The worst question to ask someone about their language!

You’re talking to someone in your new language. You hear a word you don’t understand. You get the person to explain it to you. The meaning sounds a lot like another word you know in the language.

Temptation strikes.

You ask, “What’s the difference between these two words?”

NOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Why is this the worst question to ask? Because people don’t think about their languages this way.

Here’s an example. What’s the difference between little and small?

You could Google it and come up with a technical answer, but you probably don’t know it off the top of your head.

You just know what sounds right.

And that’s how we want to be in our new languages, knowing what sounds right.

So, what should you ask instead?

“Can you give me some examples of other places you’d use that word?

“Would you use it in this sentence? How about this one?”

So tell me-what has your experience asking questions like these been?

Published by Nora McNamara

Lover of languages and linguistics. Besotted Auntie. Jesus follower. Sacred Harp singer.

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