Sometimes, seemingly simple texts can be extremely difficult to translate. The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or change their meanings. For example, for those of us no longer involved in the clubbing scene, translating promotional materials for a couple of DJs on the Ibiza scene is a real challenge. You just can’t rely on the now uncool words in fashion when you were a youngster!
One place you might start is the Urban Dictionary, a crowdsourced online dictionary that welcomes words and definitions from anyone. The site was started back in 1999 by a college student called Aaron Peckman and now contains more than seven million definitions of words, acronyms and phrases.
This is where you’ll find help to decipher the still-forming culture of social media, to understand lyrics of that R&B song and the text message you received from your teenage son. However, although it is dynamic and fun because anybody can contribute, some of the content is of questionable value. Some of the new words are worth adopting, although they are enough to give a purist a sneizure (a sneeze so violent it causes you to shake, making it look like you are also having a seizure).
If you prefer to get some advice from your peers, one site you might like to add to your bookmarks is http://english.stackexchange.com/. English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It’s 100% free, no registration required and anyone is free to ask questions.
It provides answers to dilemmas such as “Did ‘courgettes’ every have an English name?” and “What is the difference between the words “aggression” and “violence”?” It’s hard to navigate away when you see a user asking for a word that means “more accepting of other cultures”… Take part and learn while you have fun.
Meanwhile, the British Library at www.bl.uk invites you to “Explore the world’s knowledge” with numerous free and paid-for resources for learning and fine-tuning your command of the English language. There is a massive choice of materials on all facets of the English language. Take advantage of them.
Written by Juliet Allaway