Animal Names in Foreign Languages

This is a general article about learning animal names in foreign languages. You’l find that they are a key part of beginners vocabulary across the many textbooks and learning materials you’ll find.

If you’re like me, you’ll wonder why that is the case. After all, if I’m learning “You,” “I” and “to be,” should “elephant” really be one of the first words we learn also?

Then I thought more clearly about this. I don’t think that this is what language learning materials tend to have in mind when they give you the list of zoo inhabitants to learn, but we can ‘hack’ this, and turn it into a great way to make our foreign language conversations better with just a little extra vocabulary.

Think about children. They learn animals because it’s interesting. Parents might take them to a zoo. What do they then do with that vocabulary and knowledge once they’ve learned it? They apply it to their normal lives. They’ll say, “You eat like a pig.” “It was as small as a mouse!” Or, “As big as an elephant!”

We can use the list of names our language book gives us to build sentences in a similar way. (Hopefully, a more sophisticated way too in the end.)

When Should I Learn Animal Names in  Foreign Languages?

Don’t learn animal names in foreign languages right at the beginning, unless it’s imperative. Wait a while until you can build basic sentences. In your native language, talking about animals is a flourish – a little thing that tends to round out conversations. When you observe a pigeon, or you describe somebody as looking like an animal (in a friendly way!) It tends to be off-hand. Rarely do we devote a conversation to it.

So learn your animal names in foreign languages when you come to adjectives. You then create relationships in your mind. Elephant = big. Cheetah = Fast. Spider = scary. Penguin = funny. Remember language learning is a matrix of related items put together into a cohesive whole.

This way, you’ll learn to equate animals as a way to describe and enhance a conversation, as opposed to a list of fauna to trot out on foreign language quiz night.

Practical Advice: Which Animal Names in Foreign Languages do I Learn?

This is quite straightforward. I’ve said above to learn animal names in foreign languages when you learn the adjectives. The adjectives you learn should correspond to the animals. This makes conversation more fun.
An example might be:
“I learn as slowly as a tortoise.”
“If I keep eating, I will be as big as an elephant.”
“I’m surprised you got here so fast. You’re like a {really fast animal}”

You get the point. Some tips though:

Keep it archetypal… Don’t learn obscure animal names for the sake of it. “I’m learning Chinese as slowly as a three-toed sloth” gets the point across as well as “I’m learning as slowly as a snail” but you’re more likely to end up trying to have a conversation about zoology.
Remember you’re learning a language. This exercise makes language learning easier. It’s not for learning zoology (unless that’s your particular goal.) Keep it simple.
Don’t use this all the time. We don’t all wander around saying, “I’m as happy as a sunflower!” It’s just a tool and nice little piece of learning that will expand your horizons a bit, not a crutch.

Language Bug