Tag Archives: foreign language

14 Untranslatable Words About Love

Seeing as it’s Valentine’s Day, I though I’d dedicate a post to Cupid and his well-aimed (well…sometimes) arrows. Before I moved to Japan, I confess that my opinion of Valentine’s Day had flat-lined at “meh”…now, though, it just means that my desk disappears under a mountain of homemade chocolates, cookies, and other deliciously unhealthy sweets from my students. It’s a pretty good development all around.

I’ve written about how much I love untranslatable words in the past; the fact that a feeling is familiar to people across cultures and continents and yet is only expressed in a certain language is fascinating to me. On Valentine’s Day, emotions run a headier, more dramatic spectrum than most other days of the year, and there are plenty of foreign language words to describe all of those feelings. Here are fourteen of my favorite untranslatable words that have to do with love in some way or another. Some are about the euphoria of falling of love, some are about the depths of heartbreak, but most are feelings that, I’m willing to bet, we’ve felt at one time or another.

1.)   Forelsket (Norwegian) – Let’s start off with something positive. Forelsket describes how you feel when you first begin to fall in love. It’s that euphoric feeling of walking on air, when you view your paramour through rose-colored glasses and are convinced that the sun shines out of their posterior. All you want to do is gaze into each other’s eyes longingly and forget the rest of the world exists.

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Artistic Classroom Antics

I hadn’t planned on posting today, but when I got this gem in one of my lessons today, I couldn’t resist. How do you know when a student understands what you’re teaching? That’s an obstacle a lot of ALTs – regardless of whether we’re teaching first year elementary students or kids in an academic high school – fight to overcome in the classroom. For me, I know it’s a struggle to tell when my students really grasp a new concept, since I never know if the synchronized “Yes, Alex-sensei”s are actually honest, or if they’re just Pavlovian responses to the question, “Do you understand?”

Thankfully, there are some pretty good signifiers. This week I was teaching my eleventh graders about common body idioms that we use in English. This lesson had an added bonus because whenever the kids had to write their own sentences using the idioms, I got plenty of “Alex-sensei is such a beautiful/nice/great teacher, so she makes me weak in the knees.” It was all I could do to just blush sheepishly and brush them aside. (And naysayers, I don’t care if they were lying, it’s still nice to hear.)

Casual English, I think, is one of the most difficult areas to learn, so I was pretty impressed with how quickly and firmly the majority of the kids grasped the meanings. One of them – in my absolute favorite 組 (“kumi,” or class), no less – really stood out to me. As soon I saw the doodles that one of my favorite (and brightest) students had drawn in the margins of the handout, I knew that she’d completely understood what the idioms had meant. She usually draws me pictures on her homework; I’ve gotten everything from scenes from Night at the Museum to depictions of her family being seasick on the ferry up to Hokkaido to detailed pictures of her family making homemade miso. This little masterpiece, however, is definitely my favorite.

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I’m not sure which picture is my favorite, but the faces Achilles is making as he’s getting dunked in the river and then shot in the foot.

Plus, seeing little drawings like this make my job an absolute blast; I find them both hilarious and cute. I’ve gotten dozens and dozens of them on homework assignments, but I’m still not tired of them. (And after a year and a half living here, I still have yet to figure out if all Japanese kids are born with the artistic gene or if Aomori High School kids are just great artists along with being mini geniuses.)

And thus concludes another cheesy “I absolutely adore my students and wouldn’t trade them for anything” post.