in

Love ItLove It

It Depends On the Language

I just recently spoke to someone who didn’t speak English very well and it was quite difficult to understand her. It then dawned on me that there are people who attempt to translate what they want to say in English first in their own language. That never works very well because very few sentences can be translated directly. Instead, they should be translated the correct way in your own language so that the other person can understand the meaning. By now you are probably more confused than ever before so let me give you some examples.

Feeling Like a Sausage

When I still lived in New York my mom worked not far from where we lived so she had the time to make me a sandwich to have for breakfast before she went to work. One morning she had left me a sausage sandwich. We spoke Latvian at home so I often got my English mixed with my Latvian. That morning I was thinking in English and wanted to leave mom a note telling her why I didn’t eat the sandwich.

In English, it is alright to say, “I don’t feel like having sausage today”. In Latvian, it is a disaster and when mom came home she found a note which told her that I didn’t feel like a sausage that day. Well she understood and it became like a little joke between us but you see direct translation doesn’t work. In Latvian, I should have written that I wasn’t up to eating a sausage sandwich that morning.

When a Piece of Cake Becomes a Piglet 

Well, that example was easy to understand and mom and I got a laugh out of it but the next one is even better. This involved a little boy whose babysitter had brought him some cake. His parents had gone out and when he went to bed he decided to leave a note for his parents that there was some cake left in the fridge. Another child like me, who was always getting languages mixed up.

He was thinking in English and writing in Latvian so the note said, “Cucina ir ledusskapi”. Translating this from Latvian to English it says, “The piglet is in the fridge”. You can imagine his parents’ faces when they read the note before they opened the fridge. You know that in English the word he wanted to write was cake however in Latvian the word is kuka. So in Latvian, you begin the word for cake with a k. Plus he made the word cake as an endearment term and so he wound up with a piglet in the fridge. You can be sure that this was the number one topic among parents talking about their kids at parties and everyone could have a great laugh.

  • Question of

    Do you agree it is difficult to translate directly from a language?

    • Yes
    • No
  • Question of

    Have you ever gotten confused between languages?

    • Yes
    • No

Report

What do you think?

11 points

9 Comments

Leave a Reply
  1. I spend a lot of time with translation hardware. For the major languages (Chinese, Japanese, German, some dialects of India and so on) it does well.
    for languages that are variations within another Slavic or Chinese dialect, the hardware fails for the exact reason you list.

    The other interesting thing to consider is that the Inuit Eskimo Language has more than 20 words for snow.

    Thai has 3 distinct words for hot. So if you want not hot food, you have to say it one way.

    1
  2. My husband speaks one language and I speak another; some words in his language are just the opposite of what they mean in mine. So after some initial difficulty we decided English was a better means of communication.

    1

Leave a Reply