Saturday, March 20, 2010

Your turn: Language Studies

I am going to be at the beach this weekend (my wife is doing her first half marathon and I will be cheering), so chances are I won't post until I get back on Tuesday. (But I will think about you all, I promise!).

A few blogs have mentioned language "issues" this week, like A Daring Adventure and Cromaroama, both of whom are studying Spanish at FSI. Cromaroama was even hoping for some verbal exlax! But at least her issue is not being able to talk, as opposed to the officer who's story we have all heard: at the visa window, she would ask the poor applicants "How many children do I have?" "Uh...three?" "You don't know how many children I have?! Where do I live?" "I don't know, Virginia?" "You expect me to give you a visa when you don't even know where I live?"

A little language is a dangerous thing!

I am currently taking early morning Russian here in the building, and while I LOVE studying language, it can still be challenging. Sometimes the word you are trying to say, which sounds right when you say it in your head, just WILL NOT come out of your mouth. The issue is doubly challenging for me since I am NOT/NOT a morning person, and my class starts at 7:30 am.

Of course, the tongue twisters in Russian are far from my worst language faux pas. When I left for Jerusalem, I had a 3/2+ in Hebrew (SO CLOSE to language incentive pay!), and I could get by pretty well in the language. Not fluent by any means, but better than conversational. So I did most of my interviews at the visa window without the assistance of an FSN. And there was this one day when I was talking with this lovely older woman, and I attemped to say, "I thought..." But I transposed the two syllables in the word, and, well...the woman blanched. The whole consular section erupted in laughter. Turned out that I said "I f*cked..."

At least I had the tense right.

So now it is your turn. What is your most embarassing language moment?

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

I went through an entire FSI language exam in Danish referring to "tit cancer." "Tit cancer is a very seriously problem. If only women would exam their tits, they could save their lives. Sometimes when women get bad tit cancer, they have to lose their tits. However, recent surgery has made it possible to reconstruct their tits, so it is like they never lost their tits at all."

At the end of exam, the examiner taught me the difference between "breasts" (bræster) and "tits/boobs" (patter).

fsowannabe said...

When I lived in Japan, I confided in a friend that I was 'nervous' about a situation, but the actually word I used was 'enema- ed' about the situation. That went over very well with my friend.

Paul said...

This isn't so shocking but I thought it was funny. My wife and I were in Kiev. I had not leaned any Russian at the time, but my wife had studied it for two years in college, so I was relying on her to get us by when we didn't have translators around.

We went into a small shop to buy a Coke or something. Upon entering the store my wife looks at the store clerk and says "до свидания." Even just knowing about four words of Russian at that time I knew that wasn't right.

We had a good laugh about that one.

Brooke said...

That one pretty much takes the cake for embarrassing language stories!

But I will echo the idea that a little bit of language can get you into trouble. I know just enough Arabic to ask basic questions on the Arab bus I take to work, but if the route changes or they have questions for me I am stuck just staring at them with big dead eyes. I feel dumb, they feel annoyed. I really should just give 'em a big howdy dudy in English when I get on to simplify things.

A Daring Adventure said...

Oh what a FABULOUS topic!

LOVE your stories and can't wait to read more!

Digger said...

I nearly spit water all over my computer over the tit cancer. I shared that one with my wife.

Before I started studying Russian, my wife taught me two phrases in Russian: I love you, and I want to sleep with you.

Now I am in abolute fear that the second will come out in polite company!

Digger said...

I have also heard a story about someone who was trying to say he finished something, but was using the sexual word for "finishing" instead.

losttraveler said...

I speak just enough Spanish to get some basic points across. I was trying to explain to a worker I hired to do some landscaping at my house that I would not be able to meet him because my son has broken his foot and I was at the hospital. Well, I confused the French/Italian slang variation of broken (cassé or cassato) for the correct Spanish word, roto, and told the man that "mi hijo se casó con su pie", i.e. my son married his foot.

That's one that comes to mind quickly. If I thought about it for a few more minutes, I'm sure I have a ton of other examples of dumb things I've said in other languages.

A Daring Adventure said...

Just wanted to leave a courtesy note to let you know I mentioned your blog today:

http://bit.ly/9QBd1n

Am hoping to keep this funny conversation going!

Thanks!

hannah said...

Oh, there are so many... I called an Arabic teacher a very dirty word for prostitute one time because I transposed two syllables. (I meant to say that she was a big help to me.) A friend who used to be a CLO in Bosnia sent a mission-wide email to people telling them about an event on Franciscan Street, except she misspelled it as Shitty Street. (The FSNs were quick to point out that ALL streets were shitty!) I saw a Hebrew/English menu in Jerusalem with an eggplant dish, except they misspelled the Britishism for eggplant... baked aubergine is not the same as baked Aborigine. In rural Saudi Arabia I saw a menu offering a special Saudi dish made with lots of herpes and spices.

Excellent stories, all! Keep them coming!

Jen said...

@Hannah..Did that former CLO have a blog? I swear I remember reading that story and loving it!

The local cat food in Iceland was Pussi (yes, pronounced the way you think)...I used to dare my husband to rush down the aisle and shout out how he desperately needed "some..." (uh, no, that did not happen!)

TulipGirl said...

My Russian is passable -- enough for marketing and casual conversation, but not enough for deep-level conversation unless we use a combination of English/Russian.

So, I was in a formal planning meeting with a mix of Ukrainians and Americans which was conducted in Russian. I could gist most of the conversation, and ask Hubby for the salient points when I knew I wasn't getting it all.

At one point, there was some extended conversation about someone who was a Communist. Now, our neighbor was former KGB, and though this was after 2000, things were still a little weird feeling at times with the influence of Russia in the FSU countries. I wasn't following the conversation well, but kept hearing about the Communist -- I didn't get the name, but could tell it was someone in our close circle of friends. Finally I had to ask (in English), "Who is a Communist?"

Everyone laughed. The man they were discussing had said he was now a "Calvinist" (reformed Christian beliefs). . .

Sigh.

The good news is, I now have had hearing loss diagnosed. My hearing loss is in the middle range, where the speech tones are. I can "fake it" pretty well in English, but other languages? Hard to compensate. My hearing aids are great, though, and I hope that next time I'm learning a language it's a bit easier. . . Though, I'm sure I'll still make plenty of embarrassing mistakes.

Anonymous said...

My wife is German, and we go there every year to visit her family/friends. I speak German at an intermediate-ish level, so I sometimes venture out on my own to the neighborhood stores.

One day during our last trip, I walked over to the local beer distributorship to pick up some of my favorites. After paying, I noticed that the clerk wasn't going to give me a bag to carry my beer unless I asked (and paid) for it, so I asked for 'eine Tote'. He politely corrected me, saying 'eine Tuete'.

When I told my wife what had happened, she cracked up. What I had asked the clerk for was a female corpse...

Mateo said...

I used to have a huge mental block of sakit vs. sakin. Not very helpful when you ask the clerk at a makolet for a knife.

hannah said...

@Jen - yes, I'm pretty sure she had a blog while she was in Sarajevo. I wish I could remember some of her thinkos from when she was in Bogota, too...