Posted on September 18th, 2011by
In Culture, Hints and Tips, Language acquisition | Leave a Comment »
We’ve all made mistakes in our target languages, some of them embarrassing. The Johnson blog at The Economist asked readers to share their most depressing moments on the path to fluency – here are a few gems:
Hydriotaphia - I also have a Japanese story. Having just returned from a year of intense language study, my girlfriend, two other Japanese-proficient friends and I decided to order in Japanese at an Izakaya in NYC. Of course, having been served our oden (if I recall correctly), I tried to ask our waitress whether there was any spicy mustard (karashi) available. Unfortunately, I in fact asked her whether she had a boyfriend (kareshi). Neither my girlfriend nor the waitress were pleased with me.
Faedrus - One of the more famous mistakes English speakers make when learning to speak Spanish is to use the term “embarasada” – which means “pregnant” – when trying to say “embarrassed”. I had been speaking Spanish for about 15 years when I actually made that mistake at a dinner party, although I certainly knew better. I was – to say the least – embarrassed after I said it. But actually I just felt like an idiot.
My most embarrassing moment so far was in Spain, when I was buying something in a clothes store. The transaction went well until the assistant asked me in Spanish if I’d like a bag. I had no idea what she asked (although I suppose I could have guessed in the context) and my brain went completely blank – I couldn’t even say “sorry, I don’t speak Spanish”! The pressure really got to me as there was a queue behind me. Eventually the assistant guessed that I spoke no Spanish and waved a bag at me whilst repeating her question. As soon as I’d paid I escaped from the store very quickly!
Like Johnson’s writer and many of the commenters though, I find that native speakers often appreciate you making an effort in their language. Try not to take yourself too seriously, and laugh with the locals if you make a mistake!