Lost In Translation

0 Posted by - 24/04/2015 - wanders

Growing up in 1970’s white Australia, there was not a whole lot (i.e. no) emphasis placed on learning languages other than our own twangy version of the Queen’s English. Quite a few decades have passed since my brain was at that spongy, new-skill-absorbing stage and I feel like I have rather missed the boat for acquiring a new language. But I’m determined not to let a couple of months in Latin America slip by without at least trying, so I quadruple our meager daily budget and enroll us in some Spanish classes.

Our chosen school is a tranquil, leafy oasis and I’m heartened that even if I don’t learn a thing, at least I will have wasted my time and money somewhere pretty.

Thomas is as happy as a lark and manages to learn colours, numbers, the names of foods, body parts, animals and clothing etc, all whilst seemingly doing nothing but run in the garden and play in the empty swimming pool.

I learn days of the week, months, directions, and (in theory) how to conjugate verbs.   By ‘in theory’, I mean that if you give me a common, regular, present tense verb, a piece of paper, a pencil and a LOT of time, I might surprise us both by correctly conjugating some of it. In conversation? Not so much.

I do try though, and endeavour to speak as much Spanish as I can in my daily dealings with local people. Sometimes my efforts are met with an affirmative response in español. Result!  Often, my pitying respondent decides to save us both the trouble and answers me in English. And then there are the (more than I care to admit) occasions when my best efforts are met with blink-blink, cricket-chirping, blank stares or laughter. Then I know that somewhere, somehow I have got it awfully, terribly, shamefully wrong.

The problem generally arises when two words sound very similar but have completely opposite meanings.  Let me give  you a couple of examples so that perhaps I can save you some trouble:

You probably don’t really want jamon (ham) to wash your hands. Jabon (soap) does a far better job.

Whilst a little bit of cielo (heaven) in your drink does sound lovely, your barman will think you are completely bonkers for requesting it. Try asking for hielo (ice) instead.

How about a nice, steaming hot bowl of arena (sand) for breakfast? No? Better change that order to avena (oats).

The church is not cerdo (a pig). No, no, no. The church is cerrado (closed).

Asking for that meal para lavar (to wash) will grant you nothing but a strange look. Para llevar (to take way) is far more likely to result in a full tummy.

That thing you just bought is not nueve (nine) anything. It’s nuevo (brand-new), you wally.

Telling someone they have beautiful cabello (hair) is a much kinder compliment than using caballo (horse) to describe their looks.

And when haggling over the price of a taxi ride, you really, really don’t want it mas borracho (more drunk). Mas barato (more cheap) is definitely what you’re aiming for.


A very proud Thomas receiving his ‘diploma’ after a grand total of 15 hours in Spanish school :)