings mention "Bratchäs" (roasted cheese - note Swiss spelling of "Käse") already in 1291 as a nutritious food for mountain cow herders.
Raclette cheese is made of raw milk and many variations exist. Only the "Raclette du Valais" is a protected brand under Swiss law.
The traditional method melts the half-wheel of cheese, either right at an open fire place, or in restaurants, with an electric heater. The Raclette cook/server scrapes the melted cheese off unto each customer's plate. (see photo, courtesy of: Grcampbell-Wikipedia Commons)
The modern, self-serve version uses small pans in which to heat Raclette cheese pieces right at the table with a special gadget (as in this picture). In either case, "Gschwellti" - Swiss German for potatoes boiled in their skin - are served with gherkins, pickled onions, and often preceded or accompanied by dried meat, such as "Bündnerfleisch" or "viande des Grisons" or "jambon cru."
A Raclette evening, during which the meal is served the traditional way to a large table, is a social event that can last for hours. As with cheese fondue, locals will warn you not to drink cold water. It doesn't mix well with the hot cheese. However, hot tea, a "Kirsch," "Poire," or "Framboise" come highly recommended.
Raclette and Fondue (whether the cheese or meat variety) always make for a lively, social dining experience. Even after the taste and smells of melted cheese have faded in your memory, you'll certainly remember the fun you had with your family and friends sharing such a meal in a warm an cozy mountain hut after a hard day of skiing, snowboarding, or hiking.
Bio: Ulrike & Peter Rettig are the founders of Gamesforlanguage.com. They are life-long language learners. You can follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Do you ever wonder why learning a language using someone else’s ideas doesn’t seem to work as well as you hoped?
There are many reasons for this and some answers to this problem too. Here are a few thoughts on the matter of language acquisition from personal experience.
Language Learning Problems
Easier for Some?
Learning a new language is challenging for most adults.
A few gifted individuals find it quite easy. They have a different level of neuroplasticity, or brain agility, that allows them to make new neural pathways more quickly than the rest of us.
For most of us, it takes time and some effort. It may be difficult to stay motivated when we don’t see success coming right away.
Different Ways for Different People
You are an individual learner and have your own unique set of experiences and ways of thinking, communicating and understanding.
Someone else’s approach, while aiming to be effective for the broadest group, may not exactly fit how you learn.
Some people need more logical and sequential learning with lots of grammar and explanation of word meaning and history. Others learn more quickly by listening and speaking first.
Find out what works for you.
Fear of Making Mistakes
Risk taking is part of learning a language and fear of making mistakes holds some folks back.
Not wanting to sound foolish or uneducated is a laudable characteristic in most cases.
But when learning a language, it is a hurdle that must be overcome.
Only a few can begin learning a language and not make mistakes of tense, gender, or sound-alike words.
3 Tips That Work for Me
1. Be Eclectic!
Explore as many methods and online sites with free introductory offers as you can find.
These include Babbel, LinguaVille, Lingualia, Fluencia, Frantastique to just name a few that I am familiar with. They'll give you an understanding of basics to begin with.
And before you even buy or subscribe to any premium content, you'll have found out whether the method works for you,
Of course, there are also sites such as Duolingo, Gamesforlanguage, Lingohut, Digital Dialects, and others that are completely free beyond just the introductory level!
Whether you select a free or fee-based language learning site after some try-outs and testing: Choose a method that engages and motivates you to get into a learning habit.
Remember: the "best" program is useless, if it bores you and you give up!
2. Choose Some Add-ons!
After you've settled in with an online learning program, you may be looking for some other ingredients to spice up your learning and understanding. For some, basic grammar books and dictionaries are essential, but at the start, can be intimidating for others.
Some like vocabulary apps such as Memrise, Anki, Mindsnacks, or Drops.
You can Google your language, individual words, or use a translator program to help you. Use all the aids you can to supplement your learning.
3. Develop your own practice method!
It does not have to be as extreme as in this cartoon, but here are a few ideas that I used:
Maybe writing vocabulary words on stickies and placing them around the house helps.
Make lists of words that you can carry with you and review from time to time whether in written or just in audio form.
Do lots of listening to your new language, even when you don’t understand it. Your brain needs to get used to hearing the sounds.
Say phrases, words aloud to yourself if you don’t have someone to practice with. Reading, writing and speaking are done with different parts of the brain but they usually support each other.
Students fully immersed in a new language, especially when living in the country where the language is spoken, usually take 3 to 6 months to become somewhat fluent.
Learning from a method course will take longer because it is not immersion in the language and culture.
And remember that learning a new language has other benefits: It improves your brain and can help you with other kinds of learning and thinking.
Bio:Barry is a retired FSL and Middle School teacher who lives in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia. He loves traveling and learning languages; he currently uses GamesforLanguage for his Spanish practice when he is not traveling around Yucatan and other Spanish-speaking countries.
We have covered the topic of adult language learning in several previous posts. (see Language Building Blocks..., Learning Grammar in Context, etc.) The above article also provides some new insights why just learning vocabulary alone won't make you SPEAK another dialect or a second language.
Interestingly, the Atherton's headline questions the difficulty of mastering "another dialect." In the text, the author switches between "dialect" and "second language." There is no need here to discuss when a "dialect" becomes a "language." The interchangeable use of both terms in the article, however, made us realize again how important "context" is for learning both another dialect and a second language.
Both of us grew up learning different dialects in our native country, Austria. Ulrike grew up with "Viennese" German during her elementary school years and Peter with "Vorarlbergisch" German during his pre-school years. We then learned Dutch and English (Ulrike) and High German (Peter) by the time we finished high school. (Later, Peter picked up Swiss German and French while studying and working in Switzerland and Ulrike polished her High German while teaching English in Germany.)
Looking back, it is quite clear that when we learned our dialects/native language as children, we did it in the context of playing and interacting with those around us and by imitating our caregivers and friends.
In fact, this is also how Ulrike learned Dutch during her two years of primary school in the Netherlands or learned English in high school in Canada; it's also how Peter picked up Swiss German as a young adult - by imitating friends, fellow students and teachers. (It certainly helped Peter's Swiss German that "Vorarlbergisch," like Swiss German, is an Alemannic dialect.)
Today, both of us still UNDERSTAND those dialects quite well. And, after a few days of hearing them, we can also SPEAK them again.
Yes, studies have shown that young children have many more brain connections (synapses) than adults, and we have no reason to disagree with neuroscientist Arturo Hernandez of the above mentioned article:
...some individuals may have a particular neuronal activity pattern that may lend itself to better learning of a second language."
But we also firmly believe - based on our own experience in learning other languages as adults - that learning a second language is much easier with a story and dialogs. This mirrors how we learned our first language: relating the words we heard to the activities and dialogs around us, and making the all-important connections in our brain.
That's why we are using a story with dialogs for our Gamesforlanguage courses.
Learning a new language is a pretty complicated process. When someone speaks to you in a foreign language, there are so many things going on at the same time.
You need to decode the sounds and figure out the meaning of the words; you have to answer some basic grammar questions before you can understand the meaning of a sentence:Which are the verbs, nouns, adjectives? Is it a statement or question? Is it in a past, present, or future tense?
Finally, you have to connect everything to the context of the situation. That's a lot going on at once.
The Power of "Context"
Taking a sample French “core conversation,” I'd like to illustrate how a learner may focus on different aspects of the language at different stages, and why context is important:
A young student called Daniel is at the home of his friend Virginie. He meets her friend Mathilde for the first time.
Virginie: Daniel, don't be so formal. You can say "tu" to each other!
Daniel: You don’t mind, Mathilde?
Mathilde: Of course not. Among students we always say "tu".
Initially you may mostly focus on:
learning their meaning
practicing their pronunciation
practicing their spelling
finding a way to practice the sentences:(Speak them aloud to whoever is willing to listen, type them out, write them out by hand, hang the page up in the kitchen or your study.)
Soon, you may also want to know:
the pronouns: votre, vous, tu, te, nous
other conjugations of the verbs used: enchanter (enchanté), être (sois), pouvoir (pouvez), tutoyer, déranger (derange)
adverbs, prepositions. etc: bien sûr, toujours
Replaying this dialog again later on, you may discover and understand:
sentence structure: the form of a statement, a command, a type of question, a complex sentence
other grammatical forms (eg. negation with an object pronoun [ça ne te dérange pas]; reflexive verb forms [Vous pouvez vous tutoyer!, nous nous tutoyons]; the use of "que" [bien sûr que non])
Key Points to consider:
What is important about the context the dialog provides?
the age of the people (here they are students in their twenties)
how well people know each other
the circumstance of the conversation
Why take a conversation rather than individual phrases or sentences?
you'll better remember the words/phrases related to the context
you'll pick up cultural information (i.e. students say “tu”)
What will you have learned initially?
20 to 30 useful words, in a meaningful context
how to respond when meeting somebody
a typical French expression for emphatic negation "Bien sûr que non."
And, later on either explicitly or intuitively?
all the pronouns
5 verbs and a conjugation of each
3 types of sentences
Once you've absorbed a few dozen conversations and acquired more than 500 content words, you're probably ready to engage in relevant, personal conversations with others.
If you just remember sentences such as: "Enchanté de faire votre connaissance", you'll be able to adapt it later on to other uses and circumstances (e.g. Enchanté de faire ta connaissance", "J'ai fait la connaissance de..." , "Je n'ai pas la connaissance de..." etc.).
And, when you later learn the word "connaître" (to know), you'll make the connection with "connaissance," and will have added another word that you're sure to remember.
Learning a foreign language is all about making connections. The more could can connect the words, phrases, and sentences you are learning in another language to your immediate environment, or topics that interest and engage you, the faster and easier it is for you to recall them.
Benny Lewis is certainly right when he advises you to speak your target language immediately. Maybe not everybody can muster the time or commitment that he promotes with Fluent in 3 Months. But listening to stories, reading them aloud, singing foreign songs, etc. will create more connections in your brain. They will help you not only to retain vocabulary better, but also to use them right away in conversations.
Bio: Ulrike & Peter Rettig are the founders of Gamesforlanguage.com. They are life-long language learners. You can follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Disclosure: The link above to "Fluent in 3 Months" is to a partner's program with revenue-sharing, should you decide to buy or subscribe.
If you're learning Italian, you surely know that what you read in books is not enough. There are lots of expressions that you won't find in a dictionary, but that you'll learn on the street or hanging out with local people. Understanding and using these expression in your conversations means that you're actually improving. Moreover, your way of speaking will turn out to be really funny!
Here's a short list of strange expressions that Italians use, compiled for you by The Language Class.
"Che figata!" [keh fee-GAH-tah] is a very common expression. It was at first used by younger people, but today everyone says it. We can translate it with the English "What a cool thing!", but unfortunately it cannot be directly translated.
Therefore, you can use it in many different situations, as it expresses both amazement and admiration: If for example, you're amazed should someone tell you: "I've met Leonardo di Caprio in person!" or admire your best friend, if she tells you: "I've learnt to make tiramisu!" You could answer in both cases: "Che figata!"
"Dai!" [dahyee] is a commonly used expression as well. The pronunciation is actually similar to the English verb "die", but the meaning is absolutely far from that!
If we want to give it an English translation, we can simply choose "Come on!" and we can insert it, as Italians do, in almost each of our sentences! For example, if you suggest to a friend "Let's go to the beach!" and he or she answers "No, I really don't want to", your response will inevitably be "Dai!!!" Or you would use it even to encourage someone to do something that he or she does not want to do at all: "Another beer, dai!"
Don't forget that the expression can also be used as a way to stop someone from doing something! If your friend does not stop stealing your dessert, you just have to say a curt "Dai!"
In Bocca al Lupo
"In bocca al lupo!" is an expression that demonstrates that the Italian language is very... creative! It literally means "into the mouth of the wolf" and is used to wish someone good luck by inviting him to be eaten by a wolf. (The English expression "Break a leg" has a similar meaning!)
The answer to this expression is "Crepi il lupo" and we must admit that at least this seems a bit more logical, as it means "The wolf shall die". When someone wishes you "In Bocca al Lupo!" you certainly don't answer with "Grazie", as this implies bad luck. You don't want to be thankful for being eaten by the wolf.
"Magari!" [mah-GAHR-ee!] is the Italian corresponding to the English "I really wish!" or "Let's hope so". It is clear that we use this expression when we really wish something from the bottom of our heart - but not only.
In fact, in many cases we would use it with an ironic connotation. If your friend asks you "Would you ever marry an American billionaire?" you'd say "Magari!" meaning that of course you would, even if, in all likelihood, it will not happen!
"Meno male!" [MEH-noh MAH-leh] literally means "less bad", but it is not used with this meaning. On the contrary, we can translate it with "Thank God!" and we use it when we actually feel blessed!
Did I really pass the test? "Meno male!" And, don't forget that you can also say "Grazie a dio!" which has the same meaning.
Mini Bio: Gabriele Monti studied Modern Languages at South Bank university in London, and he has been teaching languages ever since in many countries including Japan, Great Britain and France. Currently he loves to write about learning languages and travel.