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Hawaii_Jake's avatar

What's the funniest experience you've had trying to speak a foreign language?

Asked by Hawaii_Jake (25561 points ) July 18th, 2011

I once asked in Japanese where the “toothpick temple” was instead of the correct name of the place. The locals laughed and sent me in the right direction anyway.

Where were you? What did you ask? What reactions did you meet with? What was the outcome?

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19 Answers

wilma's avatar

I named my cat what I thought was the word for kitten in Hungarian.
I know a Hungarian guy and I was telling him about it and he said that the way I pronounced it, I was saying “boobies” instead of Kitty.

He thought that it was pretty funny!

etignotasanimum's avatar

There are plenty of words in Spanish that sound like a word in English, but actually mean something completely different. The word embarazada comes to mind, for example, which means pregnant, not embarrassed. I’ve never said it, but one of my friends did and it resulted in a lot of laughter from the people we were talking with.

Blackberry's avatar

My buddies and I were at a casino in Spain. We were talking amongst ourselves when my friend thought he had a flush (we were playing poker). I believe the spanish word for flush is something like “color”, so he points to his cards and asks the dealer something along the lines of “culo?”. The dealer starts laughing and says “Si, color, no culo”. We all started laughing but my friend didn’t get that he said culo instead of color.

thorninmud's avatar

I learned the hard way that in French, “preservatifs” doesn’t mean “preservatives”; it means condoms.

Nullo's avatar

The Italian school system uses “interrogazioni” in place of a lot of homework assignments. Rather than turn in a worksheet for the teacher to grade, you are called upon – usually at random – to answer questions to make sure that you’ve done your homework.
I was being interrogated one day in History (something to do with regional economies, I think). I made a point about the northern Italians of the day – “i nordici,” which was probably incorrect in the first place, but conveyed the point and then compared them to “gli sudici,” that is, the people in the southern part of the peninsula.

Thing is, “sudici” is the plural form of “sudicio,” which means ”[the] filthy.”

Cruiser's avatar

I was in Germany on a student exchange and after a night of massive partying, I was of course hungover as all get out. Now my one year of basic German language hardly prepared me to speak or understand most conversations, but the kids all spoke english so communicating was never an issue. But this morning I was sitting at the table sipping coffee and the mom comes up to me and starts saying “ice”?? “ice”?? Looking at me going ICE ICE ICE!! I was sure! Maybe that will help the headache….it must be obvious or something. The youngest in the family comes around the corner as tells me his mom wanted to know if I wanted eggs for breakfast! Egg is Ei in German and all I heard was ice! I laughed a lot about that moment!

rebbel's avatar

I go to Greece for about eleven years now and until this day I cannot remember the difference between I am in pain (which sounds like ponai) and I’m hungry (which sounds like pinao).
So when Giorgos from three, when I am playing with him, bites me or pulls my hair (it’s love they say) and i scream Pinao! he gives me this look of amazement.
“Crazy Dutch guy…, when I hit him he says he’s hungry.”

the100thmonkey's avatar

Probably when I sent a short email to a (very attractive) friend of mine regarding a snowboarding trip – it was ”じゃあ、しよう!”, which was meant to be “Right, let’s do it!”.

This has the same alternative interpretation in Japanese; she thought I was propositioning her for the trip.

woodcutter's avatar

None, but I had a funny experience with someone trying to speak in English to me and I failed.
I worked at the FT. Sill Museum long ago and an Asian man came up to me and asked ” Where is Waa Sheeta house?” I really thought he needed to use the toilet and thought how odd it was for an Asian guy to refer to a bathroom as a shitter, or shit house. That’s how I talk.
So I point to the little building on the grounds that was the restrooms. It is a nice little building that has the same architecture as the rest of the museum buildings. He looked really deflated and disappointed when he saw it and I tried to reassure the man that it’s really clean and quite nice inside.
Still confused he shows me the museum pamphlet and the write up of “The Wichita House.”
Then the nickels started to drop and and I finally got what he was trying to tell me and he got why I was confused and we both got a laugh. And he was also glad to know where the bathrooms were.

Coloma's avatar

When I was traveling in Asia last year it took me a few days to realize that when I said ” To the Sherwood”...the Mandarin speaking Taxi drivers could not compute. ” Sherwood…was pronounced She-waa! lol
Finally, after a few days I would simply say ” To the SHE-WAA”...cracked me up.
I had some good times in those cabs, talk about crazy driving…damn, and all the drivers are ramped up on Betlenut… had a chew one night after partying at some street bars, nasty stuff, but they thrive on it! haha

anartist's avatar

In Germany, in Heidelberg, when I was young and pretty. I was lost in the city driving around in a Beetle with Netherlandish plates. I got out of the car and approached some students and said “Ich bin verloren” and they reacted very strangely—they didn’t offer to help with directions. They just looked at me oddly. Later, I found out that “verloren” used that way, means a woman who has lost her reputation, maybe a prostitute.

One more: At an outdoor cafe in Paris, I was finished I tried to get the waiter’s attention and said when he passed ” l’addition, s’il vous plait.” [knowing that my French pronunciation was probably awful since I studied German in school not French] and I waited, and I waited, and I waited. And the waiter ignored me. Finally I though, “screw it—if he won’t give me the check, I will just leave” and got up and started for the door. Then the waiter5 hollered, “You trying to beat the check?”

anartist's avatar

@Blackberry in Spanish the word “culo”, means “ass, arse, fanny,” or even “cunt.”

Seelix's avatar

In Japan, I was at a dinner party with my sister and a bunch of her fellow ESL teachers and her Japanese coworkers. Someone made a toast, and everyone said “kanpai!” Some people said “cheers!” Well, I was learning Italian then, and so I said “cin cin!” (pronounced chin chin). Little did I know that it sounds like a phrase meaning small penis!

linguaphile's avatar

When I was 16, I went to England on a school exchange program trip. I wanted so bad to meet a British deaf person because British sign language is nothing like American sign language—they’re as different as Spanish is to English. Even though both countries speak English, their sign languages are completely different (long history). I had learned my ABC’s in BSL when I was little and was enthusiastic to try them out. Sure enough, we ran into a cute little old lady at one of the events we attended. I proudly used my BSL to chat with her and would interpret for everyone else, but then, in front of my friends, school principal, superintendent and their wives, she put her middle finger up and waved it around in a circle near her forehead, then pointed at me several times. O.o ??!!
I said, “What is that?” She does the movement again, laughing. I asked, “Are you saying, f..u..?” and she interrputs and hoots, “Yes, yes!” and keeps on laughing.
I’m aghast. This little old lady is flipping me off and laughing about it, but I wasn’t ready to give up. I asked again, “What is that movement,” and she points at me and spells, “f…u…n…n…y!” OH!!! I was funny! Not fu….!

Symbeline's avatar

I wish I could say that I once said totenkopf to some some German guy when I meant to say gutentag, but I actually said gutentag.

I do have a story that goes the other way around. An English speaking person was speaking with me in French, she knew enough to get by.
She wanted to say ’‘ambulance’’, but said ’‘anculance’’ instead, which isn’t actually a real French word, but sounds extremely close to the action of being fucked in the butt. (enculer) I thought that was pretty funny.

msbcd's avatar

I met a few Turkish tourists in France a couple of years back, so we started chatting. My turkish isn’t perfect, so when one of the girls started conversing in Turkish I automatically switched over to French, simply because we were in France and that was unexpected. We really tried hard to get me to speak Turkish, which was hilarious at the time!

filmfann's avatar

My brother in law was trying to use sign language, and said “I have a lot of wild ducks in my backyard.” Unfortunately, he confused the “f” with the “d” while he was fingerspelling “ducks”.

garydale's avatar

My most embarassing story can be considered x-rated so if you really want to know contact me directly and I will tell you!

longtresses's avatar

When I moved to America, I didn’t realize that Americans refer to cocks as “roosters.” So during one of my classes, I raised my hand and yelled out the answer…

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