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              What should a person do when they find themselves needing to communicate in a language they don’t understand? There are a couple of options, and it comes down to how much time you have. AI translations like Google translate are great in a pinch, if you have a little more time a dictionary can be useful, and if this is a language you’ll be interacting with often, we recommend some short study sessions.  Let’s talk about each, though, and consider why these options might be the best for you.

Quick and Dirty: Machine Translations

When you need a fast translation, especially for a language you are unfamiliar with, machine translation is the only option. It does come with some drawbacks though, so if you plan to be interacting with a specific language regularly, it may not be enough. While great for individual words, most AI translations struggle with longer sentences and even some phrases. Machines tend to translate word for word, what we might call a literal translation. While the meaning of each word will be preserved in the new language, it may lose some nuance.

Despite this, machine translations are ever-improving, and will get the job done for you most of the time. It’s a great option for when you need something quickly, and while it may lose some nuance, the meaning will almost always get across.

Some Added Nuance: Language Dictionaries

Sometimes you may find yourself interacting with a language for a short period only, like traveling, and need a communication solution. Enter the language dictionary. The advantage of such a dictionary over machine translation is that it is made by speakers of both languages you are working with, for people trying to bridge them. Because of this, they understand popular phrases in these languages and the nuances that accompany them. In travel or language dictionaries, there are translations for the things you will likely want to say that help carries the original nuance. They also help by avoiding words that may carry different implications in different languages.

For instance, the Japanese word for airhead is “piiman”. While likely not something you will find yourself saying often, in Japanese it is a word you need to be careful with. This is because “piiman” actually means green pepper, so you may say it more than you think. When you look piiman up in an app or with software, this second meaning doesn’t come up. When you find yourself interacting with a language in short bursts but in high quantity, it may be useful to pick up a dictionary, as it can help navigate the more nuanced parts of a language.

More than Once in a While: Learning a Language

This advice may sound a little obvious, but if you find yourself interacting with a language often enough, it may be useful to learn that language. That isn’t meant to be a sarcastic or digging statement, but some very real advice. Learning a language is difficult, and often isn’t a quick process, so let’s talk about a starting point.

Even if you don’t plan on learning an entire language, it can be useful to learn a few phrases that you can say often. Instead of worrying about the finer points of a language like how its grammar principles work, start by learning how to say what you want to say. Phrases like greetings, please and thank you, and more can be incredibly useful when memorized. It depends on your situation of course, but if you find yourself needing to say something often enough, learning and memorizing the phrase or part of speech can make things a lot easier.

The only drawback to learning a language, or even just a part of one, is of course the time required to do so. Typing something into google translate or even looking it up in a dictionary is going to be much faster than memorizing and learning the language. The payoff for this time spent is that in the long run, you save yourself the time of having to look something up each time you want to say it.

Conclusion: It’s About Time

When you find yourself interacting with a foreign language, the amount of time, as well as the frequency of your interaction, dictates which resources you should be using. If you need a quick fix, of course, machine translation is the way to go. But if you find yourself interacting with a language more than once in a while, it may be worth your time to pick up a dictionary. If you have the time, learning a language, even in small chunks, is your best chance at effectively navigating its nuances.

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