Alliance News Feed – Alliance Workers Uncut, Part 1

We in the National Office Communications department receive compelling God-at-work stories from international workers on a weekly basis. But some of the most . . . interesting stories are the ones we receive in more private e-mail or dark hallway settings. What follows is part one of a two-part “most embarrassing language blooper” compilation from our international workers (well, at least the ones we could print). Read at your own risk.

Deanna Harrison (Ivory Coast)

Our children were all born in the Democratic Republic of Congo. When asked what I fed our son, I replied that he was nursing. The only problem is that Lingala is a tonal language, and I used the wrong tone on the last syllable, which gave the word a different meaning. Mabelé refers to nursing, but I said mabele which means dirt. So instead of saying that I nurse my baby, I said, “I feed him dirt.”

Anonymous (Creative-Access Country)

I was talking to a migrant about his dad’s job back home. He said that he had rugs (kovriki) to sell. I misheard that he had cows (korovi) to sell. So I asked, “Do you milk them?” It was funny seeing him try to come up with an answer before I finally realized my mistake.

Tim Steinert (Asia/Pacific Regional Director)

My most embarrassing language moment was when I was talking to a young mother on the bus in Kosovo about her little boy. I thought I was using the Albanian word for boy (djale), when in fact I used the word djall which means devil. I only realized later that I had called her little boy a little devil. Thankfully, she understood that I was a language learner and only smiled.

Rich Brown (Latin America)

I grew up on the mission field as a missionary kid speaking Spanish, but I had been out of the language for 10 years of college and ministry before I returned to South America.

My wife, who also grew up speaking Spanish, was with me on the plane. The lady sitting on my other side was from Colombia, and I wanted to witness to her. Remembering that my wife doesn’t like to fly, I asked the Colombian lady, “Do you like to fly? My wife doesn’t like to fly. Do you?”

My wife elbowed me hard in the gut and said, “The word is volar, not violar.” Volar is the Spanish word for fly; violar is the Spanish word for a type of assault.

There was no witnessing after that. I told her I was tired and had made a simple mistake. Then I put my head down and went to sleep. The lady may or may not have asked to change seats.

Anonymous (Eastern Europe)

Where I live has pretty cold winters, so nearly everyone wears a hat, hood, scarf, or something like that to cover their head while walking. I had to learn that, even if I wasn’t cold, other people would scold me for not wearing something on my head.

One day, a good friend of mine came into the community center where I was working, and I saw that he was not wearing a hat. So partly to be funny and partly because I was curious, I asked him, “Where is your hat?” However, I mixed up the word hat with lid. So I wound up saying, “Where is your lid?” He looked very confused, I realized what I had done, and we had a good laugh. Don’t leave home without your lid!

Bonnie Oberg (Burkina Faso)

While we were in French language study in Burkina Faso, I was telling our part-time babysitter how to put a diaper on our baby in case she had to change her while we were out. Our conversation erupted into laughter when I said, “Put the pig on the baby.”

Beverly Bellamy (Congo)

During our year of language study in France, we were assigned to a summer internship with a church. I was assigned to lead the ladies’ prayer meeting. We would go around the circle, and each woman would pray. I would strain to understand each lady’s prayer request, knowing that I would have to pray aloud for one of them.

One week, there was a long, emotional request about a Sister Louisa, who had apparently died in her garden. Then there was some mention of a snake and her husband. I was totally confused. I stumblingly prayed for comfort for her husband and family. When I looked up, the ladies were staring at me. One of them turned to another and asked, “And now, Sister Maria, would you pray for healing for Sister Louisa’s snake bite?” Evidently, the French words for dead and bitten sound similar.

Anonymous (Creative-Access Country)

I’m in language study right now, so my language mistakes are pretty fresh in my mind.

I usually confuse similar words. For example, I told my host mom her new wallpaper was “delicious” instead of “beautiful.” I said that I was becoming “dangerous” instead of “worried.” I asked the man to print the “song” instead of the “picture.” I told my host mom people in America eat cow “teeth” all the time, instead of cow “tongue.” She gave me a very strange look for that one.

Some of my other mistakes are cultural. One day I asked a waiter for honey for my coffee, and the young man got all flustered and silly because he thought I was calling him “my honey.” I told a taxi driver I have many “male friends” all over the place and understood much later that he meant boyfriends.

I have asked for French fries “with” my sandwich and gotten them “in” my sandwich. One day I wanted Sprite, but I didn’t know what to call it. I had heard if you ask for something with a local accent, sometimes they understand. So I asked for “spreet.” After a pause, the salesgirl asked in clear English, “Do you mean ‘Sprite’?”

Source: Alliance News Feed – Alliance Workers Uncut, Part 1

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