We’ve all seen those funny photos of signs and labels written by someone whose first language is not English. I have a personal collection myself from my time in China as do other members of my family and we love to share them among ourselves when we’ve got a new one.
What I don’t think has been properly represented in the English sphere are all the times that we English-speaking people figuratively face-plant in languages we are attempting to learn.
And so, to do my part to right this inequity, here are my top language faux pas, all when speaking Chinese.
What I meant to say: “Hi, I’m a teacher!”
What I actually said (multiple times over the years, apparently!): “Hi, I’m a mouse!”
The fact that I was nervous and relatively quiet spoken when saying this didn’t help to illuminate my mispronunciation. When it was finally pointed out to me, my friend began by saying, ‘You are a mouse. But what you need to say here is teacher.’
What I meant to say: “I’ll come back at a time convenient to you.”
What I actually said: “I’ll come back when you’re in the bathroom.”
Turns out the phrase “when you’re convenient” is also the idiomatic expression in Mandarin for, ahem, answering the call of nature.
What I meant to say: “Let me show you this short video on my tablet!”
What I actually said (again, for years!): “Let me show you this pornographic film on my tablet!”
Yeah, doesn’t that explain the weird looks I’ve been getting!
Got a language faux pas of your own? Do share! Don’t leave me hangin’!