Features Archive

Language and Miscommunication

Mr. McPhee (Faculty of Creative Arts and Languages)

Initiated by Josh McKenzie (Year 8)

It is not uncommon to have some miscommunications when learning different languages. Most are humorous and end in us having a laugh. But it does show, when learning a language, you really need to take care with what may seem like tiny details and, just because a word looks the same as it does in English, it doesn’t always have the same meaning. One mispronounced letter or emphasis on the wrong syllable can lead to some interesting situations! Here are some for English speakers learning Spanish. 

Most Year 8 students learn to ask, “How old are you?” in Spanish, and give an answer. The word for years, “años” is unfortunately pronounced almost the same as a part of the anatomy found near the buttocks, which is not appropriate to mention here! Many Year 8 students have actually told me that they have 13 of this particular part of the anatomy, rather than saying that they are 13 years old. 

Whilst it’s great to have a healthy self-esteem, we don’t normally go round saying how much we like ourselves… unless you’re in Year 8 Spanish and haven’t being paying close enough attention to pronunciation. “Me gusta” = I like (it). “Me gusto” = I like myself. A number of Year 8 students have been happy to express to me their healthy self-esteem! 

When my wife was in Year 3, having had an upbringing in both Spanish and English, she had wanted to say to her teacher, in Spanish, that she was embarrassed. So, she said she was “embarazada”. What she didn’t realise, was that she in fact told her teacher that she was pregnant!  

A South African acquaintance of mine, who was living in Chile, wanted to say sorry to his then girlfriend for something he had said or done. He said “escúpame” as he believed this is what he had heard others saying for “sorry”. After saying this, his girlfriend spat on him! What he wanted to say was “discúlpame”. What he actually said was “spit on me” and his girlfriend obliged… they are now married. 

I love language learning and hope everyone can have the opportunity to learn another language. Whether you excel or not, it is always beneficial and could well provide a few laughs at what you accidentally say along the way! 

Señor McPhee