Thursday, March 17

English teacher: how to use foreign words and phrases

Thursdays roll around awfully fast, don't they? Time for another lesson with the English teacher!

Earlier today I published a special St. Patrick's Day post, and the title of it is actually a foreign phrase: Erin go Bragh. That phrase is Gaelic for "Ireland forever." Well, it's sort of Gaelic. I'm not sure how to spell anything in actual Gaelic; Erin go Bragh is the Anglicized version of the phrase. But writing that phrase reminded me of other foreign phrases that are often used in speech and writing.

I have lots of training in the use of the English language, but almost no training in the use of other languages. That's one of the biggest deficits of my education; I wish I'd learned another language! But I know a few foreign words and phrases, and I like to use them. I'll bet you do, too.

There are a couple of guidelines for using foreign words and phrases in your writing:
  • Spell them correctly. Their spelling may not look right in English, but after all, they're NOT English. Don't apply English spelling rules to foreign words.
  • Italicize them. When typing, the appropriate way to denote a foreign word or phrase is to italicize it.

I bid you adieu.
Bon voyage! Hope you have a wonderful trip!

There are a few foreign words that seem to get used a lot in the blogosphere. Several readers have asked that I write about a word that many of us use when we mean to say "Ta-da! Here it is!" That word is often pronounced "wa-lah" (although I think the accurate pronunciation is more like "vwa-lah"). Lots of bloggers use it when unveiling projects, and some write it the way they would say it. If you're speaking, your listeners will hear the sound "wa-lah," and they'll know what you mean. But if you're writing, you should know that this is the French word voila. It's a great word, and it's a fun word to use. . . you should try it. But spell it voila, not "wa-lah."

Another such word is the Italian word that sounds like "chow." It's a wonderful, useful word that can mean "hello" or "good-bye." It is spelled ciao.

One more Italian word we often use is the word that conveys the thought "Do you get it? Do you understand?" in one word. When English-speakers say this word, it sounds like "ka-peesh." But it's not spelled "ka-peesh," or "kapish," or even "capiche." It's spelled capisce.

To tell the truth, I think that people from other countries probably get a kick out of our using some of their words. But I think that if we're going to use their words, we should be respectful enough to spell them correctly. If you don't know how to spell a foreign word, simply do a quick internet search for it, spelling it however you THINK it might be spelled. You should be able to find the correct spelling pretty easily.

I hope you're finding this grammar series helpful. As always, please let me know if you have questions or if you have pet peeves you'd like for me to address. And if you have a specific question and need a quick answer, feel free to email me (RichellaP {at} Gmail {dot} com). I'm always happy to help if I can!



  1. This one is so cute! And that Italian word for "get it?"--I never use it because I don't know how to spell it. Thanks for the helpful info!

  2. Love this, and I totally agree! I took a lot of French (not that I can speak it!), and the wa-lah has always kind of bugged me. Technically it would have an accent over the a(voilĂ ), but I'm not that picky. However, there are times when I wanted to use an accent and didn't know how to do it with our keyboard. Then I found this page, and you can just copy and paste the accented letter or symbol you!

  3. Your post was excellente. ;) I noticed that the French say "Voila" a lot!!

  4. Great post! Yes, I totally agree. Good spelling is a must, no matter what language you speak. :)

  5. I am such a freak about spelling things correctly, that doesn't mean that I do always, thank you spell check! One of those that just kills me is wa-lah...makes me want to scream. Thanks English teacher!

  6. Hi, what an interesting post (and blog). I am Italian, but I currently live in Scotland. I do appreciate (as most Italians) when people try to use Italian words. :) But most of my British and American friends really get on my nerves ;) when they want to teach me how to spell and/or pronounce an Italian word. Even my name! LOL!

  7. So glad to read this post and the comments! The wa-lah thing gets on my nerves "something fierce".

  8. My 7th grade science teacher said that when he was in the military, he went to France. And, he kept seeing "oui". He couldn't figure out what "oh-oo-ee" was!

  9. Great post as always. People also type viola instead of voila. Viola is an instrument. ;)

  10. Another great lesson! I had no idea how to spell capisce! I didn't know to italicize either. You rock Richella!

  11. Thanks, Richella! This is VERY useful information...I wish all bloggers would read it! : ) I echo what everyone else is saying about "wa-lah." : )


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