I have seen three things in the last two days about humorous situations that have arisen, thanks to people's trying to communicate in a foreign language. I pass these on with at least a little bit of trepidation since I'm currently trying to review what little Chinese I learned two years ago this semester. My wife and I plan to go teach in Asia again this next summer unless some door closes to show us clearly that that is not what we are supposed to do. Anyway, on to the miscommunications (or is it missed communications?)...
I'll start off with a story we received by e-mail from our friend Ruth with whom we have taught in Asia. She writes...
The following is a true story, however impossible it may sound.
After teaching for three hours, I asked a sophomore student to go with me to the language lab director's office to find out the name of a Chinese male teacher who had taught in the room next to me the previous hour.
Thinking my request quite simple, I told the student to ask the director to please tell me the name of the teacher who had taught in room 206 the previous hour. I know the student asked the correct question since I could understand most of the Chinese words used.
Director: No, you teach in room 208.
Me: I am not talking about me. I am talking about the Chinese teacher in room 206.
D: You are not in 206 you are in 208.
Thought: Hello, is anyone listening to me?
In walks a Chinese English teacher. The director asks her to tell me that my classroom is number 208.
Me: I am not talking about me or my classroom. I simply want to know the name of the teacher in room 206.
D: But she is not in 206.
Thought: Would someone just listen to my question!
Me: There is a male teacher in room 206. His English name is Bear. I want to know his Chinese name.
D: OH, OH, OH. You mean the MAN! Is he a little big (meaning fat) and no hair on the top?
D: His name is __ __ __.
What if I really had an emergency? I would be dead before anyone listened to me.
This evening we received the following short e-mail from Ruth:
The story I wrote about non-communication has a second chapter. The original story took place last Thursday. Yesterday, Thursday, in class my little translator sweetly came to me and said, "The reason the lady could not understand you last week was because you were giving her the wrong room numbers." UGH! There I had to swallow some pride and repent. So my whole story just lost its punch line and I learned a good lesson.
The following is an excerpt from a blog post by a man named Dave, who is currently teaching English in Asia.
He entitled it: I don't know what it is, but it likes ESPN2
I gave my first test last week, and as bonus questions, asked them to write a sentence using one of the slang phrases that I've taught them. A few students got them right. Many more failed in spectacular ways. Most of the difficulties centered on the phrase "couch potato." Seems simple enough, right? Maybe to you. A few of the (erroneous) attempts at capturing this phrase follow.
- He is a couch tomato.
- I was a sofa tomato.
- We should not be couch pasta [I know it's some kind of starchy food!]
- We are sofa and Pomato on the holiday.
- My sister likes laying Tomato, she always sitting on sofa.
- Tom A Couch Plato [These are not the ultimate Doritos, but merely shadowy copies of the true form].
- you watch TV, you will be crouch potato [Looks like the three-point stance to me]
And, in a guess at "baby boomer:"
- After the 2th World War, many boom babies borned.
The following is from the blog of Carol who is living in Asia with her husband Hal and their three kids. Carol and Hal are both former high school students of mine from way back in the last millenium. Carol's parents are there visiting them right now. Anyway, Carol writes...
Today I thought I would share with you YET another language blunder. This one took place last week while my mom and I were shopping. Here we have markets that we shop at where we have to bargain for our items and that involves speaking. Well as you know I am new to this language so I am learning all the time how to say things and new words to add to my ever building vocabulary.
When I am out and about I try very hard to use each word I can possibly use. Personally I detest having to have someone help me anymore. Perhaps that is my slightly stubborn side coming out but I am at the point where I want to say it and do it MYSELF. SO that means I have to put it in high gear and start getting more words under my belt. Practice times for me are often found at the market because I have to speak to them in order to make a purchase and people are typically very willing to let me try my words on them.
My mom and I were shopping last week and looking for some 'wedding lanterns' that would be sent back to the states for a wedding shower of a Chinese woman and her American fiance. I had a bit of a hesitation when I was shopping because I was unsure exactly which lantern was for wedding and which for New Years. They look alike to me except for the characters written on them. I am still not able to read them so I have to ask. I figured that was no big deal...I would just tell the worker that this lantern was going to be for a wedding and make sure it was the correct one. That is not out of the realm of my meager vocabulary. I had learned all of those words and could readily ask those questions. The problem came when I got one key word mixed up. As I was describing why I wanted to purchase this lantern I repeatedly use the word "divorce" instead of "marriage/wedding". OOOPS big mistake there. The fun was as follows:
(Ok, so imagine yourself hearing some weirdo foreigner say this to you:)
"Are these lanterns used for the divorce of a man and woman?"
HMMM....no response...just odd looks....so let me try this again.
"I would like to purchase a lantern to celebrate a friend's divorce."
Ok, so that didn't go over real well...they are now just staring at me...one more swing at this...let's rearrange the sentence a little and see if it flies....
"An American and a Chinese person will be getting divorced and we would like to have 2 lanterns for the party."
Ok, I am talking Greek or something so may be I should describe the event...here's another feeble attempt...
"In America we give gifts, eat food, talk and celebrate 2 people getting divorced."
Ok...you you get the picture, huh? Those poor people just kept saying "no" and looking at me all weird and, I am sure, wondering about all of us sicko Americans out here that celebrate a divorce this way. They kept stepping back from me and shaking their heads and looking at me REALLY oddly.
THEN...it hit me. I realized I was using the wrong word for "marriage" and instead was saying "divorce". So I told them "oh I am sorry, I forgot the word" and when I fixed it and told them "wedding" they immediately took me to the correct lanterns for THAT occasion. AMAZING how one word can change the whole situation!!
SO...I have now given them something fun to go home and disuss at the dinner table. When I told an Chinese friend here what I said/did, she said, "They will now tell all their friends what the crazy American woman told them today." Guess I will be the talk of the town...me and my divorce celebration.
"What a cheap imitation of glory is living for what will soon pass away!" - Dr. Tony Fox
When the seed store was robbed, the authorities suspected that the evidence was planted.
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