5 Reasons To Avoid Google Translate When Learning a Language

Ever used Google Translate? Technology and the Internet is great, right? There is so much information available by a simple click of a button. Google Translate is a tool that may at first seem helpful when learning a new language. However, there are some issues with using Google Translate as a tool in your language studies. Here are Swedish teacher Daniel’s top 5 reasons for why you should avoid using it when learning a language.

  1. Google Translate is a blunt tool

Translation from one language to another is not simply about translating word for word (‘direct translation’). You need to also translate according to grammatical, idiomatic and cultural patterns, which may mean that a sentence might look quite different in terms of the actual words, but mean the same thing. A quick look at direct translations of sayings illustrate this point.

The Vauquois triangle (below) shows different levels of translation. The higher up in the pyramid, the more precise the translation. The highest level of translation (‘interlingua’) is still an issue in Google Translate, which means sentences will still contain errors (sometimes grammatical, and often idiomatic).

Google translate is built on an algorithm that has access to a large amount of texts written in two languages, which allows for a basis on which to predict and make guesses. Translation is made sentence by sentence; the more text available, the better the predictions. The issue here is that a translation with 90% correct translation can still turn out as a result which is 100% wrong. On top of this, there are many poorly translated texts now on the Internet (many of them have used Google Translate). This means that they are now in ‘the system’ and have become part of the basis from which Google Translate predicts, making the errors self-enhancing and re-occurring.

Learning a language is like going on a long journey: you’re planning for the whole trip, preparing for bad weather, and you need routines. Google Translate stops your progress even if you don’t notice at first. When you do, however, you might have to turn back and choose a different road.

  1. You can’t trick anyone (at least not your teacher!)

A teacher’s job is to know their subject, but it’s also to know their student. They identify the student’s level, where they’re going, and how to help them reach the finishing line. While your teacher knows how intelligent you are, that perfect paragraph with no spelling errors is not your writing and hasn’t even been taught by your teacher yet.

  1. No learning

To learn anything from the beginning is an uphill struggle against waning willpower and outside influences. Don’t let Google Translate be part of that negative influence. Use a real dictionary, if you must.

  1. Learning from mistakes is essential learning

In learning, mistakes are the key ingredients to understanding what is correct. You don’t bake the perfect cake on your first try; maybe not even after your hundredth try. But each time you prepare the next batch of batter, you change something to avoid making the same mistake.

Google Translate doesn’t teach you the nuances of language. A particular sentence can be written in different ways, depending on context, and that is what your teacher will show. We all desire flawless work, but that has to be set aside while learning the language.

  1. Your writing is your reward

The feeling of personal satisfaction is more than ample reward for all the sweating, flicking through pages, and trying to make sense of something you previously knew nothing about. The glint in a student’s eye when they are able to produce a paragraph in Swedish is priceless, and doubly so when it’s written independently.

To book a lesson with a Swedish teacher, go to our booking system to check availability.

 

Quick questions for Daniel

Daniel is a Swedish teacher here at Swedish Made Easy. He teaches all levels, from 14962990_10154660030213735_856244307_nbeginner to advanced. He comes from Göteborg in Sweden (which he would adamantly argue is the best city in Sweden), and lives with his family in London, UK. He has worked in education for over 8 years, and taught Swedish since 2013. He has a real passion for languages and has helped to improve literacy levels of children in secondary schools in London (and even helped a school to set up a library!). He also writes books and short stories (check it out).

Here are 11 quick questions for Daniel!

1. Can you play any instruments?

I learned to play the guitar when I attended a music course at university. Wrote and composed a Gospel song called “Godissången” for the children’s musical we performed at the end of term. Radio stations across the world played it for years and years and … oh, right. That part was just a dream.

2. What was your favourite TV show when growing up?

Transformers, He-Man, and Star Fleet in the 1980s; X-files and Twin Peaks in the 1990s.

3. Favourite Swedish band?

I realised in 2000-2001 that my favourite band was Kent. Favourite “foreign” band is R.E.M.

4. Do you collect anything?

I had a strange fascination collecting postcards for a long time, but these days that obsession has changed to coffee mugs. I like drinking my fancy Italian coffee in style.

5. Choose a movie title for the story of your life.

A Life Less Ordinary.

6. What is the oldest thing in your fridge?

A frozen House elf from 1821. Mind you, the fridge is from the glorious year of 1816.

7. What, or who, are you a “closet” fan of?

Dolly Parton.

8. What is the nerdiest thing you do in your spare time?

I’m a member of a Swedish film site and record each new film I watch. So far, I’ve watched 2603 of them. The latest one was Independence Day: Resurgence, which I gave a solid 1 (out of 5).

9. Favourite film?

Are you crazy? There are too many to pick from! Help! Okay, okay, depends on the genre. Overall I’d go with the original 12 Angry Men.

10. What about a favourite Swedish film, then?

That’s very difficult too. I’ll go with a timeless classic comedy and say Att Angöra en Brygga. All my favourite Swedish actors gathered on an island to celebrate Midsummer, what can go wrong?

11. What are three things still left on your bucket list?

Publish books, travel outside Europe, and provide tools for my children to become decent and caring human beings.

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To book a lesson with Daniel or to check his availability, click on “Swedish with Daniel” on the booking system

Quick questions for Sophie

Sophie works as a Swedish teacher at Swedish Made Easy. She is a native image1-1-jpgSwede who spent her 20’s in London, but these days she is based in Stockholm where she lives with her husband and two children. She works as an rhetoric consultant as well as a equality consultant, with a focus on communication. She has a great love for the Swedish language, its development and uses of languages generally.

 

Here are 12 quick questions for Sophie.

1.Which Swedish storybook/cartoon character turns you on the most?

Pippi, because she did everything the other way around, didn’t follow conventions and had her own very cool look.

2. Can you play any instruments?

A bit of piano and a little bit of guitar

3. What was your favourite TV show when growing up?

Laverne and Shirley

4. Midsummer, Lucia or Christmas?

Midsummer!

5. How old is the oldest pair of shoes in your closet?

My Doc Martin, I bought them in 1996!

6. What, or who, are you a “closet” fan of?

Make up tutorials

7. What is the oldest thing in your fridge?

A year of coconut butter. I know it’s good, but can’t eat it.

8. What Swedish food do you never want to live without?

Sill!

9. What is the nerdiest thing you do in your spare time?

Play simpsons on my phone

10. Do you have any strange phobias?

Dirty hands

11. Favourite Swedish saying?

Det ordnar sig!

12. What are three things still left on your bucket list?

Jump out of an airplane (preferable with a parachute), Tatoos, My own TV show.

 

Sophie is available on Thursday mornings for lessons. To book Sophie, go to the booking system and select “Swedish with Sophie”.

Welcome Daniel – Swedish teacher

Swedish Made Easy is growing and we now have a new teacher onboard. I am very pleased to introduce Daniel Lind, who from now on will work as a Swedish teacher at Swedish Made Easy.

Daniel comes from Göteborg in Sweden, and lives with his family in London, UK. He has
worked in education for over 8 years, and worked with students of all ages. He has a real passion for languages and has helped to improve literacy levels of children in secondary schools in London (and even helped a school to set up a library!). He has taught Swedish to both children and adults since 2013. Daniel is also an author, and writes books and short stories in his free time (check it out!).

Daniel will be available for Skype Swedish lessons via the booking system, under “Swedish with Daniel”, and he teaches all levels – from beginner to advanced.

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Hen – the debated Swedish pronoun

You may have heard of the gender neutral Swedish pronoun “hen”. It has been debated in Sweden during the past couple of years, and some people feel strongly about it. So what’s the fuss all about?

“Han” means singular he, and “hon” means singular she. But what if you don’t know the gender of a person? Or if it is irrelevant? Consider a situation where you say you need to book an appointment at the dentist, and you hope that he/she/the dentist will be able to help you with your toothache.

You may not want to assume that the dentist is a woman nor a man. The “s/he” is pretty clunky (especially in speech – how on earth do you pronounce “s/he”?!), and to say “the dentist” again just sounds repetitive. So what can you say? In English, you can of course say “they” – you hope that they will help you with your toothache. However, in Swedish, you do not use the third person plural for a singular person – you cannot say “de” in this case.

Lately, a new, gender-neutral pronoun has started to become more popular in Sweden – hen. The pronoun hen is defined as a “proposed gender-neutral personal pronoun instead of han and hon”. Even though this is a relatively new phenomenon in Swedish, several languages have gender neutral pronouns. Finnish, for example, only has gender neutral pronouns!

The book “Kivi och Monsterhund” came out earlier this year, and it is the first book that only uses hen – instead of han and hon. And the book has caused a widespread debate in Sweden.

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The author, Jesper Lundqvist, wanted to write a book for children – rather than for girls or boys, and that was the main reason why he used “hen” in his book. He said he found it liberating to write directly to children, without having to think about all the stereotypical associations that surround boys and girls. Jesper says that some have misunderstood the whole idea of hen, and thought of it as a way of replacing han and hon. But this is not correct. Rather, it is more about having an “extra tool in the tool box”, linguistically speaking. (http://www.gp.se/nyheter/sverige/1.874481-sa-borjade-debatten-om-hen?)

What do you think to the idea of having a gender-neutral pronoun? Useful? Unnecessary? Feel free to comment below.  

Interview with a Swedish learner – James

Learning Swedish – interview with a learner

James is a radiographer working in an NHS hospital in the UK. He was raised in Southport, Lancashire, but currently lives in Grimsby, Lincolnshire, UK, but he is hoping on finding work in Sweden in the not-too-distant future. James likes to ride his bicycles a lot and successfully completed Vätternrundan, a 180 mile ride around Lake Vättern, in Sweden in 2015.

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What led you to want to learn Swedish?

I’ve always been interested in Nordic history and culture, the cause of which was probably being exposed to a 1980s adventure game I used to play on my computer as a boy called Valhalla. More recently, I had been looking at job adverts for jobs in my profession across Norway, Sweden and Denmark, and wishing I could apply for them. But after separate trips to Sweden, Norway and Finland, and enjoying experiencing life as a tourist in those countries, in 2014 I thought I’d bite the bullet and give learning a language a go. I plumped for Sweden as I felt the size of the country would be good.

When and how did you start learning Swedish?

I started using the Babbel app on my iPad, in May 2014, and shortly after started taking lessons from Anneli over Skype.

How much do you currently use the Swedish language, and why?

I try to use it when I can. The chances to use Swedish in the UK are limited but there’s a few groups across the country that arrange meetings through the meetup.com website, in London, Manchester and Glasgow. Other than that, if I visit Sweden I try to use my language skills there, but this is made more difficult by the natives’ excellent English skills and their eagerness to use them in conversation with an Englishman!

What have been the challenges for you in learning Swedish?

Trying to fit my lessons and homework around my job and other interests.

What is your proudest moment as a Swedish speaker?

When arriving on a campsite in June 2015, I did manage to hold a good conversation with the management telling them my name and that I had booked a pitch for a few nights. I think they may have been confused by my arriving in a right hand drive car!

Can you recommend any Swedish books that are good for learning Swedish?

Swedish: An Essential Grammar, by Philip Holmes and Ian Hinchliffe, is an excellent grammar book for those starting out in Swedish.

Can you recommend any online / media resources for learning Swedish?

The aforementioned Babbel app, which you can use on iOS and Android, plus their version for desktop computers, is excellent but you have to pay a monthly subscription to use it. You could consider switching your phone’s language setting to Swedish, although it may be a good idea to memorise how to switch the language back to English should you need to. Swedish TV shows seem to be quite in demand on UK television these days with Wallander and The Bridge being shown on the BBC and there’s plenty of DVDs of Swedish TV shows available too, with English subtitling of course, plus you could consider watching English language films with Swedish subtitling. Listen to Swedish records, from the likes of Melissa Horn and Linnea Henriksson, and have a look at the lyrics booklet with the album.

Do you have any other advice for future, budding Swedish learners?

Learn little and often, maybe try and think about what you’re doing in Swedish rather than English, maybe keep a written diary in Swedish and write about your days.

 

The Plate Spinner

The Plate Spinner

When I talk about the process of language learning with my learners, I often refer to the concept of a plate spinner. I use this metaphor because I think it captures very well the process of language learning.

Some think of the process as building a house (laying a solid foundation, adding brick upon brick, adding new floors on top of each other). The problem with this notion, is that it assumes that you need a solid and sturdy foundation before you can add any more on to it (to prevent it from coming crashing down). And what this usually means, in practical terms for language learners, is a sense that they must remember everything they have learnt so far, in order to move onto something new. “I don’t dare to start a new chapter, because I cannot immediately recall everything I learnt in the previous chapter.” This, I believe, is not a useful language learning strategy, as the learner will develop unnecessary anxieties relating to short-term memory failure, and an impossible ambition to be able to recall every single word in the new language vocabulary (often without any context). A bit like a computer.

Instead, a much more constructive analogy is that of a plate spinner. The plates can represent the different language skills (speaking, reading, listening, writing, grammatical knowledge), and the spinner is the learner. The goal is to spin all the plates as evenly as possible, at the same time. Of course, sometimes a plate spinner may focus on one or two particular plates, which results in another plate beginning to slow down and wobble. But the plate spinner turns their attention to that plate, gives it a little bit of a spin to stabilise it, and things are ok again. And it is ok for plates to be a bit wobbly sometimes. It may just be because you have focused hard on something else for a while. All you have to do is to identify the plate (speaking, listening, or whatever it may be), give it a bit of a spin, and just keep on going. As long as all the plates are spinning in some shape or form, then things are going just fine.

Andrew Van Buren, a famous plate spinner

Is Swedish hard to learn?

Is Swedish hard to learn?

Well, it depends, of course. It depends on what your native language is, and whether it is close to Swedish. So for example, if your native language is German, then Swedish will be quite easy to learn. It also depends on the complexity of the language. For an English speaker, Swedish is not that complex, compared to many other languages. Compared to English, the pronunciation may be a bit of a challenge. Swedish has a lot of vowels, in fact 9: a, e, i, o, u, y, å, ä, and ö. Swedish also has some particular sounds that do not sound quite like they are spelled (for ex: sj-, stj-, skj-). If you are not used to grammatical genders, the idea of using ‘en’ and ‘ett’ in front of the nouns seem weird to start with. And when you learn more about the grammar, you will find out that the concept of en and ett can also be seen on other words in the language – they kind of ‘rub off’ on other words (adjectives and possessive pronouns, typically).

It of course also depends on how much time you devote per week to studying Swedish (the more often you study, the quicker you will learn), what resources you have available and your motivation for studying.

According to The Foreign Service Institute of the U.S. Department of State, Swedish is in fact on of the easier languages to learn. Good news! If you are a native English speaker, it should take you approximately 575-600 class hours to learn Swedish to a proficient level. This is relatively easy, compared to some of the hardest languages – for example Japanese, Arabic and Chinese will take approximately 2,200 class hours to learn!

Also, have a look at the blog post I have written previously about how many hours it takes to learn Swedish.

Hard-Languages-To-Learn

Happy 10th anniversary!

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10 years ago, I started teaching my very first student. This was before Skype had gone mainstream and was only in its infancy. I was studying for my PhD, and I took on another couple of students – the idea of teaching Swedish was so much more appealing than working extra in a pub.

Since then, I have taught over 210 students, for more than 9,000 hours. I set up a website, an online booking system, social media profiles. I have become a qualified SWEDEX examiner. I have got a teaching degree (oh, and my PhD too of course!).

Some of you have popped in for a lesson or two, whereas some have now been with me for over 5 years. Some of you have studied intensively, some less frequently. Some of you have stopped and then come back again. Some of you now live in Sweden. Some of you have now got children. Some of you have lived in Sweden and now moved somewhere else. Some of you became sambo or got married. Some of you are now divorced. I have talked to teenagers and pensioners, men and women. I have talked to doctors, nurses, midwives, authors, IT programmers, students, lecturers, managing directors, editors, archaeologists, solicitors, store managers, computer game designers, psychologists, priests, football coaches, sales people, HR people, marketing people, embassy workers, postmen, economists, bankers, musicians, film makers, translators, dancers, dog kennel owners, marine biologists, veterinary surgeons, post docs, PhD students, pharmacists, recruiters, entrepreneurs, unemployed and more. I have taught via Skype from the UK, from Sweden, from the US. You have Skyped in from all over the world, into my little computer, across time zones and space.

I have taught Swedish conversation, grammar, pronunciation, culture and quirks. You have shared your life stories with me, taught me your culture, shared your experiences. We have together seen the fruits of your labour (and sometimes it has been hard), and I have been so proud of your progress. Like the first time you asked a Swede something on the streets and got a Swedish reply back. Like when you first watched a Swedish movie without subtitles. Like when you read your first Swedish book. Or managed your job interview in Swedish. And got employed. Like when you started speaking Swedish more regularly with your partner. All those little moments that have been so rewarding for us both.

Language builds bridges. Language builds cultural understanding. Language is integration. Thank you everyone who’s been with me on this journey so far. I have loved every minute!

Here’s to the next 10 years!

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