The Best Idea That I’ve Ever Copied

The Best Idea That I’ve Ever Copied Non-Award goes to Gabe at (Almost) Unsalvageable.  It isn’t an award, it’s me giving him credit where credit is due because I totally related to his post  I am so sorry for myself, I no speak in this language very much.

He refers to problems when you don’t know a language well but are trying to fit in. His post is hysterical.  I have LOADS of examples of that in my personal life, but even more in my students’ lives.

I’m sure I’ve made many embarrassing mistakes, but the one that is so crystal clear in my brain that I even remember what I was wearing that day, occurred when I was in college.  I’m 63 now and was probably 19 then, so this gives you an idea of how completely humiliated I felt.

To give you a little background, I’m 100% suburban New York, born and bred in the US and only fell in love with another language in 7th grade.  We had to take a “foreign” language at school and I chose French.  My older brother took Spanish, so he told me not to be an idiot, but to take Spanish so he could help me.

This new language and I started our love affair the first day of class and it continues to this day.

As a Romance Language major in college, a lot of my classmates were native, or first generation, Spanish speakers.  I always felt a little out of my league, but I read and write fluently and have good listening skills.  My deficit is being timid speaking with native speakers.  Not counting my students with whom I do not feel intimidated at all.

At any rate, at one point I had to give an oral presentation in a difficult college Spanish class.

Side note: In this class, there were 4 essay questions on the midterm.  Question #2 was “Write a brief history of Spain.”  Seriously?

After my presentation, and I have no idea what the topic was, my professor asked me a series of questions pertaining to the presentation.  I have no clue what I was trying to say, but it was along the line of “As a ______________ yourself, you are much more of an expert than I” or something like that.  In the blank spot, I called him a “chuleta” which is a pork chop.

The entire class fell out.  He was staring at me open-mouthed until he realized that I wasn’t being rude, just had made a horrible mistake.  I will never, ever forget that moment.

Now we live in the world of Google Translate.  I tell my students that if they use Google Translate they will fail my class.  I love it when someone tries to be slick and use it and they end up with a nonsense sentence and swear it’s their own.  I mean really, be honest and say you didn’t know how to write it correctly and I’ll help you.  Don’t pretend you know what you’re doing when you so obviously don’t.

And then a new student from China arrived.  Uh oh.  How do you say good morning in Mandarin?  I didn’t have one of our Mandarin/English dictionaries handy, so I quickly….you guessed it…..looked up “good morning” in Google Translate, English to Mandarin.  And wrote it on the board.  I have no idea what I really wrote, but it was obviously not “good morning.”

This very quiet, stereotypically reserved non-English speaking, Asian student looked up at the board, doubled over holding his stomach until laughter erupted unbidden from the depths of his soul.

O.M.G.  What did I write?

He is too polite to ever tell me.

About Barb Knowles

The things that are important to me are family, friends, teaching, writing, languages and using my sense of humor to navigate this crazy world. Please join me on this blogging adventure...
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29 Responses to The Best Idea That I’ve Ever Copied

  1. Ritu says:

    Oh so funny!!!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. At one time I had Spanish speaking roommates while I was taking a college level Spanish class – maybe it’s just my suspicious mind, but I never let them help me with my homework.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Carrie Rubin says:

    In the novel I’ve finished, I have some French phrases–no problem, I speak it–but also some Haitian ones that I got from Google translate. Now I’m worried, pork chop. Veeeery worried. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Chinese is a tough language–I took it in college, but never achieved anything remotely approaching fluency. For greeting, I generally stick with “Ni hao ma?” which is literally “You good?”, but which they taught us as the standard greeting in Chinese 101.

    The words for “good morning”, “good evening” etc. are harder to remember… and I honestly don’t think I ever learned the characters in 2 and a half years of studying it.

    And I’m sure I said things that were absolutely ridiculous to my instructors, but they never let on if I did. It gets very hard with the different tones in Chinese–for example, “ma” can mean “mother”, “horse” or just indicate a question, depending on the inflection.

    P.S. I tried to post this a couple times, and it didn’t work–probably because I originally included the Chinese characters for “ni hao ma?”, and it got flagged as spam. So, my apologies if you get this comment three times!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. 😂😂😂I love this post so much…
    I’ll be starting college in a few months, and I’m taking European studies. The language I chose is Spanish so I really hope the question “Give a brief history of Spain” won’t be on ANY of my midterms! OMG… 😂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Barb Knowles says:

      Ha! I wrote it in outline form. But what a ridiculous test. You’ll be fine. I had studied Spanish for 8 years or so before that embarrassing word popped out of my mouth. I’m glad you got a kick out of this post and hope you checked out Gabe’s as well. His post is hysterical.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. One of my favorite icebreakers is gently, so gently, asking someone to inflect the “n” correctly when telling me, “Ella tiene catorce anos.” Without the tilde (~) over the n in “anos”, this translates to, “I have 14 anuses” instead of “I am 14 years old.” Kills me every time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Barb Knowles says:

      haha That’s great. When we have to send out report cards, we also leave comments. I, of course, leave them in Spanish for our Spanish-speaking families. Our computer program doesn’t allow for tildes or accent marks. It puts the entire word in rectangles. That is being fixed, but I make sure never to write años for exactly that reason.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Hahhahaha! Now Í’m curious – What do you write? Languages are fun to learn, but also a terrible thing. I’m still trying to get my Dutch up to speed but with no success… :/

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Ha! Google translate is particularly brutal when attempting to convert English to Romanian (the difference between tomorrow and oral sex is very subtle, especially when pronounced), so I can only imagine what you actually wrote.

    And thanks for the link here Barb! Always a pleasure to see that my cocky slips can bring a chuckle or two to others.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Barb Knowles says:

      I just realized that you meant what did I write in Mandarin. I think part of the problem is that it went from English to symbols (not the correct word) to Mandarin using the Roman alphabet of English. And you better believe that I erased that in 2 seconds.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. dawnkinster says:

    Funny! I tried to learn French in highschool. 2 years of complete failure. I tried to learn Spanish as an adult, also fail. Now I have a sister-in-law (who lives far from me) who speaks very little English and that Spanish would have come in handy. She and my brother (her husband) communicate with google translate, much to the detriment of their relationship.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Barb Knowles says:

      How great is this comment!! I went on a high school field trip to Spain for spring vacation with our Spanish teacher. I remember thinking that they didn’t speak Honors Spanish in Spain and I had to really step up my game.


  10. Ann Coleman says:

    I really wish he would tell you what you wrote! But seriously, I admire you for even trying to speak/read/write fluently in another language, as it is beyond me. I know a few words and phrases, and that’s about it, despite three years of Spanish in high school two in college. I never did learn to properly roll my “Rs” either.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. George says:

    Very funny Barb…:) and I would have loved to know what was really written..:) have you imagined?

    Liked by 1 person

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