If you’ve ever studied a language, you’ve heard the warnings. Don’t say you’re “embarazada” when you mean embarrassed, or you’ll quickly find yourself embarrassed to have announced your pregnancy. On the other hand, asking for “preservativos” when you want to preserve something will avoid that first problem – you’ve just ordered up some condoms.
False cognates are often called false friends, and with good reason. But what about the linguistic mishaps you can stumble upon without ever switching languages?
I’m completely bilingual in Spanish. Chilean Spanish, that is, with a sprinkling of whatever Central American slang entered my brain by osmosis after all those years in California. Which is why I giggled every time someone in Cuba gave us directions by telling us to “coger” a particular street. In many places, the verb means to take or pick up. In others, however, it means to have sex – with slightly more vulgar phrasing.
My English family laughed hysterically at Lake Tahoe’s Fanny Bridge – your fanny, rather than being your bottom, is the corresponding bit on the front side in England. Lovely. And of course people in the US might do a little head-tilt if an Aussie asks if anyone’s seen his thongs – that would be flip flops.
Even when you’ve got the right words, there’s the little matter of how to say them. England is the worst for this. Think of Worcestershire sauce – how does that combination of letters become Woostersher?
You can always spot the tourists in London. They’re the ones pouring over Rick Steves’ guide and suggesting to their friends that they should really go see Bucking-HAM Palace. Buckingum. Say Buckingum, friends, swallowing that last little syllable right down.
There honestly should be a free welcome class that helps you study English in London. Maybe a YouTube video attached to your e-ticket confirmation. Because while I know that Leceister is pronounced Lester, I merrily told my Dad and Jane that we were staying right by Hol-burn tube stop on our last visit to London. Jane kindly informed me I should be saying Hoburn. Silly gringa.
So spill. What language mishaps have you made, whether in a new language or your native tongue?
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