Today I’m proud to present the most recent blog from our blog contest winner Emma Wilberforce:
The UK is a great place to find inspiration for anything to do with language. There are so many people from all over the world and I challenge you to walk through a city and not hear more than one language spoken. Therefore, it is only natural that some people are more proficient in English than others. Getting to know people from other countries is just like making friends with anyone else. But there is the added bonus that when you hear something you don’t expect in conversation. It makes a great talking point. Here’s a handpicked example from my own experience.
Studying between the shelves
I was speaking to my friend from Germany the other day, talking about workload, when she came out with, “I was studying between the shelves in the library.” “Hang on, a second”, I said. “What did you just say?” Turns out it was a literal translation of the German phrase: Ich sasszwischen den Regalen in der Bibliothek.
It made me think what I would have said in her situation if I had been describing the location of where I was working in the library. Is ‘studying between the shelves’ an appropriate way of putting it? Or would we have to go the long way around and say “I was working at a table which was in between the bookshelves”? Unless it was vitally important that someone knew exactly where you were or you were referring to that specific place. I don’t think the bookshelves or table would come into things. A simple “I was working in the library,” would probably serve the purpose very well.
The same friend also told me that German has a similar phrase ‘Ich sass zwischen all demAlkohol in der Cocktailbar‘. Which she was keen to point out does not mean you were sitting between the alcohol, but rather that you were sitting in a bar where lots of alcohol was displayed!
Funny how we pick up on little things that don’t really alter our understanding of what is being conveyed. They still sound strange to the English ear! Makes you wonder whether we have any interesting phrases which provide amusement to speakers of other languages.
In the meantime maybe it’s best to let the Germans sit between the shelves in the library while we remain baffled.