Learning a language is equal parts awesome, horrible, exciting, terrifying, easy, frustrating, fun and full of funny mistakes. There have been days where I am so motivated to learn Swedish that that’s all I do. I study books, watch Swedish TV, look up new words, try to speak Swedish with my kids and just do it all; then I have days where I don’t even want to go to the grocery store for fear of having to use Swedish. I guess it’s a process. It’ll come eventually, provided I stay consistent and continue to practice.
Any time you are learning something new, you always mess up quite a bit until you learn it well enough to get it right. Language, of course, is no exception to that rule. After some pretty funny mistakes I had while trying to communicate with a friend, I figured I would reach out to some other friends who may also have some funny mistakes of their own to share. What I got back were some hilarious blunders that they too had experienced.
This first one is from Joseph. He was learning Portuguese, and his wife’s cousin, Sara, was learning English. Joseph and his wife were at a restaurant in Brazil with Sara, his father-in-law and his father-in-law’s girlfriend. His father-in-law insisted on paying for everyone at the table every time they went out to dinner. Joseph was feeling a bit awkward about it and asked Sara, in English, how he could say “I don’t want to be a burden”. She translated that to, “eu não quero ser um pássaro”. After Jospeh said this and got quite a few laughs he found out what he actually said was, “I don’t want to be a bird.”
“How many kids?”
Patricia had moved to Canada from Brazil. Her and her husband went to the USA for a trip. She was checking into a hotel when the lady at the desk asked her a question. Her husband wasn’t paying attention while she was answering the lady’s questions . Patricia heard, “How many kids?” She responded, “No kids.” The lady at the desk asked her again and she, of course, responded the same way. After the lady asked it another time, her husband heard and interjected, “Two keys will be fine.”
Push and Pull
In Portuguese, if you are trying to say ‘pull’ you say ‘puxar’. Since those two words are relatively similar, she must always stop and think it through. While Patricia was living in Canada she went to a store and did her usual shopping. As she was leaving the store, she saw the sign that said ‘push’. She continuously kept trying to pull the door instead. The cashier kept yelling, “Push!”, while she continued to pull like a crazy person. After it finally clicked, she left very embarrassed and vowed to never return to that store.
“Thank you, man!”
Sometimes it isn’t just about knowing the language, but also the slang of particular regions. One day, as Patricia was getting off the bus she told the driver, “Thank you!”. The kind driver replied with, “Thank you, Ma’am!”. She was a bit confused with what he said. She was under the impression that he called her a man, not ma’am. That was the first time she had heard that word being used, but she didn’t forget it!
I personally have found that many times direct translating from your own language into another, isn’t always the same. Many times the verb placement is different, or the one language may have completely different sayings for certain things. Here are two examples from Emmelie of just that.
When she was visiting the US for the first time from Sweden, she asked, “Can I borrow your toilet?”. This is a direct translate from Swedish to English that didn’t work so well. The man she had asked had a great reply though, “Sure, if you put it back.”
Emmelie’s husband Thomas is from the US and is now living in Sweden. He will still sometimes say “stå i linje” (stand in line) which in Swedish just doesn’t sound right.