Monday, March 19, 2012

Second language story...


Linguistics (n) the science of language, including phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics, and historical linguistics

I've carried this story with me for a few months, told by a family member who shared it at dinner table. Coming from an immigrant family, we often joke about the English Language and Polish Language and how they mix. Some of our direct translations are hilarious and simple misunderstandings of phrases can make for funny stories. 

My kids favorite one is translating "butterfly" literally to make it sound like the butter is flying.

At home, me and the hubby mix both languages, so someone who speaks only English or only Polish would think we're crazy. We have our way of combining words into new ones and our conversation often becomes a language of its own. I bet it's confusing for the children. I speak very quickly (or so I'm told) trying to communicate everything at the same time. But, perhaps I should leave that for another story...

Now, for the second language story...

When we cross the border to the US (especially my parents and the generation older to us), paranoia sets in. Even if you're just going for a visit, crossing the border is a big deal. So, one of our "older" family members (and I'm referring to generation, not age) was going with her spouse to the US to visit friends for Thanksgiving.

Now, her English is very good. In fact, she used to teach English in Poland. When I have a question on grammar, that's who I call. So, being that she's well spoken, when asked at the border what you're bringing into the country, she'll be so honest and list everything and talk to the customs agent to make her sound like a suspect when she's not, and she'll get pulled over (although she has nothing to claim and is not bringing anything illegally).

So, instead of her driving this time, she asked her spouse to drive and talk to the customs himself. Now, he speaks English, but with a thicker accent. His experience with English is not as thorough and words, even sentences can mix up.

Before the border she tells him: "If they ask you what you're bringing into the country, say 'bread and cake'." (as requested by their friends in the US whom they were visiting)

Spouse: "No problem. I got it."
At the border:

Customs agent: "What brings you to the US?"

Spouse: "Bread and cake."

Let me tell you, as composed as she tried to be, she burst out laughing. And, as composed as the customs agent tried to be (as they're taught), he could hardly keep it together.

No, they did not get pulled over, but it made for a funny story.

Have you had experience with funny second language stories?



Ciara said...

I'm afraid I wasn't blessed with an ear for languages. I barely survived living in Miami. There was one time that I apparently said something that made the guy think I was coming on to him. My friends burst out in laughter and didn't correct me. Don't worry, I paid them back for their crime. ;)

Annalisa Crawford said...

You and your husband mixing laguages reminds me of listening to my mum talking to her dad. Her dad was Ukrainian. Until she started school, Mum could only speak Ukrainian, but from school onwards only spoke English. My grandfather lost his English when I was a baby, through stroke. I grew up listening to mum talking in English and my grandfather answering in Ukrainian, and vice versa!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I got a laugh out of that!

Cherie Reich said...

Hehe! I can just imagine the second story. I've only been out of the country (US) once to date, and it was to Mexico when I was 10. I don't remember much about the border crossing, but I would think it would be scarier now and quite a big deal to cross the border.

Melissa Bradley said...

LOL That is hilarious! I live in a heavily Spanish neighborhood, so there's English and Spanish spoken as well as a combo of the two, Spanglish. Now, the neighborhood was Croatian/Serbian once upon a time, so there are still quite a few speakers of those language here, too, like my neighbor.

Gabriella Hewitt said...

Cute story. My husband is Japanese, so we have two languages flying around the house. English is a bit of a second language for my sons since we live in Japan. It's too early int he morning for me to think of examples, but yes, there are some language mix ups that can make you laugh.

Heather Day Gilbert said...

HA! Bread and cake...good enough reason, right?

Just visiting via Creepy Query Girl's bloffee. I thought I'd already followed you, but maybe it was another Marta (I notice that name b/c it's the name of my great-grandmother, who wasn't Polish, but a Sami reindeer herder).

Anyway, nice to meet you!