Lost In Translation

Language is a beautiful thing. I love the way words work and have often found myself stopping to appreciate the way certain sentences are written.

Language is also a hard thing. Especially when it comes to speaking a language that isn’t your native tongue.

In my lifetime, language barriers have caused instances of misunderstanding, miscommunication, and some epic games of charades.

This past summer while I was in Turkey, I had an entire 30-minute conversation with a man using only charades and the few words he knew in English. We were able to establish that we were both in Istanbul as tourists, which street performers were “super” and which were only ok, that he thought I had pretty eyes, and that the scars on his hands were from a motorcycle accident. What we weren’t able to establish was whether or not he was a human trafficker so when he kept trying to get me to go somewhere else for drinks and music that was even more “super,” I said no. Which he thankfully understood.

While backpacking around Japan, there were countless times people would give us directions using hand gestures and pointing left or right. Occasionally, we would have people walk us to wherever we were trying to get, even if it was on the complete opposite side of the city from where we were.

Once, while I was in Romania, my companion and I were at the church alone when a Roma lady came in with her toddler and asked for money. (Roma people are often referred to as gypsies). We told her we were sorry but that we couldn’t give her any money. Besides it being a Mission Rule that we couldn’t give out money (although we could refer people to other local leaders if they had financial needs) it was also one of the rules for us to be able to keep our visas.

My companion was trying to explain that it was the “rule” that we couldn’t give her any money. The lady was confused and agitated.

“What rule?” she demanded.

Your rule!” we said emphatically. “It is because of your country’s rule that we can’t give you anything!”

After having this same exchange a few times, she finally left. It was then that we realized our mistake.

The Romanian word for rule is regula. The Romanian word for The King is Regele.

Guess which one we were using?

As the senior companion, I should have been the one to catch on when my companion used the wrong word and I definitely shouldn’t have continued to use the same word.

When we realized what we had been saying, her reaction made a lot more sense. Beforehand, when we told people it was the rule of the country that we couldn’t give them money, they were upset but they understood. What we had been telling this poor Roma woman was that her King had told us we couldn’t give her money.

The Roma “King” lived in the city we were in. We never talked to him or even went to that part of town. Despite our curiosity, it wouldn’t have been a wise move. Still, we had managed to convince this lady that her King had forbidden us from giving her money.

We felt a bit bad about it but on the bright side, for the rest of the time I was serving in that city, we never once had any Roma come to the church and ask us for money. I guess word got around that we were in with the King.

Another time I had a companion that tried to say she was born an old lady. Instead she said she gave birth to an old lady.

Once, in anger, I accidentally yelled “I’ll do whatever you want” instead of “I’ll do whatever I want” at the elders.

These language mishaps, among others I am sure happened without me realizing, help me have empathy for others when they make mistakes in a language that isn’t their own.

When Mom was taking Spanish at MPC, she once wrote an assignment about a time the dog was sick and she had to take him to the vet to get a shot. Unfortunately, she wrote that she took the dog to the vet and the vet shot the dog.

Admittedly, part of Mom’s problem was that she tried to use Google Translate, which is a fickle, fickle friend. Despite its shortcomings, Google has graced us with some hilarious mistranslations. Which brings me to the audiovisual part of tonight’s post – “Google Translate Sings.”

The basic premise of Google Translate Sings is that if you run song lyrics through multiple layers of translation, you get some pretty funny stuff. As soon as I discovered this YouTube channel, I was sold. Mostly because I know that you don’t even have to run the lyrics through multiple layers of translation to get funny results.

For example, if you translate the lyrics from “The Circle of Life” from Romanian back into English, the chorus is, “The story is yours, and it’s wonderful! The story…it is yours!”

In “Son of Man,” from Tarzan, instead of being the son of man, Tarzan is the “baby chicken of humans, and one day you will become a man.” Because Romanian has different idioms than English, the concept of being a “baby chicken of humans” makes complete sense. Unless you translate it word for word into English. Then it is just funny.

Unfortunately, Google Translate Sings hasn’t done either of these songs, but this one is pretty funny too (and is probably my favorite version of this song)…


Also, in case you are curious what “Pui De Om” sounds like, here you go!

Disclaimer – lest you think I don’t like Disney songs in Romanian, I adore them. There are some versions I prefer in Romanian – pretty much anything from Tangled or Pocahontas, among others. Because in songs like “Just Around the River Bend,” there are lines that are phrased in lovely ways. For example, the line after she debates whether to marry Kokoum, in English she asks “or do you still wait for me dream giver,” and in Romanian she sings “or should I listen to my heart and what it is yelling at me.” Ok, so it doesn’t flow as well in English, but it is so lovely in Romanian.

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