Borrowing Other Bloggers’ Ideas

         I just read a blog by my dear friend (yes, even if we haven’t seen each other in years!) David Mintz, former NAJIT Chair and webmaster extraordinaire. I so enjoyed reading his irreverent takes on all kinds of different topics that I felt definitely motivated to pick up on at least one of his ideas for this blog, since I can’t seem to be able to convince him to become a regular contributor here. He was talking about books, which led to what you are about to read… with a twist.

            I have always thought that people who talk about their favorite books are really smart people. Talking about books —or paintings, or music— is, in my opinion, a way of letting others know, without saying so, that one has a certain level of intelligence and sophistication.

The truth is I never remember the titles of the books I have read or the names of their authors any more. Oh, I used to… way back when I was in college and my favorite authors were Cortázar, Borges, Neruda, Benedetti, García Márques, Vargas Llosa, and all those wonderful 20th Century Latin American writers. But more recently I have started to read those paperbacks in English that keep me entertained while I sunbathe at the beach or wait in court for a proceeding to start.

I know I owe much of my vocabulary in Spanish to those novels, short stories and poems rich in both highly cultured and popular vernaculars. Now I learn police and street talk from the likes of fictional character P.I. Spenser (no first name) and Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch, behind-the-scenes legal strategies from fictional attorneys like Paul Madriani, Dismas Hardy, Stone Barrington, urban girl talk from Stephanie Plum, and many others I honestly can’t remember; these are just a few I was able to look up in my Kindle as I was writing this blog.

Now, let’s not forget what we can learn from television! If you have (or know) a Spanish-speaking child who watches television you may have noticed that child has a greater breadth of vocabulary and uses more verb tenses than most adults around you. That is because they learn it from the shows that are either produced in different Spanish-speaking countries or dubbed into Spanish using a fairly high register.

In my case, I want to learn the lower registers of the English language that I do not have the luxury of learning from live users or informants because I live in a Spanish-speaking country. My favorite shows are Castle (of course!), NCIS (DC and LA), and Law & Order for all the contemporary police talk and street slang. Criminal Minds is a great source of terminology in forensic psychology and criminology but it can get a little gory for my taste sometimes, so if you have never seen this show and want to sample an episode, beware of the bloody scenes.

I used to like CSI  when it first started but I can’t deal with all the Andy Warhol coloring in the Miami and New York versions so I don’t watch it any more. Plus, Nick Stokes is out, so… I have lost another incentive. However, it is still a good show to learn a lot of forensic science terminology. I still have Bones, however, with the exquisite forensic anthropologist Dr. Temperance Brennan and the fictitious Jeffersonian Institute’s team of scientists, plus I have the quintessential combination of police talk, legalese, and forensic science with Rizzoli & Isles. And just for the heck of it, I also watch Major Crimes every once in a while. Not a lot of terminology there, but I enjoy the way they really push the envelope with their plots and characters.

There may be other good shows out there, but I really don’t have too much time to go exploring so maybe some of you can provide suggestions. I heard someone say that they watched telenovelas (Spanish soap operas) for the regionalisms. If I could get past the clichés I would too. The Brazilian ones seem to be particularly educational when set in a certain historical period, but I have only seen these dubbed into Spanish so maybe our Brazilian friends can share with us their opinions about these.

And, of course, there may be other books that you have found to be a great source of vocabulary or terminology and may want to share with the rest of our blog readers. No need for strictly high-brow culture here. Popular culture is just as important for us judiciary interpreters and legal translators. So share your sources: “enquiring” minds want to know!

1 Comment
  • Gio Lester
    Posted at 13:23h, 29 June Reply

    This is so true, Janis. I watch variety programs in Spanish and also TV Globo Internacional. There is a little booklet on my ottoman, and a pencil/pen next to it. They share the same tray as my remote control.

    I don’t have the inclination or the patience to take classes in a specific language anymore. So, I take courses on different subjects, taught in the languages I want to reinforce or develop. That also works for specific vocabulary. And you are right: tv is a great asset if you know how to use.

    I love Suits. Could not stand Getting Away with Murder (or something like that; not for the acting, but the premise). Major Crimes, Bones, Castle, Elementary… But I have a hard time with soap operas. I need to put myself into a learning frame of mind. Too predictable and over acted.

    Back to the subject… Life is the best classroom there is. Thank you for the reminder.

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