So what am I really saying?

As someone who has taught in other languages and currently lives in a non-English speaking environment for most of the year, I am aware of some interesting “cross overs” in the sound of a word….that has nothing to do with its actual meaning.

When I’m teaching my students (who all speak a local tribal language called Khasi at home) I know that sometimes they dissolve into giggles at a new word which obviously sounds like something with a totally different meaning in their own language. I only speak a few words of Khasi but I know their word for ‘rain’ is ‘slap’ and the word for ‘morning’ is ‘step’, so sometimes I have to remind myself we are not hitting anyone, it’s raining and we’re not climbing up the stairs, it’s just morning!

English has such a vast vocabulary and Khasi was an oral language until about 250 years ago so has limited scope. I am constantly trying to persuade my students to use words other than ‘beautiful’, ‘nice’ and ‘said’. The more they can try to think in English the easier it gets for them.

Many educated people in the country speak a variety of languages and dialects and put most of us English speakers to shame. But I’m sometimes unsure how well they actually put those languages together. I taught Spanish for a while to business students and they tried to translate from Hindi through English to say something in Spanish. Two memorable mistakes are when they tried to say ‘watchdog’  and ended up saying a ‘dog wearing a watch’ and a ‘vessel’ (the old-fashioned word for a pot or pan) and came up with cooking ‘rice in a ship’.

Language is just fascinating and when you love to write, the amazement grows!


8 thoughts on “So what am I really saying?

  1. This is so true! English is such a complicated language. Perhaps that’s why most of us don’t speak other languages — because we are still working on mastering English. I am fascinated by people who speak multiple languages. I bet your days are exciting!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve been living in Jakarta for the past 6 years- at a school with over 40 nationalities represented. A couple of years ago I called out to a child running through the corridor, ‘Oi!’ Like any good Aussie would.
    The Korean boy, with a big smile on his face turns around questioning, ‘Why are you calling me a cucumber?’


  3. I admire anyone that can speak another language. In our town they’re starting up a spanish emersion school and also chinese. They have waiting lists. Thanks for sharing.


  4. Speaking more than one language is so admirable to me. Growing up where I did, I never even heard accents. Now I have a hard time understanding anyone who even has an accent, let alone someone who speaks a different language. What a great experience you are having.


  5. This is so interesting!! I am impressed with what sounds like an adventurous job you have. You have such a unique perspective with the language you are immersed in and English. I can’t wait to read more!


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