Foreign Languages: Humor, Blunders, Frustrations

Categories: Books            7 Comments     

Learning another language can open up valuable opportunities in both our personal and professional lives, since we are more globally interconnected than ever before. Why, then, do foreign language textbooks make it so damn hard?

If you’ve ever taken a foreign language in school, you surely remember the inane dialogues and ridiculous sentences in some of the texts.

A Japanese intermediate-level book entitled Nakama 2: Japanese Communication, Culture, Context sets the bar high for the most depressing sentences ever used to demonstrate grammar points:

“The word is that an elderly person lived by himself in the house that was destroyed by the fire yesterday”

“I saw my house burn in a fire.”

“I heard that Yamamoto-san has been alone since his parents died when he was sixteen years old.”

“Although the baby is crying, the mother is doing nothing.”

“I heard that the tiger that escaped from zoo yesterday was killed.”

The book’s speaking exercises are pretty good too. It’s likely students around the world came up with some very awkward dialogues using this prompt from Chapter 9:

“Your boss makes you do a lot of things that aren’t part of your job. Describe things you are forced to do and complain to your co-workers.”

Other textbooks find it necessary to throw in an excess of random cultural minutia that are supposedly there to make your language learning experience richer.

A beginner’s Swedish text published by the NTC Publishing Group is probably the best. In one chapter, it teaches how to most effectively black out at a Swedish drinking event:

“The Swedish national strong drink is snaps … The first snaps should be swallowed in one gulp, with the next one half a glass … if you continue you’ll likely end up under the table!”

Then in the next chapter, the cultural section provides tips on how avoiding hitting elk with your car. With these two cultural concepts mastered, you’re surely ready to blend into Swedish society.

In the Business World

Some foreign language textbooks certainly leave students a bit confused, even after their final lesson. But at the highest levels, such as multinational corporations, they have it all figured out, right? Maybe not so much.

There are numerous cases of major companies committing major blunders in their advertising campaigns overseas.

Pepsi, for example, attempted to promote their slogan “Come Alive with the Pepsi Generation!” in China, but the marketing executives must have been studying a questionable textbook because it was translated as “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the dead.”

Do you have any foreign language class horror stories or other examples of things that have been lost in translation? This type of blunder is often tickle city!

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