Careful Fun with Foreign Languages

By: Dr. Ron Mccluskey

Early on in our Mexico experience, we still had not learned much Spanish. In fact, when we arrived, our huge Spanish vocabulary consisted of about two words: si and no.

We were in Villahermosa for about a month before we felt comfortable in most situations and that was only because we were experiencing full immersion learning of the language.

One big encouragement to learning the language is that we ate in the hospital cafeteria three meals a day. Unfortunately, they did not eat at the times that we expected meals. So, for the first couple of days we made it to about one meal a day.

I can tell you that an empty stomach is a strong reason to learn the language.

During that early time, one lady asked my wife if she could use the baño. My wife, knowing that baño means the bath, told her that she could not use the baño until the next day. However, the lady was asking to go to the bathroom.

She was not really interested in waiting until the next day!

While the local Mexicans were laughing at that, they told us about a minister that had come over from Florida and had the church service while he was there. He showed up late and told the people that he was muy embarasado for showing up late. Unfortunately the words for embarrassed and pregnant are very close. He had used the wrong one.

We asked a lot of people and nobody could tell us what his sermon was about.

My father in law was driving down in Mexico as a tourist one time when he suddenly was stopped by soldiers at a check point. The soldier came up and forcefully asked him something in Spanish. My father in law was all flustered and blurted out, "No speaka de English!" The soldier laughed and waved him on.

The problems work the other way too.

I had a teacher in high school who was from Germany. He had been taught English from the time he was in grade school. However, some of the subtleties still escaped him.

When he first came to the United States he was asked to introduce a speaker for some meeting. He told us that this lady was quite large. In fact she was very large. She was also fairly important. Her reputation was of being simply tremendous. So, he proceeded to introduce here like this: "I want to present to you a lady who is simply enormous."

You might think that I am trying to tell you not to bother trying to learn or speak a foreign language. However, nothing could be further from the truth.

I am trying to tell you that along the way you may give other people a good laugh. But it is a rare individual who will take offense at you slaughtering their mother tongue.

And, you can take comfort in the fact that when you screw upArticle Search, you are certainly not alone.

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