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.

Advertisements