When I look back at all the people in life who have inspired me, or who still do inspire me, there is one thing that's true about all of them: they all stand for something. Interestingly, this can be a great language learning tool.
Those people who are most meaningful and inspirational are that way because we associate an idea with their identitity. And its always their idea. They've given us this message through their actions, their attitude, and their words. It's the identity that they have chosen for themselves, and — whether consciously or subconsciously — they have crafted their identity.
My father has a saying I've heard my whole life: "use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without." He learned those words growing up, and he's lived by those words, repeating them thousands of times to anyone who would listen. The result: he's not wasteful or frivolous, and he never throws anything useful away. That's something he stands for, and it's an important part of how I see him — really, how he wants to be seen.
A slight contrast to that is a motto that I live by: "the things you own end up owning you." Admittedly, it's something I got from a movie, but it's something I live by. I am a minimalist. I always want less. I associate lack of possessions with freedom, and I'll tell anyone who will listen. It's part of who I am and how I want to be known.
Apply it to your L2
An excellent part of learning a new language is learning how to express what you stand for. Finding the right saying or expression, or idom for the things that matter to you means being able to more naturally answer questions, tell stories, or express ideas. It also gives you the confidence to express who you really are, and to define yourself with your new friends in your second language.
Idioms and proverbs aren't always one-to-one, and a lot of times there are small variations in meaning, but if you pay attention to that, you can find that there anything which has been said in English has probably also been said in most other languages.
It's fun to Google proverbs in other languages and read lists of idioms you're likely to hear, so you won't be confused when people say them to you. And while you're doing that, it's not a bad idea to pick out a few that you will use and start throwing them around in conversations.
Take some time to figure out who you are and who you want to be known as. (It's also good to consider whether or not you've been doing a good job of that in English!) Take a pen and paper, and make a list of things that you stand for. Who are you? Who do you want people to know you as?
For example, my list would include, among other things, the following expressions:
- The things you own end up owning you.
- Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing at all.
- Language is a means, not an end.
- Less is more.
- Quality is better than quantity.
- If it's hard, you're doing it wrong.
Naturally, it doesn't have to stop there. Often there are several related sayings. There are also those which are quite different. Write them all. Anything that represents (or should represent) you.
Then, when you've got that list, hit Google and find expressions in your L2 that mean similar things. It helps to test them out on a native and find out if you've gotten it right. And while you've got that native, ask them how to say things... maybe they'll tell you something you can't find with Google!
In a lot of my foreign chats, I say things like "we have an expression in America....", describing the expression and its meaning, and then asking if there is anything similar in that person's language. The best way to sound comfortable and natural in a language is to speak like comfortable natives speak!
Want to see my favorite language resources and courses?
I listed them here.