When you learn a foreign language the individual words are really the easy bit. Far more difficult are the phrases. This is where you need to roll a few words together and hope that it all makes sense. Sound easy? Take a look at these stinkers and you’ll see that it’s not so easy after all.
Spanish – Borrón y Cuenta Nueva (Let Bygones be Bygones and Start Again)
This simple little expression just means something like letting bygones be bygones and starting afresh. However, I have tentatively tried to say it quite a few times and it just never comes out right. I think this might be because of the potent combination of the RR and a couple of A’s, which are among the trickiest letters for a native English speaker to use. I asked some other English speakers to say the phrase and they sounded even stupider than me.
French - La Pipe au Papa du Pape Pie Pue (Pope Pius’s Dad’s Pipe Smells)
I enjoy tongue twisters in English but have you ever tried one in a foreign language? I thought at first it might be easier for a non native speaker, because the words don’t really mean much to them so they just concentrate on the sounds. I was wrong. This is a well known French tongue twister which makes me feel like a low budget Pepe Le Pew impersonator when I try to say it.
Portuguese (Brazil) - O Brasil é lindo e maravilhoso! (Brazil is Beautiful and Marvellous)
This isn’t the most difficult looking phrase in the world but when I tried using it in Brazil I felt very silly so I kind of spluttered and stopped. Rather than the actual words or the pronunciation, I think the problem here is that you need to be a cool, hip Brazilian to say this with pride. Striking the right attitude is one of the parts of speaking a language well, which takes time and creeps up on you bit by bit, I guess.
English – A Nod’s As Good As a Wink to a Blind Horse
Of course, foreign language speakers who learn English have a lot of phrases to try and learn as well. My wife is a native Spanish speaker and she enjoys learning new expressions and proverbs in English. Having said that, she has been trying to perfect this phrase for about 5 years. She loves the meaning behind it but just can’t ever remember the words in the right order. Every time she makes a mistake I make her feel a little better by saying “Borrón y cuenta nueva” in my silly voice.
Have you struggled with these foreign phrases in the past or with different ones?