Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: SLIP OF THE TONGUE (01/26/17)
TITLE: Pointing Pianos
By Elaine Hemingway
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As a born and bred Brit I am inclined to feel guilty about the common assumption that we do not need to learn other languages. Au contraire, I think, so whatever small phrases I can learn wherever I am are used to show I am at least trying. I can ask if you can write your name in Chinyanja –“Kodi mudziwa ku lemba dzina lanu?” It may not get me far but will start an interesting conversation!
A moderate school standard French has been beneficial through the years as I have met with Rwandan refugees and others from French-speaking countries. Even if it’s only “Donne moi le pain, s’il vous plait,” at table, it’s a start.
From a holiday in Spain, I gleaned such phrases as Ole with the best of them, and managed Good morning, Good evening, and How are you? With having my purse stolen whilst on a beach I even managed to convince a policeman on a motorcycle to try to catch some suspects, though I gather my request caused some hilarity. I dread to think what I had actually said.
Learning a new language in a new country of abode poses new problems, as my daughter-in-love discovered. Having moved to Sweden where there are different accents used for assorted pronunciations, mis-pronouncing a word almost discouraged her, but a course teaching phonetics soon had her conversing more freely.
In my case, having gone to Zambia, or Northern Rhodesia as it was then, on a three year contract, my life changed when I married an Afrikaans farmer and stayed. Eleven years later, while we were taking our oldest son to Boarding school in Messina, we were caught in the backlash of UDI on our travels through the then Southern Rhodesia back to Zambia. It was a harrowing trip and shortly afterwards we moved to South Africa and to a mainly Afrikaans speaking rural community.
Learning the language was my responsibility as the children were thrown in the deep end having to start school in Afrikaans which they had not known previously. Within three months they were pretty fluent, but I had to use a hit and miss approach, asking my husband, “How do I say …?” and then, “What do I say back?” I supposed I was doing reasonably well until I was asked if I would make a contribution to the local church bazaar. I thought I promised to make a load of sandwiches, but apparently, I had offered to present them with sewn-up panties!
On another occasion, during a perfectly serious discussion on our flight through terrorist held Mozambique, crossing through borders heavily patrolled by soldiers, in our Station Wagon, I commented on the trauma it had been. Guns had been pointed at the children in an effort to find hidden money or whatever it was they suspected we might be carrying. But I chose the wrong word in my attempt to explain and said that Pianos were the weapons of choice.
Another not at all popular slip of the tongue was when I told a handsome gentleman that I was very interesting! My husband had to leap to my defence and explain that I must have meant ‘interested.’
Notwithstanding my endeavours, imagine my surprise when, after much amusement at my expense, I discovered that our neighbour, who had most enjoyed my faux pas, was actually an English teacher at the school my children attended. Why they had not thought to tell me remained a mystery, but I asked her why on earth she had left me to struggle on?
“Oh, my dear,” she told me in Afrikaans, “you might have laughed at me!”
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