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Lost in translation, hilarious incidents

Popularity 4Viewed 2084 times 2014-4-20 08:33 |System category:Life| Lost in translation, hilarious incidents

After landing a contract to teach English at IMAU in 2003, I arrived to Hohhot (Huhehaote), Inner Mongolia, armed with only five Chinese words, Ni hao, xiexie and zai jian (Hello, Thank you and Goodbye). I was informed by my Chinese friends in Canada that I would find numerous individuals who could communicate in English. Unfortunately for me, I only encountered few persons who spoke English in Hohhot. Despite having enough English vocabulary, it was hard to understand them due to their mispronunciation of the English words. After few days in my new city, I realized that I must depend upon gestures and body language to fulfill my needs. Nevertheless, using them led to very hilarious incidents.


Upon arriving to the airport in Hohhot, representatives of IMAU were waiting for me. After greeting me, they said “Now, we will house you in nice apartment.” I laughed while correcting their English “You will take me to my nice apartment.” They just smiled.


My supervisor asked me to teach English to her. I was delighted to oblige. To show her appreciation, one day, she said “Today, I am inviting you for a snake.” I answered her laughing “If you are inviting me for a snake, I must refuse but if you are inviting me for a snack, I will accept your invitation.” I could see clearly that she was irritated thinking that I was making fun of her. I explained to her that I would never eat a snake but I love to munch on a snack. Finally, she laughed and said “We will have a snake for a snack”. That for certain was hilarious.


As her teacher, I asked her to write down her daily activities in English. One day, I burst laughing while reading her notes. She wrote “Yesterday, I disciplined my sun.” As usual, she became angry asking me about my reasons for laughing. I told her “If you can discipline the Sun, you don’t need my help to teach English to you.” By that time, she got used to my sense of humor which prompted her to retort back “I can discipline both my son and the Sun.”


Buying groceries was one of the most hilarious incidents of using gestures and body language to buy grocery items. Imagine, a foreigner standing in a small grocery store making the sound of “Moo, Moo” and putting his hands on top of his head to indicate the ears of a cow then squeezing his hands to demonstrate the milking of a cow. One might come to the conclusion that I was trying to buy milk. However, the sales lady smiled and brought me a bottle of shampoo. I left the store laughing my head off.


Another very funny incident came when I tried to buy eggs. Can you close your eyes and paint a picture of me making the sound “Bug, Bug” and bending down and pushing to imitate the laying of an egg while using my hand to make an oval shape. The young lady in the store smiled and led me to the washroom. I thanked her and left the store laughing.


While exploring my city, I encountered few signs that made me laugh. One sign on the window of a pharmacy said “Free drugs” I laughed imagining how foreigners would interpret this sign. Another sign on the window of a restaurant saying “Come in, we will pizza you”.


The hilarity of translating between languages comes from translating word by word instead of translating the whole sentence and the mispronunciation of some words. It is common to encounter hilarity in visiting foreign countries yet I shall cherish those hilarious incidents forever.

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)




Shake hands


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Comment Comment (3 comments)

Reply Report 财神 2014-4-20 10:05
there is sweetness inside the bitterness. not too bad of having romantic difficulties
Reply Report teamkrejados 2014-4-20 11:45
Here is a good phrase you can use: wo jin xiang kan-kan yi xia - I only want to look around a little.
Sales people abound here, and are always eager to help. Because my Chinese is limited I don't know how to ask for what I want or need, I say 'I only want to look around'. I can scout what I'm looking for - sometimes labels are actually in English, and then go to dickering about it. Maybe this will help you? Wish you a great day!
Reply Report Maierwei 2014-4-23 21:06
Shampoo for "moo"ing, and being taken to washroom for "bug bug" sounds are hilarious!!

However "We will pizza you" doesn't sound bad!

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