Off topic: Ever attempted speaking a language you don't?
Thread poster: José Henrique Lamensdorf

José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:57
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Nov 19, 2007

My native language is Brazilian Portuguese. I learned English - my second working language - at an early age. I also studied enough Italian and French for general conversation and reading, but not for translating. And I learned to speak Spanish relatively well by osmosis, while organizing several Latin American events (though my version of it is some kind of "fruit salad" of all its variants).

So one could safely say that I do have some talent for languages. Nevertheless, I heard my parents speaking Polish at home for the first 25 years of my life (until I got married), but never got beyond a general grasp of what was going on in a conversation in this language, possibly one of the most difficult Eastern ones.

While I was in college, for some time I dated a girl of Italian descent who was extremely fond of all expressions of art. So a Polish folk dance ensemble - Mazowsze - came to town, and we went to the Municipal Theater to watch it. After the show was over, I thought of waiting a bit until the most eager spectators had rushed out, but she yanked me off my seat: "Let's go chat with the dancers!" So we dashed down the stairs, and then on the street around the theater to the backstage exit.

First, a couple came out. As they spoke English well, we had a pleasant chat until they had to leave. A growing number of people were standing by and watching. Then, a young ballerina stepped out, but she only spoke Polish. Someone in the crowd was translating the Q&As. My friend nudged me, Äsk her..." [can't remember what].

So I did, but of course in MY version of what might be Polish. The ballerina looked at me wide-eyed, and asked me, very slowly to make sure I'd understand: "Where did you learn my language? I've been everywhere in the world with this ballet, but I never heard such a badly-spoken Polish as yours!"


PAS  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:57
English to Polish
+ ...
Russian Nov 19, 2007

When I was living in Canada, I got a part time job to help out with some geological samples analyzed by a wonderful pair of Russian geologists who came to Toronto to show their analysis methods.
They practically did not speak English and I did not know Russian (Russian was taught in Poland then, but I left Poland before grade 5, so my knowledge of that language was, uh, limited).
But I tried hard, even though every now and then I elicited bursts of laughter... Russian may be a slavic language, but it is not that close to Polish.
It was a fun job and wonderful people.
The Moscow putsch happened during their stay in Toronto, so they were really upset for a while, but it all turned out well in the end.

Just to allay any thoughts of irresponsibility, there was another Polish colleague involved in that little project. He spoke Russian, so he acted as the go-between.

Pawel Skalinski


Local time: 03:57
French to English
+ ...
yes, signing Nov 19, 2007

Around 10 years ago I was working as interpreter on a big stand at an agricultural fair open to the public. As soon as someone who didn't speak French turned up I was called on - though I was really only there for English. Up to this moment I had managed fine with Italiens, Spaniards, Germans, people from the Eastern block who spoke what they though was German, people from all over who thought they spoke English...
For this pair I was told "They don't speak French, they must be English." It turned out that they were not only not French, they were also deaf. I ended up getting a really good lesson in signing where they taught me loads of vocab for the product I was promoting as well as 'hello', 'do you like it' etc. To my shame I remember hardly anything.


Sonja Tomaskovic  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:57
English to German
+ ...
Polish Nov 19, 2007

I gave up with Polish at university after only 3 lessons, and that even though I speak another Slavic language. I personally think it is difficult to pronounce, but I experienced the same with Russian. Unfortunately I did not have the choice to give up Russian (it was compulsory for me), and ended up with a really bad mark at the end.



Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:57
Member (2000)
Russian to English
+ ...
Serbian/Russian Nov 19, 2007

I once went to a club where a man in a wheelchair, with no legs, and no English either, was being looked after by someone who called for anyone who knew German to interpret for this man, who was a Serbian who had lost his legs while fighting with Mihajlovic's forces in the Second World War. I knew no German at the time, but as no-one else there did either, I volunteered to try Russian. The Serbian didn't know much Russian, but I managed to understand his Serbian interspersed with a few Russian words, so I coped adequately, though not brilliantly, as an interpreter.

[Edited at 2007-11-19 13:22]


Jennifer Forbes  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:57
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
Italian - sort of ... Nov 19, 2007

I've been known to have a bash at Italian ("Go on, Jenny, you're a linguist", you know the sort of thing). Based mainly on Spanish, French and Verdi. Not actually very effective.


Bilore  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:57
English to French
+ ...
russian/bulgarian & other slavic languages Nov 19, 2007

I have studied russian and I have been frustrated a few times when getting to know people who spoke other slavic languages....

I could understand enough but when I try to speak, only russian could come out of my mouth and I really got confused especially when people stared at me in a strange way.

My best experience was in Bulgaria, where I spent enough time to be able to express simple things but it was a real mess at the beginning of my stay!

I also studied polish and thought the spelling was really difficult. The oral exam was very funny since, once again, russian got mixed with polish in my head and I was very creativeicon_wink.gif


Margreet Logmans  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:57
English to Dutch
+ ...
Portuguese Nov 19, 2007

Friends of mine from Brasil came to live in the Netherlands about a year ago, with their children. One of the kids, a 4 year old girl, goes to school in the same class as one of my children. We, as parents, communicate in Dutch as much as possible, but the whole family hardly knew a word of Dutch when they came here.

One day, about a month after they had arrived, the kids had to be picked up at school earlier than usual because of a staff meeting. Our Brasilian friends had not understood this and did not show up when it was time to take the kids home. I offered to take the little girl with me and call her parents when I got home. The teacher agreed and we thought it was an easy solution - until I had to explain to our little Brasilian girl what was going on.

I used all of my few words of Portuguese, some Spanish and Italian words (hoping with all my heart the girl would recognise the sound of them) and finally seemed to succeed in making clear what we were going to do. Then we got home and I called her mum, who came over to my place to pick up her daughter. She later told me the girl understood only two or three words of what I was saying, but decided that coming with me was her best option anyway.

Later on, in a bookstore, I came across a book titled: 'How to learn Portuguese in 3 weeks'. I was seriously tempted to buy it...


Clare Barnes  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:57
Swedish to English
+ ...
Simplified signing... Nov 19, 2007

...with my cousin, who I rarely see. Having been deaf and had some physical disability since birth, he's now developing into a hefty teenage boy, so putting his on my knee and tickling him is pretty much ruled out as a means of communication.

He can't really verbalise what he wants to say, so spending a couple of days with him this summer was a rapid learning experience - punctuated with a lot of howling sounds and forehead slapping from him (which I took to mean I was being particularly thick) and vague wavy gestures and shrugs from me. Unfortunately the sign for tractor, which I still remember from when he was a baby, isn't particluarly useful anymore...


Juliana Brown  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:57
Member (2007)
Spanish to English
+ ...
About 6 years ago Nov 19, 2007

I travelled with a very close friend (now my girls' godmother) to Bosnia for just over a month, to stay with her family. It was her first time back since she left during the siege of Sarajevo, and I wanted to make sure I wouldn't be a burden, since I knew she would have a lot to talk about with family and friends. So...I found a mutual friend who gave me a crash course in Bosnian, which for some strange reason I felt a strong afinity for (languages are like that with me, either there is a subliminal click, or it is a waste of time and effort), and enjoyed tremendously.
By the time our visit came to an end, my Bosnian was enough to follow basic conversations, tell people why I was there, and what I did. I understood a lot, but was bit shy to speak, although people were very encouraging.
My best conversation though, came after a night of drinking kruska ( a pear liquor) with friends. Amazing how my inhibitions disappeared (as will happen with booze strong enough to curl your toenails), and I vaguely recall a brilliant conversation about god knows what, all in Bosnian.
I still love the language, and wish desperately I had time to study it.


Özden Arıkan  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:57
English to Turkish
+ ...
Azerbaijani Nov 19, 2007

I was just passing by... and this lady from the townhall asked me to help her communicate with an old lady from Azerbaijan. Azerbaijani, or Azeri, happens to be the closest relative of my mother tongue Turkish, and my comprehension of a written text is between 95-100% - provided that it's written in Roman script, of course. But spoken word is a different world altogether. It was not only the German civil servant who assumed I would automatically communicate in Azerbaijani, but the Azeri lady herself must have done so as well, that she kept speaking at machine-gun speed. Everything she said sounded familiar, but I didn't manage to figure out the meaning of even one complete sentence! And this was true the other way around, tooicon_biggrin.gif Well, we ended up seeking a Russian speaker!


Capesha  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:57
Member (2006)
English to German
+ ...
Portuguese Nov 20, 2007

I once called a company in Portuguese which was a subsidiary of my company.

The had lunch time and I needed the fax number of them, which had been changed.
The operator didn't speak English at all and I tried desperately to communicate.
Finally I asked about the "numero de faxo" and indeed I got an answer which I understoodicon_smile.gif


Francesca Battaglia
Local time: 03:57
Member (2007)
English to Italian
+ ...
lost two blocks from..home Nov 20, 2007

I love travelling and I love meeting foreign people..but I also have the worse photographic memory of the universe! So everytime i go somewhere new (or familiar..), i simply end up lost and most of the times I m just a few blocks away from where I need to get.
So, once i was in russia, in St. Petersburg for a school exchange. I did russian as a third language at school and I really didn t know much. I could introduce myself and ask for the time..and for an icecream..and I still remember how to say "attention, the doors are closing" (spent a lot of time in the underground), but when i got lost of couse two blocks away from my house, that was scary and hilarious! So i tried to ask for help, I knew the street, I knew there was an underground entrance nearby, so asking wasn't much of a problem..but to understand! That was hard!
I tried with english and french but apparently no-one understood. So finally, after a quite long half an hour, I was still walking in circles and looking at the buildings trying to reckon something familiar..when I found my russian student (whose family was hosting me) who was getting off the bus, of course on the other side of the street. So I think "I need to call her!" and then I scream out her name............"olgaaaaaaaaaaaaa". Now, for those who don't know the name Olga in Russia is the most common name around so, as you could imagine, pretty much EVERYONE on that street turned the embarassing..

But at least I could get back home!


United Kingdom
Local time: 02:57
French to English
+ ...
everyday when I attempt to communicate with my kids Nov 23, 2007

I have no idea what language they are speaking but it bears no resemblance to English!


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