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03 January 2017

Foreign Language Comparison

How to use your second language in your scripture study, even if you're not good at the language yet.

One of the things that I love to do is to do some of my scripture reading in a foreign language. Years ago, I read the whole Book of Mormon in Spanish. I didn't do anything special (and I never got very good at the language -- you don't need to be terribly fluent, just stubborn and willing to go slow); I just read stuff. Usually with my Spanish book and my English book side-by-side. One of my favorite passages comes from that effort. I was cruising along, starting to pick up just a little bit of speed, getting into 2 Nephi, where I read this.

Adán cayó para que los hombres existiesen; y existen los hombres para que tengan gozo.
-2 Nefi 2:25 

It's a pretty well known verse, but I was working hard, and didn't recognize it when I read it, which turned out to be a good thing: it's easy to let your brain turn off when reading things that are extremely familiar, but that didn't happen this time. I still remember how the next verse slammed into me:

Y el Mesías vendrá en la plenitud de los tiempos, a fin de redimir a los hijos de los hombres...
-2 Nefi 2:26

I stopped what I was doing, grabbed the English book, and read the passage again:

Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.  And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall...
-2 Nephi 2:25-26

I've never looked at that passage the same since then, and I've never been able to think of the Fall of Adam without feeling the connection to the mission of the Messiah. Before that day, I'd never really noticed the connection, even though it should have been obvious. I'd seen the bit about joy, but never really understood the connection of joy to either Adam or the Redemption. The experience gave me a taste for doing some of my scripture study in another language that I've never lost. (As an added bonus, it's really good for your language study, even if you only read in very small bursts).

Japanese is my language that I'm messing around with now, and I'm very, very slow at it. But, because of the cool electronic tools they've come up with, it's way easier this time to not only read, but to start to integrate it into topical study. Right now, I'm looking at the concept of "intent". Which isn't a word we use a lot in English, outside of the phrase "real intent". It was kind of mushy in my head. But Japanese, it turns out, has a number of really descriptive ways of saying it.

Japanese is cool. It gets a bad rap as being hard to learn because the writing system is pretty exotic, but really, learning to write is the secret to success with the language: a huge percent of the language is compound words, so once you learn the basic meanings of about 2000 words, you can tell a lot about the meaning of thousands more. Our word intent has been translated in a whole bunch of ways when they put it in Japanese. The first one I noticed was mokuteki.

Looks like this:

How to use your second language in your scripture study, even if you're not good at the language yet.

There's two characters in this compound, the first one means eye -- it even almost looks like an eye -- and the second one means target. Intent: the eye's target. I was talking to a friend of mine about this, and she told me that when her mom was teaching her to bowl, she told her to keep her eye on the front pin, or the space between the pins, because where here eye was -her intent- that's where her ball was going to go. We do something similar in the marital arts, with the toes, knees, punch, and also the eyes and will, all pointing to the same thing. If one of them points elsewhere, beside where your opponent is, then your punch looses power. It's interesting to think of how that can be described as  "confused intent", if all the various components of our actions are not aligned properly into "real intent".

It's a whole line of thought, as well as a whole conversation about the scriptures with my friend, that never would have happened without my efforts at reading the scriptures in a second language. And this isn't the only word that's used in the Japanese where it just says "intent" in English; I've found seven variants so far, and each one of them sheds a little more light on the concept. What I think would be really interesting would be to then search those words and phrases, and see what they become when they come back into English: is it only "intent" or do they translate into other words and phrases as well?

Changing languages is really easy on the website: in the top right corner is a little world. Click it, then pick your language. For this project, I've had the English search on my computer screen, and the Japanese on my phone. Switching the iPhone app to a new language is a little more involved, but once you do it once, you can set up a bookmark, which makes switching back and forth really easy. And there are side-by-side versions for the iPhone, too, in a bunch of languages. (I wrote a tutorial for how to do set up your bookmarks so they do the work for you, if you'd like step-by-step instructions.)

So try it out. Dust off your high school language, or your mission language, or take the plunge into the language you've been wanting to learn. It's ok if you only do a verse, or even part of a verse, when you're starting. It's OK to be a beginner; it's OK to not understand everything at first; it takes time to get quick at it. It's OK to go slow; there's no right speed for scripture, and sometimes it's remarkable what slowing waaaaay down does for making me ponder verses that I've overlooked. It's a fun kind of work. And it pays rich dividends in terms of insights that just aren't available in your native tongue.

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