Category: lost in translation

  • rubber on the toilet

    I was only 11 years old when my family moved to the United States from Ghana [West Africa]. Ghana being a British Commonwealth country I had spoken English all my life with no difficulty. However, moving to America was a challenge as I had trouble getting used to all the slang and such. It made […]

  • i want to paint!

    When I was 22 I went on my first foreign mission’s trip to the beautiful land of Brasil. While there we did several things to help in the different communities and with the local churches. We had been there for about 3 weeks and I was impressing everyone with the way I was quickly picking up the language! One day we had the opportunity to go to a local school and do some cleaning up and painting… After we spent the morning cleaning it was lunch time. I was sitting at a table with friends and my “host dad” practicing my Portuguese when I decided to say in perfect Portuguese, I paint. My host dad said very good! So being extremely proud of myself I leaned over to my friend to find out how to say “want” distracted he told me and I said very loudly and with great pride and a huge smile “I want to paint” Silence then the entire room, who was made up of mostly men from the CHURCH began to laugh hysterically… I realized that what I said didn’t come out right, but really why was the PASTOR on the floor laughing with tears streaming down his face? I looked to my Brazilian friend Paulo who’s face was somewhat shocked, trying not to laugh, saying no,no Paula! After several minutes, with no end of the laughing in site Paulo’s fiance, and my dearest friend Greta, pulled me outside and said Paula do you know what you said? Yes… I want to paint! No she responded you just said I want a penis! Shocked and shaking my head no, I said I don’t want a penis, I just want to paint! Needless to say I had other slip ups on that trip and others but that by far has been the most embarrassing one! Paula – TX

  • adventures in brazil, part three

    There was a time that I was invited to speak in a Brazilian city that I had never visited before. I was at a point in my language learning when I could do OK in a conversation but needed a translator for public speaking. So, after one extended meeting, we went out for all-you-can-eat pizza. It was nearly midnight. I was tired from the meeting. If you have ever are learned a new language, you will know that to try to communicate in it when you’re tired can be a recipe for disaster. This was no different. So, the waiters were serving different kinds of pizza. One was sliced chicken with a certain cheese topping that I liked at the time. However, it was one of those Portuguese words (“catupiry”) that I believe almost any foreigner would have a hard time pronouncing correctly. Being tired, there was no way I would be able to say it correctly if couldn’t say it when totally alert. The word that came to my mind was mixture of that cheese and the word for computer. When I spoke out my desire for THAT pizza, my translator, a fair, blond-haired lady, who was sitting right next to me, dropped her mouth so fast and turned the deepest shade of red that I can ever remember in my experience, and started saying, “I can’t believe you just said that!” She started alternating between shock, laughter, and sheer embarrassment. “Say what?” I had no clue. Finally, after a few minutes of the internal terror of, “What did I just say?!”, someone translated my gaffe. Imagine this: I am one of featured speakers in a conference, and I just used one of the worst swear words in Portuguese. It is a punchy word that sums up all of the gross things that prostitutes do in their sexual acts. I had just spoken out loud that I wanted all that on a pizza … with chicken. Joseph – DC

  • adventures in brazil, part two

    During the period when I was dating my future wife, there was a time when I was watching her searching through her clothes for a decent T-shirt (Portuguese “camisa”) to wear on our date. She is Brazilian, and I was still trying to learn the language. In Portuguese, if you want to make something little, cute, or attractive, you can put an “inha” (EEN-ya) at the end of a word. However, you don’t add this ending to some words, like this one. I responded to her, “Honey, I have plenty of camisinhas that you can borrow.” Translated, I had just told my girlfriend, “Honey, I have plenty of condoms you can borrow.” Joseph – DC

  • adventures in brazil, part one

    In my work, I had to move to Brazil a number of years ago. Of course, to move to another nation, you have to learn its language and culture in order to better serve the people, and learning these things are almost never a smooth process. My mistakes in learning Portuguese came in a number of contexts. Most of the time it came from mispronouncing words in a way that accidentally formed other words to make crazy expressions. Sometimes it got me into trouble. One of my many mistakes came when I tried to order a certain fruit juice at a restaurant. A popular tropical fruit in Brazil that makes good juice is acerola. However, the way I said it to the waiter was “cirola” (SEE-ro-la). I had just order long underwear juice. The first words that any adult learns in a new language are the words of survival. When I visited Brazil before moving there, one of the first words I learned was that for toilet. One day I had to use the restroom pretty badly. So, with the normal facial expression and body language of someone who had “to go”, I asked someone in Portuguese where the nearest toilet was. But I didn’t say “sanitario” (toilet); I said “sanitorio”. Imagine my face and body as I had just asked for the nearest insane asylum. Joseph – DC