sobota, 26 listopada 2011

Lectures and Readings

Today's entry is about vocabulary confusion caused by something called a "false friend."  That is, a word that looks similar in two languages, but does not mean the same thing.  We've got a lot of these in English and Polish, and we'll be looking at quite a few of them.  Today's example is the word lecture.  It looks like lektura, so many students assume there's no difference, and use one as they would use the other.

However, English lecture does not mean "something we have to read for school (usually something long and boring)."  The word for that is reading--very often called required reading.  For example: in many American schools, the Constitution is required reading.  In this case, reading can be a countable or an uncountable noun.  We might say, for example: I've got five readings to do this weekend OR this lesson contains a dialog and a reading (countable).  But we can also say: My literature teacher assigned a lot of reading for this semester (uncountable).

A lecture is what we call in Polish wykład--that is, somebody giving a talk or a speech, usually about an academic subject.  For example: today a professor at Jagiellonian University is giving a lecture on economic theory.

The words lecture and lektura, by the way, both come from the Latin word for read, but have taken slightly different paths in their evolution.

sobota, 19 listopada 2011

Getting to Know You

Here's another area of frequent confusion.  I often hear Polish students saying things like, "Then I will get to know what really happened."  There seems to be a common misconception that Polish dowiedzieć się should be translated as "to get to know."

Actually, in English we "get to know" people, not facts.

First we meet somebody--we are introduced to them at a party, or we start to talk to them in a business or social situation.  After we have met someone, we usually know his name--perhaps not his full name, but at least his first name--and something about him, for instance, where he works, where he lives, who his friends are, something that he likes.  Still, we can't say we really know this person.  We usually don't say we know somebody until we have spent some time with him and know more about him.

The next stage is getting to know him, or getting acquainted with him.  The words acquainted and acquaintance scare many Polish students off, but they are really not that difficult.  This stage usually lasts from a few weeks to a few months, as we spend more time with him.  We find out more about his personality, his likes and dislikes, perhaps about his past, his family, or his plans for the future.

Also, we use the word acquaintance to mean somebody whom we have met, or whom we know slightly--in other words, we know her name and her face and perhaps what her job is, but we don't really know anything else about her.  In other words, this person is not a stranger, but not exactly a friend either.

Finally, when we have gotten to know someone, or have gotten acquainted with him, we say that we know him and we usually say he is a friend, or maybe an associate (in business).  We use the word friend much more freely and loosely in English than we use equivalent words in Polish and other languages.  We do not have to be intimate with somebody to call that person a friend.  We just have to know her and be on friendly terms with her.

Now let's go back to dowiedzieć się.  If we can't say "get to know," what can we say?

We usually say to find out or to learn.  Here are a few sample sentences:

Jane found out who had stolen her bicycle.
I learned the truth about this incident from the newspapers.
Did you ever find out who sent you that anonymous valentine?
I don't know what happened, but I'm going to find out.
It wasn't until the next morning that he learned the results of the election.