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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Embarrassed (07/19/07)

TITLE: Wait A Minute While I Put My Other Foot In My Mouth
By Lynda Schultz


At one point in my career, the mission director asked me if I would consider serving in Japan. We knew each other well enough for him not to take offense at my answer.

Are you kidding? I had enough trouble learning Spanish. I could never manage Japanese even in my wildest dreams and Spanish is one of the easiest languages to learn.

There were plenty of times in the painful process of language learning that I despaired of ever being able to communicate. If I had a dime for every mistake Ive made in speaking, or writing Spanish, the taxman would be laughing all the way to the government vaults.

However, Im not alone in my tales of language faux pas.

One of the first stories I was told in language school centered on a foreign missionary who was waxing eloquent in Spanish during a Sunday morning service. He was preaching on the evils of sin. Naturally, that word came up often in the course of the sermon. So engrossed was he in his message that he was completely unaware that the audience was not only paying attention, but was trying very hard to keep their collective faces straight. When the missionary quoted Romans 6:23, they simply burst out laughing.

You see the word in Spanish for "sin" is pecado. The word for "fish;" pescado, is very similar. Fishing, and fish, took a terrific beating that Sunday morning.

Worse yet, was that awful moment when a missionary preacher (a different one, I hope) thought he was inviting the congregation to pray. The word for "pray" is orar, the word for what you do when you desperately need to go to the bathroom, is orinar. You can imagine what the response to that invitation was.

Most of the time, mistakes in language dont have such humiliating results. I have trouble rolling the r in some words. I have learned to avoid referring to Los Chorros (the river rapids) when I am asking friends about their relatives who live there. When I dont roll, I end up asking about the family members who live among thieves. Oh, what a difference an r makes. Its a good thing that they are my friends and are very understanding about my language lapses.

It seems like the little things are those most likely to trip up language learners. In those early days of struggle as students, we were always tired. The stress of language learning was exhausting. However, we also learned to be very careful when telling people how tired we really were. When I said, Estoy tan cansada, everyone understood that I was very tired. But, with one slip of the tongue, I have just as easily said, Estoy tan casada or, I am SO married.

If I could speak Spanish without using verbs, Id be extremely happy. Even after so many years working in the language, some tenses still defy me. In the beginning, a language learner is tempted to translate English thoughts directly into Spanish and hope for the best. However, you cant say, I am hungry by direct translation, at least not if you dont want people to look at you as though you were some kind of ignorant language student. In Spanish, the equivalent to the English comes out as, I have hunger. The same rule applies for being thirsty, being cold, and being hot. Mind you, if you did happen to say yo soy caliente instead of tengo calor, youll probably get lots of invitations issued by strange men (or women) to do things that you might not want to share with your mother, or in my case, with your mission director.

I cant count the number of times that Ive referred to a woman as a man, or a man as a woman because I didnt think fast enough before adding the appropriate gender specific ending to a word. Thankfully, doing it correctly is mostly automatic now. By the time I retire from overseas service, Ill speak Spanish like a native and will never have to go looking for a hole to crawl into because of some language mistake Ive made. How wonderful it will be not to ever have such a mortifying conversation as this one:

I am so embarrassed!

Oh, Im delighted for you. When do you expect the baby?*

*I used the word embarazada, which means "pregnant" in Spanish, when I should have used the word apenada.

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This article has been read 1073 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Verna Cole Mitchell 07/26/07
I really enjoyed your story of mistakes in the Spanish language. Years ago when I was taking Spanish in college, the professor asked me one day how I was. I told him "Tengo hombre." When he asked "where," I told him "en mi estomago." When everyone laughed, he said, "No creo que si, Senorita Cole."
Marilee Alvey07/26/07
I can certainly relate to this one. My husband picked up some Algerian young men from the airport years ago and asked them, "Etes-vous femme?" instead of "Avez-vous de faime?" The first says, "Are you women?" and the second says, "Do you have hunger?" Those poor young men, new to America, sitting in the back of my husband's big old Lincoln Towncar, practically bolted out on the highway! Thanks for the memories. I really enjoyed your story!
Joanne Sher 07/26/07
Loads of giggles in here - I've made many of the same Spanish mistakes. Love the title too - great stuff.
Dixie Phillips07/26/07
We had a missionary from Mexico share some of these same mistakes. We laughed so hard we thought we'd die. Great stuff!
Melanie Kerr 07/27/07
I admire people who can learn languages. I am not one of them.
Janice Cartwright07/27/07
Play-on-words humor, related to that of translation problem humor, is to me what slap-stick or potty humor is to a five-year-old. Me ro hasta que las vacas vengan a casa. (Hope I didn't say anything embarassing.)
Cheri Hardaway 07/27/07
Oh, you have just reminded me of yet another mortifying moment of my youth! I took French in college. One day the professor asked me to say in French that I was putting my children to bed. What I said instead, was that I was sleeping with my children... and you can guess how much fun he had with that faux pas!

His eyes grew big, and he sucked in his breath in mock horror: "You! You incestuous woman, you!" The whole class burst into uncontrollable laughter.

I dropped the class and added a French class where I merely had to read French novels and translate them to English.

Thanks for the memories... I think. ;o)

Blessings, Cheri
Benjamin Graber07/27/07
LOL... Now I'm glad I never tried to learn Spanish...
Betty Castleberry07/27/07
I laughed at loud at the missionary preacher's invitation. This was a really fun read. Good work.
Loren T. Lowery07/30/07
As a lover of language and all of the fine nuances, I loved this. So funny an so true.
Sharlyn Guthrie07/30/07
Great title and a fun read. I enjoyed each of the examples of language mis-spoken.
Catrina Bradley 07/30/07
A very enjoyable, lighthearted read!
Kristen Hester07/31/07
Language misunderstandings can be frustrating and embarrassing. Good job and good ending!
Patty Wysong07/31/07
Oh! I laughed all through this one! Do you know how many sermons I've heard about pescado? The same missionary preached an Entire message about the blood of Christ acting like jamon and washing you clean!! lol. And my dad (!!) got on a bus, sat next to a young lady, noticed her blushing and, you got it, used the embarasada word instead of verguenza! We still howl over that one!! Loved, loved, loved this! :-) abrazos! lol
Jan Ackerson 07/31/07
Ooooh, this is great stuff for a wordplay lover like myself.

Want another one? My daughter went to the Czech Republic with her Christian college group. Her male professor and a male student were walking one evening and were approached by, ummmm, a lady of the evening. They didn't speak Czech, but they knew what she was offering, and they said, "Ahhh, no!"

But in Czech, the word for "yes" is pronounced "ah-no." Much confusion ensued!
Linda Watson Owen08/02/07
Lynda, I'm late with some comments but wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed this one! I too get such a kick out of language faux pas! You've used them well here!