While some people don't put a lot of stock in being able to speak a foreign language, I disagree. Speaking to someone in their native tongue goes a long way to understanding them. How someone says something is frequently more telling than what they say. You hear someone sputter and stammer in your language and you can't help but think them a fool. He may, however, be a physicist who just doesn't know English.

Proverbs can provide valuable insight into a society or culture. It shows you what they value and what they fear, two main drivers of any society. Many of them have overriding themes across cultures proving that some things are inherently human and not specifically cultural. I remember when I arrived at the French university in Cultured Sophisticated Europe where everyone was enlightened and intellectual. I have to be honest, I was a little intimidated. Imagine my surprise when one of the more common proverbs I kept hearing was "Femmes au volant, mort au tournant." (With a woman at the wheel, we're dead at the roundabout. Roundabout = traffic circle)

Silly me found out in short order France was chauvinistic to the point of being, at times, blatantly sexist. Don't get me started on anti-semitism or racism over there. Sheesh.

Anyway, I found this interesting post: How to Translate a Proverb

Some examples (i.e. one's I liked)

"Mas sabe el diablo por viejo que por diablo.
The devil knows more for being old than for being the devil.

Arbol que crece torcido jamás su tronco endereza.
A tree that grows crooked will never straighten its trunk.

Dime con quién andas y te diré quién eres.
Tell me whom you walk with and I’ll tell you who you are.
(You are the company you keep.)

Russian Proverbs

Близок локоть, да не укусишь. (Blizok lokotok, da ne ukusish.)
Your elbow’s close, but you can’t bite it.
(Meaning: The task only seems easy.)

Век живи, век учись – дураком помрёшь. (Vek zhivi, vek uchis – durakom pomrosh.)
Live a century, learn a century – you’ll still die a fool.
(The more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know.)"

I like the last one most of all. Good to have a sense of humility. Something some people are sorely lacking.


Jules said…
I speak spanish and proverbs are so hard to even english ones i'm like huh?

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