Bilingual Bloopers

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I wanted to tell my language helper that we were finished for the day. But instead of saying “ta so(we are finished), I said “ta sio” (go away). Thankfully my helper had a sense of humor and informed me that my way of dismissing people was probably not the best if I want to have friends. At times, living and learning in the village is very frustrating, but God is very abundant in His […]

Yesterday, one of my fellow students said to me, “Tu es belle.” I responded, “Oui, c’est vrai,” because I thought he was saying the weather was beautiful.  He chuckled a little.  I replayed the short dialogue in my head because his chuckle seemed out of place, and it was an unusual way to remark about the weather.  As I thought about what he said, I realized he was telling me I was beautiful (I was dressed […]

I was helping to clean the kitchen after a meal in Peru and called for a rag—or so I thought. The co-laborer to whom I was speaking stopped, looked at me quizzically, and burst out laughing. Since I had asked for a “tropa” instead of a “trapo,” she thought I wanted a “troop” of soldiers to help us clean the kitchen!    —Cheri

 

 

Lungandan, a tribal language of Uganda, has many short affixes which give an utterance its meaning. These often string together to form long words which are difficult to read; and correct placing of word breaks is very important.  When reading a passage in church, a native who was a poor reader caused some laughter and irritation. He sounded out a few syllables, returning to the beginning and adding a bit more each time until he […]

Just before attending BBTI, Tim was visiting western Ukraine. He had learned some Russian, and his friends there asked him what he planned to do when he returned to the US. Not knowing the word for “institute,” he used the word for “university.” He thought he was saying, “I am going to enroll in (pastupayu) a university,” but he actually said, “I am going to buy (pakupala) a university.” They were completely speechless as they […]

After church while we were waiting to eat, some church leaders asked me if we had corn in America. I said, “Yes, but it is not a staple food like it is here in Tanzania.” They then asked me what our staple food was. I answered that there are many different types but my favorite was shoes. They looked quite puzzled. One asked me how we cooked that. “We boil them in water until soft […]

Many words in Bislama are duplicated English words. For example lukluk is look and fatfat is fat. It is easy to make the mistake of thinking this applies to the majority of words. A missionary trying hard to do things the Ni-vanuatu way told the visitors arriving at his hut to come sitsit. Unfortunately, the Bislama word for sit is sidaon; sitsit means (to put it politely) go to the bathroom. Not quite what the […]

A newly arrived missionary in Costa Rica wanted to go to the market and begin learning Spanish. He looked up how to ask the price of things in his Spanish-English dictionary and found the words for “how” and “much” to be “como” and “mucho.” Then he walked around the market pointing at things and saying, “Como mucho.” Everyone laughed because he was actually saying, “I eat much.”

While preaching in an open air market I was giving an illustration using clean water and dirty water. I held up the clean water bottle and said, “If I hit this water, it brings satisfaction.” Realizing immediately that hitting water is an expression meaning to drink hard liquor, I tried to correct myself before anyone had enough time to let it sink in—but it was too late. The crowd one by one slowly “lost it” […]

A missionary preaching in Mexico City from the story of Hannah read where Hannah told her husband that she wouldn’t take the child Samuel up to the tabernacle until he was weaned. Instead of saying “destetado” (weaned), he said “destazado” (to chop up). It was even more hilarious when Elkanah responded, “Do what seemeth thee good; tarry until thou have ‘chopped’ him.”  —RLC

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