Submitted by: Nora Barry, Chief Content Officer, BridgeView Media

What’s the different between thinking in story and thinking in bullet points?

Say I’m giving a presentation on the importance of accuracy in language translation. I could write power point bullets, like this

– Accuracy is critical in translating languages

– Always understand the context of the sentences you are translating

– If you use slang, verify that the slang hasn’t morphed into a new meaning

– Double and triple check before handing in

Chances are, I lost you on the second bullet point. And you probably can’t remember the first bullet without glancing back.

Now I’ll tell you a story that illustrates those same points, in a story form:

When I was a college student, I spent a semester in France. Angers to be precise, the so-called “cradle of the French language”. Admittedly, I spent more time reading non-coursework related materials and cutting class than attending class.

One of the books I read was “Cyrano de Bergerac”, a novel by Edmond Rostand. It’s a romantic novel, full of flowery language and set in the 17th century. One of the most memorable passages is about a kiss: “un baiser, mais à tout prendre, qu’est ce?” Translated, it reads, “A kiss, but what is it?”

I was reading the original French version and was simultaneously loving it and feeling good about my ability to understand it. One day, I walked into translation class and the professor handed out an excerpt of a Time magazine article in English, and asked us to translate it into French. The article was about kissing customs—for instance, the Japanese never kiss in airports, they shake hands; the French kiss multiple times per cheek; Americans hug instead of kissing.

Since I was reading a novel that involved a lot of kissing and a lot of conversation about kissing, I did the translation cold and handed it in. Several days later the professor returned the assignments. It was customary at that time for professors to walk down the aisles as they handed back papers, making comments about the students’ work. When he got to my desk, he looked at me and suddenly stopped commenting. He was obviously embarrassed and I was intrigued enough to pay attention.

He walked silently back to the front of the classroom and began, “Mesdemoiselles, the verb for kissing is s’embrasser.” He then went on to give a short lesson in slang and how the word “to kiss” had changed over time. Suddenly, he stalled and began to blush. That’s when I got it.

“Baiser” or “se baiser” no longer meant “to kiss”, it meant….to, well, fill in the blank.

I looked at my paper, filled with “se baiser” instead of “s’embrasser”. I had literally turned an entire article about kissing customs into an article about something quite different.

It was funny to me and to the rest of the class when I shared it with them. But to this day, I always check the provenance of any slang I use in foreign languages and I double and triple check my translations.

And that is thinking in story.