Lost In Translation

 I speak several languages haltingly. But learning a language means making mistakes so it is good to have a sense of humor. 

Languages can be confusing. From my Italian friends, I got in the habit of saying ‘Chin-chin’ like ‘Cheers’ or ‘A votre sante’ (to your health) when drinking. So when I went to a Tokyo party, I lifted my glass at the table and said ‘Chin-chin’. Everybody started laughing. In Japanese it means a man’s staff (organ? sword? )

At another party, as someone was trying to get me to eat, I said ‘Atashi wa oppai desu.’ Everybody laughed. What I should have said was ‘Atashi wa ippai desu’ (I am full). What I had actually said was ‘I am big-breasted’. 

Another time, instead of inviting a guest to please sit down (suwari nasai) I’ve asked him to please touch me (sawari nasai). He tried.

A shop clerk turned white when I told her I wanted to buy a ‘seifu’ (condom) instead of a ‘saifu’ wallet. 

I also speak broken French.

In a Paris store, I was trying to ask in French where I could find some hair accessories. The clerk said ‘We do not have those.‘ I pointed to my hair. “Mademoiselle” she said icily “you want hair (cheveux) accessories, not horse (chevaux) accessories” 

In France they have the most delicious cream puffs, called ‘choux creme’. However,in NY, when I asked a cabbie where I could buy some, he drove me to a shoe store. He thought I wanted shoe cream. I don’t think English was his first language either. Or French.

My friend is teaching me many English slang expressions so I think my language ability is improving. He is bilingual. He speaks both American and British English. 

For example, he taught me that p****d in British means drunk but in American it means angry. He also told me that ‘loo’ means toilet in British, also ‘WC’ which means ‘water closet’. But for some reason, you can’t mix the two and say ‘water loo’.

My friend says that Americans are shy to say ‘toilet’ so they call it anything else they can: restroom, bathroom, ladies’/gentlemen’s room or even powder room.

A good way to remember vocabulary is by association. For example for powder room, I imagine a cowboy movie. A woman goes into a back room in a saloon to load her little purse pistol with gun powder. Then if she catches her boyfriend cheating on her (my friend explained this doesn’t mean cheat at playing cards ) she can shoot him.

I find you can learn a lot more valuable language points from friends than from books, don’t you think?

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6 Responses Apr 14, 2009

I agree that you can learn a language from freinds . I became fluent in American sign language from freinds who are deaf while I was attending college . I would love to learn at least one dialect of a Asian language . It would be a great avhevment .

I agree about learning from friends. Wow, so what IS your mother tongue?

You are so cool XM. I"m such a fan and so impressed by your abilities with language.<br />
It seems that you have a habit of slipping into accidental sexualities!! You're like a walking french farce film!!<br />
I love these stories, I'd like to hear any more from you.<br />
I found Japanese easier to speak for the very basic stuff than Chinese, but maybe Chinese doesn't get so hard? I hope so... it's one of my goals to be able to be conversational in another language, and I've picked Chinese cos it's so widely spoken, but i've found it pretty hard (though very enjoyable).<br />
Thanks again.<br />
XOX<br />

Your language ability in English is very impressive! And these are some funny stories :D thanks for sharing

Your wit, Mademoiselle, is akin to fencing: guarded but potentially deadly.<br><br />
Your effort at communicating in half a dozen languages while maintaining a sense of humour is highly commendable. Bravo.

I hope ever one has some humor as you at least try to learn another’s language. We in the US are the worst I suspect because of our size. I grew up in Kansas and never thought I would have a need to learn another language. <br />
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My sons went to school in El Paso, Texas so they have some knowledge of Spanish.<br />
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China is huge. Does the average Chinese person learn another language? <br />
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I now wish I could learn your language so I could try to write to you. That would be funny!...DD