All relationships experience miscommunication at some point or other, but add a foreign language and you’re bound to have some benign misunderstandings. Stuart Beaton writes about a recent such mishap. (No worries–all’s well that ends well.) Stuart has a great podcast blog (his latest interview is with the fabulous author Claire Bidwell Smith) at http://rastous.podomatic.com/. Here’s Stu:
Yesterday my lovely wife, Ellen, came home and declared that she wanted to quit her job.
A flat and bold statement, unequivocal in its intent, right?
So we had a little sit down, and a chat about some of the problems that would raise – like what would we do for money? And that it would make getting a holiday visa to Australia difficult. Social insurance and old age was bandied about.
Or that both of us being at home all day, every day would probably drive one of us to kill the other, and then butcher the remains in the woefully inadequate sink, which would clog as usual…
I’d watched a friend of mine go through hell after her husband had forced her to quit a very good, very well paid job a few years ago. Her will to live evaporated, after she had to sit home, day after day, and cater to his every whim. In the end, she disappeared, never to be heard from again.
Tears flowed last night, and misery was had. Until a key phrase was uttered…
“… and get another one.”
It transpired that English is a language fraught with hidden pitfalls.
“I want to quit my job” didn’t mean “I want to quit my job”. I meant “I want to get a better job.” Ellen doesn’t want to be a live at home housewife, cooking and cleaning all day.
No, that’s my job.
She wants to quit her terrible job, and get a better one. Which has lead me to some pretty useful conclusions. Firstly, don’t take statements at face value.
My students are forever making rash, strange statements, and it’s hard for me to understand at times what they’re really driving at. It’s one thing to experience technical difficulties in a class setting, it’s another altogether to butt heads at home!
Secondly, get to the heart of the matter.
When in doubt, get the pocket translator out. It’s amazing just how I can always come out last in translation.