My Life in Translation: “Learning the Lingo”
Simon was born & educated near Oxford. After a career lifeguarding at nudist clubs, conducting pregnancy tests & weighing organs in a morgue, he set off for Asia for several years, staying as far off the beaten track as possible & financing himself by teaching English & acting in Bollywood movies. Upon his return to the UK, he realized he far preferred off the beaten track to city life & went back to work as a pig breeder in Vietnam for four years. Eventually, however, the call of the not particularly wild was heard, & he returned once more, living in London & Brighton. A perfect storm of events re-ignited his wanderlust, however, and he he woke up one morning and said to himself ‘goodness, I forgot to cross the Sahara’. Reader, he crossed it, landing a ‘job’ on the other side managing a lodge in Senegal. He liked it so much, he bought another ticket. Simon currently lives in Senegal with Khady, son Gulliver, dog Toubab and Kermit the jeep. where he indulges in his three main passions: travel, writing & photography. For more, check out his blog.
So, it’s with an affectionate smile, and not mocking sarcasm, that I enjoy laughing at and recording various language and pronunciation errors around the world.
*Not so much an error as false advertising.
The Silence of Noise
By Jacqueline Gabel
Originally from Minneapolis, Jacqui worked in fashion in New York before she took a leap of faith to quit her job and move back to her hometown. She spent some life-altering time traveling in South America, and she currently teaches in South Korea, finding her biggest inspiration from the food she tastes and the people she meets along the way.
I get off the train and head left, as I usually do at this particular train station. I walk straight, dodging oncoming bodies as best I can. The cadence of Seoul traffic above and underground is still a mystery to me.
Head tucked, I follow a young couple up the stairs. My eyes track the rhythm of her steps. There is a perfect, quarter-sized circle of raw skin on the back of her right heel, and blood is soaking through the sheer white nylon of her stocking. It looks painful, but I keep watching as I try to imagine what she’s thinking and where she must be headed in such fine form on a Saturday afternoon. She walks at a speed no slower than the rest of us, and I wonder if her partner is aware of her discomfort. They’re marching on. What’s a bit of blood?
We reach the top of the stairs, and I look up to find the direction of my transfer. I come round a fat pillar. Smack. A boy of about nine is running away from his friend, or maybe his cousin or brother, and we collide. A slight yelp escapes me, and I don’t recognize myself. The coffee in my hand leaps up out of its cup through the slit in its cover, saturating my jacket and hair in a perfect backward slosh that leaves the boy dry. I spin around in vain, looking for a napkin. The only business in that part of the station sells socks and headbands. Nothing else. I want to say something, a joke, to let this boy know I’m not angry. Normally, a joke is my automative reflex in a situation like this. But, I keep my head down, say nothing, stand still for a second, and finally continue walking to keep up with the forward motion of the bodies.
I feel my voice in my throat from the moment it sticks at the pillar to the end of the second train ride. It leaves me with a slight ache in my chest, the way an unexpressed laugh or a cry would. In a land where I am foreign, I find that I am quieter.
As new foreigners, many of us live inside of a bubble, surrounded by incomprehensible written and spoken words. The sounds of two people speaking a language we recognize can be detected from across a crowded room. The rest of the voices become a muffled jumble of white noise as our brains grasp for what we can make sense of.
On the other hand, our degree of recognition varies with each place we inhabit. When I spent a weekend in Hong Kong and a few days in Tokyo at the end of last year, it was a bit of a relief to come back to Seoul, to seeHangul, and to realize I’d become accustomed to hearing the flow of the Korean language. I may not understand most of the words, but I can understand the melodic rhythm of their delivery. Maybe this is one of the reasons travel can be so exhilirating – the comfort of coming back to something familiar is almost as good as the thrill of seeing something fresh and new. Sometimes, it can be even better.
My Life in Translation: Growth in Humility
By Aaron Myers
Aaron Myers is a language coach and writer at The Everyday Language Learner. He lives in Istanbul, Turkey with his wife and two children.
It was a sunny fall day in Tijuana, Mexico. My friend Travis and I had driven dusty roads to an outlying colonia to visit an elementary school and explore how we could help with their English language program.
We’d come to Tijuana to work with the urban poor, those thousands who’d migrated from the interior of Mexico in search of a better life, of steady work and perhaps even, a chance to get across that high fenced border to the States.
The principal of the school was the wife of a local pastor we had met as we worked in the heart of Tres de Octubre, a shanty town that had sprung up overnight on steep hills that left traditional construction next to impossible. If you’re creative though, and you have a truck bed full of wooden pallets and some tar paper and are in dire need of shelter, a home can be built on almost any terrain.
Upon deciding to move to Mexico the previous autumn, I’d begun in earnest to learn Spanish on my own, devouring grammar books, creating stacks of flashcards and trying to read the newspaper or any other Spanish text I could get my hands on. I made steady progress and assumed that once I landed on Mexican soil, I’d master Spanish in a matter of months.
But when needs are pressing and when you have the time and skills to meet those needs, any desire you may have for your own goals of learning the language soon gets swept aside. Spanish lessons were soon replaced with waterproofing roofs of homes made of packing crates and solid garage doors. It was an easy choice of course and endeared us to our new friends, but my progress in Spanish stagnated. I could get by fine, but my desire was for so much more.
And so it was that fall day that Travis stood by snickering at my conversation with the principal of the school. I was trying to tell her that we would call her husband to talk about another project we could help with and didn’t at first really understand Travis’ amusement. The conversation went something like this:
“Yo a lavar su esposo.” said I.
Blank, confused look from the principal. Snicker by Travis.
Maybe my pronunciation wasn’t clear enough. And so I tried again, slower this time, more deliberate.
“YO A LAVAR SU ESPOSO.”
More confused looks. Travis moves from snickering under his breath to outright giggling - but fails to come to my rescue.
For those of you who know Spanish, you recognize that the word “lavar” means to wash.
I will wash your husband? Ahhhh!
A moment later the lights clicked on and I hastily apologized and corrected myself.
“Llamar! Yo a llamar su esposo. Llamar, no lavar!”
I was embarrassed but she was understanding, kind and smiled as she thanked us for coming. And yes, she would let her husband know that we would ‘call’.
Living cross culturally offers countless opportunities for growth in humility. It is a much desired character trait and achieved most often with a bit of humiliation. It is never fun, but in retrospect our language mishaps makes for great stories. They are also an important part of the language learning process. A friend of mine often reiterated that to learn another language you’re going to make a million mistakes - so get started!
I only made it to about a half a million mistakes in Spanish before moving to Turkey and starting all over in Turkish. Learning another language is both arduous and satisfying, frustrating and exciting and I hope you will have the opportunity to learn another in your life time.
It will change your life for the better. I know it has changed mine.
Did You Know?
You’re never too old to learn a new language. In fact, some research indicates that picking up a new language later in life can help protect your brain from Alzheimers and dementia.
Word Of The Week: Nerd
A nerd, a slang dates back to the 1950’s - is a highly intelligent, but often single-minded person with a particular obsession, a hobby or a goal. Nerds are often considered dull, unattractive physically and often unpopular. English actor and comedian Simon Pegg claims source of the word Nerd is in the phrase ‘Ne’er-do-well’, a shortening of ne’erd became nerd. That theory however, isn’t among the most plausible explanations. Earliest examples of the word Nerd dates back to 1951 - nerd was mentioned in a Newsweek article nerd as a Detroit slang for “a drip or a square”.
Image Source: http://stevyrevengeburger.deviantart.com/art/steve-urkel-2-161241758
Nerd is somewhat similar to a geek - once a term to describe a wild carnival performer is now a slang for a person with a particular passion. often bundled with an attributive noun (i.e a computer geek, a star-trek geek, an animation geek etc.).
Don’t be surprised to see the word ‘kräpp’ all over toilet paper in Sweden - it actually means paper!