The Portugal Years – Year One, Language Pitfalls

language puzzles
The Language Puzzle

Learning a new language is fraught with hazards. Not only is it a case of learning what to say, but also what not to say and how to say it (or not.) Your ears are learning to tune in to an unknown audio channel. Your brain is learning how to receive and send.

Then, there is grammatical gender. Nouns, in some languages, are male or female. (German adds a neutral gender.) When you’ve gotten past the obviously gendered nouns, they throw in the word, “photo.” It looks like what you would have every reason to believe is masculine. Nope. It’s from the Greek language so it’s feminine. Once you have all of that figured out you may think, “By George! I think I’ve got it.” That’s a dangerous thought.

Enter:  the idioms. About the time you can translate 60% of what people say, that is the day that something new will come up. You translate it correctly, and you still do not understand what was said.  Word for word you let the phrase roll around in your head while you are trying to make sense of what you heard. Oops. You’ve just tripped over an idiom. Don’t break your head worrying over the words. Just ask the nearest native speaker to explain it.

One member of our team, who shall forever remain nameless, had a real aptitude for language bloopers. I should hand that gutsy person an award. While I was waiting to open my mouth until I could speak Portuguese perfectly, this person just plowed right in. In so doing, this colleague offered an unending source of amusement to both Portuguese and English-speaking people. Following are some of the verbal glitches I remember.

The team had been invited to supper at the home of one of the board members of our group after church one Sunday night. Our hostess gave us a tour of their home. When we got to the kitchen, the unnamed team member wanted to compliment her on her kitchen. What came out of the person’s mouth was not “kitchen” but the slang term for the part of her body on which she sits.

Another time our heroic team member meant to remark on a young woman’s sunburned neck. The remark ended up being about a similar sounding word but meant peach. Not neck.

Then there was the time this person was in a classy restaurant trying to order a bowl of a particular kind of ice cream. Unfortunately, what came out translated to ice cream which had been urinated on.

The classic one, though, happened in a teen Bible study. Our friend’s tongue got  twisted as said friend tried unsuccessfully many times to say the word, “penalized.” I’ll leave you think about that.

11 thoughts on “The Portugal Years – Year One, Language Pitfalls

  1. 😆 I love it! The professor can only imagine the confusion. I did take Italian at one time, and I couldn’t imagine being thrust right into Italy and being expected to speak!

    I think I would have probably been like you and been quiet, until I was sure I could speak the language fairly well.


    1. It can be intimidating to be dropped into a language cold turkey. Happily, my introversion is an adventurous one. The Portuguese are overall understanding and helpful. Harry’s Portuguese was more grammatically correct than mine, but he simply could not roll his r’s. I had the r’s down, but my accent was more Brazilian than continental. I can’t explain that. 🙂

      I can “hear” Italian. The sounds are similar to Portuguese but spelled very differently.

      Since you like prophecy, I will tell you a friend and I started going to a women’s Bible study about the book of Daniel.


    2. But you speak the language fluently now, right?

      If you heard the professor’s Italian, you’d laugh, I think.

      Awesome! A great book. So much information in there! Will you be studying the whole book?


      1. I am fluent, but a rusty fluent if you understand. It wouldn’t take long to get up to speed if you dumped me at the Lisbon airport. Italian makes me laugh anyway – especially the movies I watched when we lived in Portugal. I read somewhere that once you’ve learned five languages the rest is easy. I haven’t tested that theory, but it sounds intriguing.

        Daniel is a great book. In fact, I named my son Daniel because I love Daniel the person in the book. We studied Daniel and Revelation together when I was in college. “Dan-Rev” was the class. Awesome class and outstanding prof. The wimmin did the first six chapters of Daniel in the spring. I was not there. I will attempt to get up to speed somehow. But we started yesterday in chapter 7 with those creepy creatures that probably came from the same place as Daddy Salami. 😀


    3. Dadblameit! Not sure why the professor didn’t get your reply. I did check the box.

      Anyway, I could only imagine the pride in being fluent in a language! 😆 Really? I suppose Italian can be funny.

      That’s awesome. And I think you’re right about DS–which is very creepy…


      1. There’s been some kind of dadblamery going on with the notifications both on mine and from yours. It’s okay. We’ll always catch up sooner or later.


  2. Came to you through the PL’s ;-). What a lovely entry, and a beautiful blog. I shall have to follow to add to my list of varied blogs read! 🙂


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