The ability to laugh at yourself is critical when you move to another country, especially when you start to learn a new language. Jenn, one of our teachers in Vietnam, shares some of her most memorable “language blunders.” If you have ever learned, or tried to learn, a new language you will likely understand the embarrassment and humor of the following situations. While Jenn has made some funny mistakes, she sets a great example in that she is able to shake off her “language blunders” and keep trying.
One day I was waiting outside a university for my student friends and a sidewalk seller called me over. He offered me a seat and started to show me his assortment of goods: oranges, cell phone covers, etc. As he showed me a cell phone cover, I attempted to say that it was beautiful in Vietnamese. Instead I said, “Oh! Head! Head!” He looked quite confused and then gave me a free orange for trying!
Another time I went to buy flowers because one of my teammates had a death in the family. It was my intention to ask the flower seller, “How much is this?” However, what came out was, “Your flowers are feeling sad.”
Fast forward a few years…my roommate and I walked out of our apartment to find our neighbor who has twin boys. That day she only had one of the twins with her. I thought, “I’m going to ask her where the other twin is. Jenn, you can do this…” I pulled out every relevant Vietnamese word I knew as I attempted to ask her where the other twin was. She looked very confused and just said, “Um…Vietnam…” I smiled, nodded my head excitedly, and said, “Thank you!” I turned to my roommate while we were on the elevator and said, “Did I just ask her where we are? Like, what country we’re in?” I wonder if this lady still thinks that I was confused about the country in which I currently live?
And yet another time, I was taking a xe om (motorbike taxi) downtown to go shopping. Instead of saying “Go straight,” I said, “Stand up!” The driver looked back at me obviously very confused and I said more emphatically, “Stand up!!!” while motioning for him to keep going straight. He laughed and said the correct Vietnamese phrase for “Go straight.”