My Life in Peru

An Expat Mom Shares Her Experiences with Peruvian Life, Travel and Food

Lost in Translation

Posted on | March 5, 2012 | 9 Comments

The last guest post from Rick on living in a bilingual household got a lot of comments, so I thought I’d continue on that track just a little bit. Actually, I’d been planning on writing about it for a while -especially on the topic of “Spanglish”.  It came to my mind when I was talking to my friend Samantha about it over on her blog What Little Things. Then there was a post about some embarrassing translation goofs on a post over at Expat Peru that reminded me about the subject.

See, in my house, we don’t really speak Spanish or English. My husband and I speak a weird sort of “Spanglish”.  It started when I was just learning Spanish. I would tend to use his accent, because it’s easier for him to understand, and I speak mostly Spanish unless I didn”t know the word, then I would throw in the English. Even when I spoke English to him, I would use a Spanish accent – and I think that’s part of what has helped my Spanish sound good.

After eight years in Peru, my Spanish is actually pretty good. I still don’t know all my verb conjugations, but I get a lot of compliments on my accent.

What’s funny to me is when I speak English now, I use Spanish phrasing. Because I’ve been living in a Spanish speaking world for so long now (next month will be eight years!), I have a tendancy to think in Spanish. That means that sometimes that when I’m speaking English, what comes out of my mouth is a poor translation from Spanish.

Like when I was commenting on Samantha’s blog, in English I would have normally said I was at the mall – but instead I called it the “commercial center”.  Not that big a deal, still obvious what I was talking about, but not really typical US English.

It reminds me of the movie “Casablanca”. There’s a scene where a German (or maybe Austrian?) couple are talking about their plans to go to the US, and how proud they are to be learning English so well so they’ll feel more at home in America.

And those are the kind of mistakes I make when I start speaking English – Instead of saying “I don’t know how to say this” or “I don’t know what that’s called”, I say “I don’t know how you call this.”

Visiting my sister, and I couldn’t hear the television well, so I said “Hey, can you up the volume?” instead of the usual “turn up the TV”.

I often confuse similar words –

  • Puno (a city) with puño (a fist);  
  • rama (a branch) with rana (a frog);
  • digerir (digest) with dirigir (direct, like in directing traffic).

My husband has the same problem- I can’t tell you how many times he has asked me if we would be eating in the dining room or in the chicken for lunch! (chicken/kitchen)

But one of the funniest “lost in translation” moments was when my the Hubs and I were both still learning each other’s languages. I was trying to figure out how to say the “Average” of something… I didn’t know the word in Spanish, so I was explaining the definition of the word I needed, and he said “the promity?”  It sounded right, so I went with it. We went with it for a couple of years, actually, whenever we needed – the promity of people say this, what is the promity of Chato’s grades? (I actually thought it was promite, but pronounced it more like promity”. )

Then one day as I was speaking in all Spanish, I used promity – and he corrected me to “promedia”.

I said “….. What? What is promedia?”

He answered “That’s promity in Spanish.”

“Wait a minute,” I said, “I thought promity WAS Spanish!”

Turns out all along he had thought that promity was the English translation of the Spanish promedia, which actually translates to average! So for years we both had been using some made up word!

I’ve fortunately never used any mistaken words that got me into trouble or embarrassed me too much. How about you?



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9 Responses to “Lost in Translation”

  1. Cat
    March 5th, 2012 @ 18:01

    I speak Spanish to my husband but English to my kids so they’ve grown up hearing me use both languages. My best lost-in-translation moment was when I had a pair of sandals that squeaked when wet. My daughter took the Spanish verb “pisar” and combined it with an English ending to make, “Mummy, you’re pissing on a cat!”

  2. Kelly
    March 5th, 2012 @ 20:28

    Lol! When I first came to Peru and signs that said “No Pisar en el Cesped” I thought it meant “Don’t Pee in the Grass!”

  3. Preciouss
    March 6th, 2012 @ 20:17

    It is never easy to learn a lot of languages but if you get used to it and use the language a lot for a living then it will be easy for you…

  4. Liz
    March 7th, 2012 @ 14:44

    I have the same problem when I speak English…it comes out in spanish phrasing and all my friends are like uhhhhh why did you say that? haha opps

  5. Louise B. Crook
    March 22nd, 2012 @ 10:14

    Lol! that was funny, I have some situations like that too but the worst is in my language that word is rated G but in other country its rated PG lol I hope you understand my point.
    Louise B. Crook´s last blog post ..Best SEO Services

  6. Kelly
    March 22nd, 2012 @ 12:32

    I absolutely get that. You also have slang problems to deal with – like the Spanish word for “catch” is a very naughty slang word in several South American countries – leading to shocked looks if you say you need to “catch the bus”!

  7. Kenny
    March 29th, 2012 @ 06:41

    It is true what is being said. I speak quite a lot of languages but my wife is a Russian and this is the only language she speak. I only speak Russian at home for 7 years.

    When I met up with my family and friends, I will accidently answer in Russian at times but not always.

    I guess whenever you are use to the language and using them for some time, you tend to think and speak with the language.

    This is just my opinion

  8. Samantha Bangayan
    May 8th, 2012 @ 12:07

    Thanks for the mention, Kelly! =) Your comment on my blog so had me laughing out loud. =) And that promity story was hilarious too! =)

    The one time that I embarrassed myself was when I first arrived in Peru and I wanted to sit on a bench in the plaza, so I asked someone if I could “feel (myself)” (sentirse) instead of “sit” (sentarse) beside her. She laughed. =P
    Samantha Bangayan´s last blog post ..Marriage in Peru: The Easy Way

  9. Kelly
    May 8th, 2012 @ 14:25

    Haha! I still make that mistake all the time!

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    I got tired of life happening while I made other plans, so I quit my job and came to Peru. I live here with my Peruvian husband, two sons, three dogs and various other family members, depending on the weather.

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