September 15, 2013 | Review Period

I Love Learning Fruits and Vegetables in Foreign Languages

In which I study carrots and lettuce and apples.

I don’t care for the term “foodie”; my eating life is very simple. Maybe that’s why I don’t like when language books try to teach me fancy food names—but I do love learning the basic fruits and vegetables. 

Vegetables at the New York French American Charter School

Vegetables at the New York French American Charter School

I think there’s a nostalgia about learning things like “apple” and “banana.” When you take language classes as a little kid, produce tends to figure prominently in your studies. A few years ago when I visited the New York French American Charter School on 120th Street, for example, there were vegetables on the wall.

Yesterday my mother sent me an impressive picture of a zucchini from her garden in Montana. Then by coincidence this morning I came across a list of fruits and vegetables in Sue Tyson-Ward’s previously mentioned Practice Makes Perfect: Beginning Portuguese with Two Audio CDs. I got a kick out of the vocabulary list, especially since I had forgotten most of those foods between the time I stopped studying Portuguese last year and now.

I decided this confluence of vegetable moments called for a six-language food table.

English Portuguese Spanish Italian French German
orange laranja naranja arancia orange Orange
apple maçã manzana mela pomme Apfel
banana banana banana banana banane Banane
pear pêra pera pera poire Birne
strawberry morango fresa fragola fraise Erdbeere
potato batata papa patata pomme de terre Kartoffel
carrot cenoura zanahoria carota carotte Karotte
mushroom cogumelo hongo fungo champignon Pilz
lettuce alface lechuga lattuga laitue Salat
tomato tomate tomate pomodoro tomate Tomate
onion cebola cebolla cipolla oignon Zwiebel
garlic alho ajo aglio ail Knoblauch

If you see any mistakes, please let me know; all those garlics made me dizzy. (Doesn’t German look impertinent at the very end, by the way, with that Knoblauch?)

A Montana Zucchini, Courtesy of Sue Tester, My Mom

A Montana Zucchini, Courtesy of Sue Tester, My Mom

Complicating the food-collection process is that some of this produce may have different names depending on where exactly in the world you are when you are alluding to your fruits and vegetables.

I was thinking of adding “zucchini” or at least “squash” to my list, in honor of my mother’s impressive garden yield, but this is not a term I have typically acquired in my language-learning life and I was quickly overwhelmed by the choices and my unfamiliarity with most of the words.

Ah, the complexity of the squash world! Another time perhaps.

It is interesting to compare apples and oranges. (Sorry, couldn’t resist!)

Comments (11)

Farschied • Posted on Mon, September 16, 2013 - 5:40 am EST

Hi Ellen!
That’s a nice post!

” (Doesn’t German look impertinent at the very end, by the way, with that Knoblauch?) “

That’s why German is my first favorite langauge. It’s special!

But of course if you’d compared German with other Germanic languages the result would be a little different. But in the case of fruits I think there is no much difference.

Here is ” bird ” in some Germanic langauges: Striking resemblance!

German = Vogel;  Dutch = vogel; Swedish= fågel; Danish = fugl; Norwegian = fugl

Here’s another question: Would it help if we learned all fancy words about fruits,vegetables, birds, insects, tools (like screwdriver, wrench) , different kinds of clothes or fabrics (denim,cotton) in different languages? What do you think?

I mean does it really help to the flow of conversation or fluent speaking which I think is the main purpose of learning a language?

What about these polyglots who claim to know, say, 20 langauges? When they say we speak 20 languages do they really know these details? Can they speak about economical issues or some stuff about psychology such as “cognitive dissonance” ?!!?! I don’t think they can!
So when they say they speak 20 langauges They mean it from the general point of view! 

I’m not saying that it’s easy to even speak 20 languages in general fields, It requires a loooooot of work! 

I am just trying to define the word “speak” as in ” I speak 20 languages”.
There should be a scale for that; How well do you speak these 20 languages! 60 percent? 70 percent?

Somebody back me up here!  :)

jose luiz serafini • Posted on Mon, September 16, 2013 - 10:32 am EST

Farschied forgot to include the English FOWL in that pretty Germanic family…

jose luiz serafini • Posted on Mon, September 16, 2013 - 11:26 am EST

And Farschied, while we wait for what our blogger has to ponder about those difficult questions you posed, I would like to say two things: (1) those polyglots don’t know those languages with the same degree of proficiency, sometimes far form it; and (2) in general, some of those languages might be temporarily “frozen”, and must be “defrozen” when needed, a task that might take a few hours, days or weeks, as I’m told…

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Mon, September 16, 2013 - 12:21 pm EST

Farschied, you don’t happen to have all those linguistic birds just flying around in your head, do you? If so, I am envious.

I loved your comment about wrenches and denim. I would actually love to know such words in other languages. I think I would recognize those two if I heard them in a few, but as I sit here in my chair pondering them, I can’t produce them with certainty from scratch in any language but my own. Alas.

They may not be necessary to normal communication, but it sure is nice to know things like that…feels complete.

When I am presented with vocabulary that seems random or obscure given the level of whatever material I am examining at that moment, I try to remember how even “wire transfer” could be useful if I would just remember it. But there is a hierarchy in my mind. For instance, I think “sister-in-law” is way more important than “wire transfer,” and when an ostensibly practical book tries to teach me about financial transactions before I know how to refer to my relatives, my mind rebels.

I recognize that it is very unfair the way I am constantly letting all those Romance languages gang up on German. But look at those nouns! And those capital letters! German seems able to defend itself.

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Mon, September 16, 2013 - 12:36 pm EST

Following up on the proficiency question, self-assessment is unreliable. Extravagant claims are often merely…extravagant claims. “I am an amazing athlete.” “I am an amazing writer.” “I am the next American Idol.” Every once in a while braggadocio and true talent coincide, but there is not a very good correlation.

I don’t know when you can say “speak.” I find that question very painful. I speak English! There! I said it! I do!

But as I have written before, saying “I speak Spanish” when I know how many words and structures I don’t know—well, it makes me squirmy. This is true even though I am fully able to hold a conversation in it about sophisticated ideas. I have been told I have a silly attitude towards “speak,” but it remains hard for me to say that word about a foreign language.

I find that some of the most extravagant of extravagant claims come from young men (yourself clearly excluded, Farschied). I don’t know what exactly to make of them.

Fortunately, I happen to like studying, so I will stay away from that question as much as possible, keep plugging along, and do my best to battle the endless forgetting for as long as this remains fun for me, which seems likely to be a very long time.

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Mon, September 16, 2013 - 12:41 pm EST

Fowl! I hardly ever hear that!

I constantly need to be thawed. Now that I am in the midst of reviewing German, French, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese all at once, my Hebrew (which I was just studying) has gone on vacation, to a very, very faraway land.

It causes me actual brain pain when I go into my local Israeli-owned coffee shop carrying my Italian and German books and an employee there speaks to me in Hebrew.

Farschied • Posted on Mon, September 16, 2013 - 2:05 pm EST

Well actually yes! Those birds were just flying in my head! But that doesn’t mean I can SPEAK all of those languages! I just know some basic words from those languages. It helps you to get a linguistic overview of the language!

Except German, my German is good enough to keep a conversation going for a while! 

It’s me who should be jealous of your success.You actually managed to plan a schedule and do it as planned! I mean I am really good at planning, but when it comes to following it I couldn’t do most of it! :D

And you said ” normal communication ” . That’s the word I was looking for!

Polyglots should say: “I can speak [n] languages when it comes to normal communications.”

” I speak English! There! I said it! I do! ” LOL!

Since you liked my linguistic birds, I suggest you take a look at my linguistic stars in my linguistic sky!

This time from a wide variety of Indo-European language families:

English=star;  Persian= setare   Swedish=stjärna;  Dutch=ster;  German=Stern;    Danish=stjerne;   

Norwegian= stjerners

Spanish=estrella;    Italian=stella;  French=étoiles;  Portuguese=estrela; 

Romanian=stea;    Icelandic=stjörnu      

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Mon, September 16, 2013 - 2:12 pm EST

First birds and now stars! Farschied, you sound like a dreamer. :)

(That is a compliment.)

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Mon, September 16, 2013 - 2:15 pm EST

P.S. I can’t believe you can remember those international birds. Wow! I don’t remember basic words from languages I don’t really speak. That is an interesting and impressive ability.

Farschied • Posted on Mon, September 16, 2013 - 2:30 pm EST

Danke!  Ich fühle mich sehr geschmeichelt!

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Mon, September 16, 2013 - 2:40 pm EST

Bitte. :)

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