|Danger: Keep Off Bridge!|
Language Problems at Work!
For ExampleJust this morning my husband called from the office to ask what "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" means. A few months ago this word had come up in conversation—I can’t remember why. When we had the discussion, Jiri latched onto this tongue-twisting word with wonder and confusion. When he called this morning about the tongue-twister, I looked it up and explained it…which wasn't easy. This reminded me of the trouble we sometimes have between Jiri’s Czech and my English.
Try giving a definition of this word off the top of your head to someone who speaks the same language you do. Now, consider the difficulty level going up by 100% when trying to explain such a definition to a person not from your culture or country, who speaks English as a second (third, fourth, etc.) language. Not an easy job. When Jiri and I first discussed this word, he asked why it even exists? I had no idea—aside from hearing it in the song from the movie “Mary Poppins,” I’d never heard the word used anywhere else.
SlangSlang is another area in language that can cause problems—sometimes serious problems. I hear words on Czech TV, or hear Jiri and other Czechs using words. Sometimes these words stick in my brain because they sound interesting, or sound similar to another Czech word I know, etc. So, I’ll ask Jiri about it later, and sometimes he’s shocked that I picked up certains words These are typically bad words, but I had no idea the word(s) were bad. He asks where I heard it, and then Jiri’ll tell me never to say that word, or that it should only be used in a special context. (Of course, these bad words are the ones you more easily remember).
Slang Gone BadI’ve shocked him on numerous occasions since moving here eight years ago. A recent example is the place name Machu Picchu. Mach Picchu is an ancient, abandoned Incan city located high in the mountains of Peru. One day I’d seen an interesting documentary about this site, and wanted to tell Jiri about it. When I told him the name of the place, he was horrified and shocked! It was as if I’d slapped him in the face! This caused me some consternation because all I’d said was a place name.
|Don't Say That!|
What’s the Problem?After recovering from the initial shock of hearing this place name come from my mouth, Jiri explained there is a Czech word which sounds very similar to Picchu. (I won’t use it here, so as not to offend anyone; this word is bad slang for a woman’s body part. That’s all I’ll say). Once he had explained it, I understood, for the same word in English is crass and bad.
My husband went on to explain that Czechs pronounce this Incan city name as “Machu Pikchu,” in order to avoid the bad Czech word. Pronouncing the site name with the “k” before the “ch” is a little difficult for me. Try it—you’ll see what I mean. You can’t squish the sounds together, either—each one must be pronounced in order to be correctly understood.
Proper Pronunciation to Avoid MisinterpretationCzechs are familiar with this type of pronunciation, as the Czech language has many words almost completely made of consonants. For instance “krk” (neck)—the first time I saw this word I had no idea how to say it. “Krk” is now easy for me, while other combinations of consonants are still quite difficult. Foreigners must learn the proper pronunciation of Czech in order to be understood by Czechs. This applies to all languages, not only Czech.
Jiri’s reaction to Machu Picchu has reinforced the need for proper pronunciation when I (try to) speak Czech. I can’t imagine what would happen if I said Machu Picchu (in the English way) to another Czech! Hopefully they would understand I’m a foreigner and would correctly interpret my mispronunciation as the place name, and not bad slang word.
|Cross-Cultural Marriage Bridge of Love|
Have a Sense of Humor
Jiri and I have found the best way to deal with these language issues is with a sense of humor. We have some great laughs over English and Czech slang. Our discussions are at times quite lively, and sometimes one of us will be frustrated at the lack of understanding—our own or our spouse’s. Mostly we laugh, but do understand that language trouble does crop up occasionally—and that’s OK. Language issues deepen and refresh our cross-cultural marriage (at least most of the time!). In the end, it all comes down to love—love bridges the gap in our cross-cultural marriage.
That’s all for today!
Have a great day!
(c) 2015 by Sher Vacik. All Rights Reserved.