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Friday, February 11, 2011

Fun with Foereign Languages

So I guess that I am pretty easily amused (DH would insert a nod here...), so I have to share a couple of stories about language difficulties with you.

We start to learn English in Sweden at the age of 8 and it is mandatory.  Many of us have also picked up a few select phrases by then, like "I love you" and so on.  Foreign movies imported to Sweden are always subtitled, so I know that some of my friends were helped to speed up the language skills through TV.  Their parents would simply tape a paper strip over the lower part of the screen so that the subtitles were not visible.

I feel that there are some really well defined steps that I have taken in the English language skill development since I was 8.  Some of them I have noticed through how other people react to my speech, I guess.  I get the question "you are not from here, are you?" way less often now than I did a few years back.  I also speak English with an American accent, compared to the British English that we were taught in school (and that I spoke until I moved to the States).  A few examples of big leaps forwards were: the ability to follow conversations in TV shows and movies, being comfortable with reading school books/magazines/novels/blogs in English, decipher what the vocalist belts out in various tunes (including rap!), and understanding a wide range of accents and dialects.
Anyway, here are a couple of examples of pretty funny, in retrospect, mistakes I made when I just had moved to the US.
A good one was when I asked if anyone had a "rubber" in the middle of grad school math class.  Another student actually turned around, half giggling, and hissed "You may want to ask for an eraser!".  As soon as he tipped me off, I realized what I had asked for in American English.  Luckily our professor was from India, so I guess he was speaking British English too...  Note that this is one of the first words that we learn in school - ball, dog, pencil, rubber!
I also yelled out at a party during a conversation with this really cute guy that "Everyone, this is so cool - he is a virgin and so am I!".  I remember people looking at me kinda' oddly, but none commented on this statement.  What I meant to say that we were both Virgos, but I made the mistake of direct translating the Swedish term to English.  (I must have been very taken with him, since I don't generally think that it is cool to be a Virgo...)  The best part was the the guy that I was talking with/about looked at me like I was somewhat amusing, but ina veeeery strange way, said nothing - and four years later we got married.  :-)
By the way, he never corrected me, but I figured this one out all by myself months later when I flipped through a magazine and saw the horoscope page....  He was really hard on me in other ways though!  Every time he wanted to call in a pizza order, he made me do it, because I "needed the practice"! Blah!!!  Now I am glad that he did, but it was not too much fun in the beginning I can tell you!  How is it that "carry out" does not mean "we carry it out to your house" but "you come over and pick it up"?  That is another big threshold btw - the ability to keep up a conversation in a foreign language over the phone.  It is so much harder to understand a person when you can not see their gestures, facial expression, mouth, and body language!  Plus, you can not do the "smile and nod" routine (which I have to confess that I still use every now and then... it is just easier sometimes!)

Oh, and as a side note I can mention that it has been said that the easiest way to tell that a person is a Swede is that we keep saying "it's raining cats and dogs" when we talk about a rainy day in English.  Apparently no true Britt uses this expression, but it is printed in every English language book throughout the entire Swedish school system....  I bet that all the English-language-school-book authors are huddled together, giggling about their successful coupe - they tricked an entire nation into sounding like clueless fools!  (No offense meant to the Americans or Englishmen who actually use this expression - it probably just means that you are of Swedish decent!  ;-))

Well, the point I am working really hard to get to may be more amusing to me than to the average American (actually very likely so), but I really have no clue.
Part of really learning a language is to learn expressions and slang.  Well, L-bug taught me a really neat one for the "male reproduction organs" that you may be familiar with; "twigs & berries".  Have you heard that one before?  I bet you have, but it is new to me and I find it really amusing - especially since a Twigs & Berries design is to be released on the Nashville Marked pretty soon....  I almost fell off my chair laughing when I saw the title on Stitching Bits & Bobs web-site the other day.  I especially thought of my stitching peep Big Dog, who boycotts any design with an Adam and Eve, since she doesn't stitch "nekki" people.  The best part was that SB&B had a "sorry, no photo available yet" comment instead of the design picture.. censored, no doubt!  Yep, if anything, I am easily amused!
Well, I did tracked down a picture of Twigs & Berries by The Primitive Needle, so here it is:
Cute huh!?  But that does not matter, I will always think about L-Bug, Big Dog and the true meaning of "twigs & berries"...

All right I am done being immature (for now...)!  Next time, I promise to post a very proper, serious, and grown-up post about the Richmond sampler progress.  (Yawn!)

Have a great weekend and talk with you in a bit!


  1. Girlfriend, I love hearing your "Swede" stories. I have to confess though, if you hang around me you are going to learn a whole lot of American slang you probably never knew existed. I do tend to make things up as I go along. It's just that wicked sense of humor I have. What can I say, I'm a bit of a smart ass! But then again, I think you already know that too.

    Love ya,

  2. Hahaha! Love your language stories! Love you as well sis. Puss

  3. I think you might be right. I always say "raining cats and dogs" and I am half Swedish. Who knew?

  4. ROFLMAO!! I did the same thing with rubber. I'm from Malaysia, you see, and one day in the library in uni, I said quite loudly across the table that I needed a rubber. LOL.

    Raining cats and dogs, yup... I say that too. It's to do with the olden days where cats and dogs would rest on the thatched roofs and when the rain was really heavy, the roofs would give way and down would come the cats and dogs.

    Another one for me is turning the light off and on. Being Chinese, I would sometimes get lazy and do a direct translation and say open light or close light.