This is a subject that’s almost never brought up when it comes to learning languages. It’s because many people are going to be insulted or offended when they’re used and could have the potential to lead to violence. I’ve seen many sites like this as well as books trying to teach you the “real” language that’s actually used. Obviously swearing is unbecoming and just because you can doesn’t mean you should. But let’s explore this further shall we:
Random Gibberish? Or “You’re Stupid!” In Another Language?
Let me share an experience I had in beginner’s Mandarin Chinese class I took back in high school. We were trying to learn new vocabulary and structures while the teacher (who is a native speaker by the way) wanted to know something about my friend at the time. (We’re no longer friends but it wasn’t because of this incident though.) He decided spit out random gibberish which the teacher immediately picked it up as 你是笨蛋 (Ni shi ben dan) or “You’re Stupid” in Mandarin. Luckily the teacher had a sense of humour but my ex-friend was mortified after that.
Why? Well because he made a dangerous assumption that if he just spits out random sounds or made up words that they might actually mean something in another language (even if you really butchered it!). Thanks to him we not only learned a new phrase but it was something to keep in mind so when could at least acknowledge that we’re being insulted. When the situation happens to present itself to us.
Ignorance Is Not Bliss
While it’s never a good idea to just learn swear words so that you can randomly insult people to no end; it’s also not a good idea to flat out ignore them like the don’t exist. You need to be aware of them so you what’s insulting and offensive that could cause major problems if you’re not careful. You don’t want to accidentally say something so severe it lands you in jail (ex: offending a police officer) or physically attacked as a result.
Now onto to those books that would teach you the real language you were never taught in school which often included more often than not: insults and swear words. They also include slang but due to the nature of slang going in and out of style, a lot of it was out-dated. It’s was nice reference to have so that way I need which words were “used in the bedroom”, insulting, which could be used as euphemisms, and which ones you should avoid saying at all costs.
Doesn’t it sound odd to you when someone who doesn’t speak English well at all, using these words just because they can? It sounds odd and it makes you wonder why they didn’t bother learning more useful phrases first? Defending yourself is one thing but flat out offending people is another. Sometimes there just isn’t a word to describe the strong emotion you might be feeling so end up being inclined to use a more vulgar expression to get your point across.
Why We Swear
According to How Stuff Works, every language has its own unique set of words and phrases to express taboo subjects. They’re usually related to religions or body functions but are definitely not limited to only that. It seems that many cuss words tend to have a very strong or “ugly” (and I’m using “ugly” loosely) sound to them when spoken. But sometimes an innocent sounding word can also carry a vulgar meaning as well. The article also goes on to say that many people do tend to learn swear words first and that people need some form of outlet to let out powerful emotions.
But I’m Not A Vulgar Person!
Are you sure about that? How many times have you let out a powerful emotion without cussing? Yeah, I know there are a lot of people out there who don’t do it on a regular basis and try to avoid it whenever possible. That’s fine. However, not making an effort to bear in mind which words are taboo is just as bad. Even if you had good intentions and thought you just muttering gibberish (like my ex-friend did). I’d rather be knowledgeable about these words so that way when I encounter an odd word on social media, blogs, forums, movies, TV shows, books, magazines, etc. I will at least know it ahead of time. Particularly if it’s a word I will never use myself.
Rule of Thumb: If you do decide to you vulgar language know that it has a strong negative impact on people and will offend people. It’s not something you should try out unless you’re given the okay to or if a situation calls for it. Be careful which ones you use and know exactly why you’re using them. It’s always best (in my opinion) to use words to express a powerful emotion WITHOUT directly slandering someone as a result.
So how do you approach learning vulgarities in your target languages? Do you have a select few? Do you try to avoid learning them? Or do you wait until you have solid grounding in the language before you dive into that territory? I’d really like to know your take on this.