Dead Slow Children Playing

Slow Dead Children Playing-Cropped-Rotated-Sized for InternetA sentence in critical need of a well-placed comma. Perhaps the sign makers used a computer or the internet for the translation.

Anyone who has ever tried to learn a foreign language has some funny stories to share. You just can’t learn a new language without really embarrassing yourself.

When I was just beginning my Chinese study I went to the local market at 6:00 am to buy 7 Cokes for a dinner we were having with friends that evening. It was the early 90’s and Coke was a new, foreign product and very special. I pointed to the stack of cans behind the glass display and said, “Chi ge” and thought I was saying “7 of those.”

Chinese is a tonal language, so although I spoke the correct sound of the words, the tones were wrong. I actually had said, “Open it up.”

The shopkeeper got a strange look on his face (who would want a Coke at 6:00 am?), opened the can, and handed it to me. I had no idea what had just happened. All I knew was that one can was now open, so I needed to buy 8 cans. The shopkeeper burst out laughing when he realized what I actually meant when I pointed to the cans again and said, “Ba ge” or “8 of those.”

A more recent embarrassment happened in Arabic class.

I will never know what I actually said because after I spoke my teacher got a very strange look on her face. She tried to hold her laughter, but pretty soon the dam burst. She started laughing uncontrollably which was quickly followed by crying because she was laughing so hard.

After about a minute of me sitting and watching her laugh, cry, and wipe her eyes with her shaylah, she finally managed to control herself and tried to move on. It was slow going because she would start giggling every few minutes for the rest of the class. I wanted to find out what it was I actually said, but there was absolutely no way she was going to let that ship sail again.

Learning a new language is like becoming a child once more. In fact, the hard part is that for a long time in your learning process a 3-year-old child can actually converse better than you.

It’s all necessary in the process of becoming a polyglot. So, if you’re learning a new language, jump in and enjoy the process–even the embarrassing moments.

If you have a funny story from learning a foreign language, please share it by making a comment.

4 thoughts on “Dead Slow Children Playing

  1. Michele

    This is great 🙂 Gave me a good laugh, and is also so true. I think it is the fear of sounding foolish that can actually hold us back from learning a language faster. Thanks for the great stories!!

    1. Mike Williams Post author

      Mark, funny you should ask. I never knew, but a friend who read the blog and had the teacher for class asked her. It wasn’t as bad as I imagined. I said something like, “In the past, I used to be a man.” Implying, of course, that I no longer am. I was afraid it was something more crude than that. Still pretty funny.


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