What lies behind it?


“What lies behind it?” is one of the main questions that I constantly find myself asking when it comes to learning new things. I think everybody should be asking it too.

This boils down to a whole philosophy there but let’s apply it to languages and specifically to vocabulary learning. Whenever I learn new words, I always want to find out what exactly they mean. Take the Lithuanian word for thanks which is labas. You say it without thinking about it because it simply means hi. However, the same word used to mean good in Lithuanian and it was probably a part of some longer greeting before. Do you know the word crocodile? Well, it comes from Greek krokē ‘pebble’ + drilos ‘worm’ and it could be translated as a warm of the stones. I bet most people don’t know that when they say the word, do they? This is more interest than important but it could and does actually help language learning.

Take another example. French for today is aujourdhui. That’s what it is and that’s what it gets taught as. However, there is a reason why it is that… Take a look at the Spanish word hoy which means today. The French word could be similar to hoy and it would come out as something like hui but if pronounced in French, that would probably sound very similar to the French word oui which means yes. So, to avoid the confusion, the French indeed took the word hui but added more words and say: au jour d’hui (on the day of today), made it into one word and here you go, you have aujourdhui, and you have no confusion with oui. If you are a learner, you also have an easier time remembering it and you know how to spell it. Isn’t that nice?

Polish for thanks is dziękuję. Almost everybody knows that. However, not that many learners of Polish, when learning the word, learn that this word actually means I thank and it could be extended to other forms. There are many other examples.

Too often, in courses, I just find out those words taught in the beginning and just put there to memorize. I don’t think that’s a good way to learn. I think that a way better way to learn something is to understand why it is as it is and that’s why you have to ask the question “what lies behind it?”.

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  1. ·

    Unfortunately this information is not easily available for most words (at least none that I can find), and searching for each word’s history when learning a new language can be very time taking.

    Though I do agree that it is a great way to learn words that won’t be forgotten easily, and can be very helpful for anyone learning languages.

  2. ·

    To be specific, Polish for “thanks” is “dziękuję”, not “diękuję”.

  3. ·

    Who’s the pretty girl on the pic? She’s driving my attention off the text. Lucky me! :)

  4. ·

    Igor: I’m sorry to disappoint you but she’s just one of the girls from one of the stock photos sites.

  5. Ascii88

    Wait, labas doesn’t ever mean thanks in Lithuanian.

  6. Ascii88

    Ok, I’ve just read you’re a native Lithuanian, still LKŽ doesn’t have it… so… well, whatever.

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