Dec 13, 2013

Lost in Translation

I think I forgot to mention that the kids graduated from the Dutch immersion school last December, and have been attending a regular public school for over a year. They're now fully fluent, and most of their friends are local Dutch kids who they run around with happily chatting in Dutch. Yes, even Mia. In fact, a while ago, she told me that she now thinks in Dutch instead of English. Mind blown.

Sam invited one of those friends over after school yesterday, and as we all rode home on our bikes, they were talking the whole time in Dutch. Though I understood very little of it, I did hear Sam say something about America and English, and then his friend replied something about President Obama and Benjamin Franklin. Then Sam started talking about (I think) the atomic bomb, to which his friend repeated the thing about Obama and Benjamin Franklin. I'm not even sure if they understood what they were saying.

Not understanding your children's conversations can be problematic. For Nate's 5th birthday this year, we took him and his two closest friends to a popular indoor play place on the outskirts of Amsterdam. Without a car, we had to take public transportation to get there. While waiting for the tram, trying to corral three rowdy and hyper five year-old boys whom I had no way of communicating with, it occurred to me that I hadn't fully thought the situation through. When I watched the boys point and laugh at the older man sitting across from them, I was horrified that I had no idea what they were saying, though I could guess that it was not a compliment. The boys probably spent that entire ride talking loudly about farts and poop, while the other passengers inwardly judged my overly permissive parenting. 

Since then, I've made sure to add potty words to my small Dutch repertoire.Which is appropriate because my Dutch is right about at a 2 year-old's level. I feel like my communication ability is stuck at the equivalent of me thirsty, mine, and you're a poopyhead.

In fact, earlier this year, in one last-ditch effort to learn the language, I started watching a lot of Dutch children's television. I don't know how much it helped my Dutch progress, but I made big strides with learning to share and count. My kids are really pleased. 

To get by, I rely a lot on Google translate, which I've written about before. But it's an imperfect solution, as the syntax and idioms don't always translate well-- which can also be hilarious. Just this morning I got an email from a parent in Mia's class, who, according to google translate, is a Mrs. Windbag.


This is from a review I read of a bike shop: I can always walk so the bicycle here are quite susceptible to female beauty; tip for the ladies so!  WTH? 

And this was a description of a Groupon vacation offer: Routine begins as a welcome rhythm of rest and regularity, but degenerates into an unguarded moment in a chubby syrup dripping from the bank, on television and through frosted mandatory family visits. It's almost poetic. 

My favorite though, is translation from a school website: Do you not live in the school area? Well, for that you can shoot yourself! 

We speak English at home, as our kids absolutely hate when we try to speak Dutch, but there are some Dutch words and phrases that we've adopted into our everyday conversations.  My favorite is ja hoor, which means yes, of course! and is pronounced exactly like yah whore. Mark and I use it so much, I'm terrified that I will slip and say it to someone when we move back to the US. I'm imagining saying it to the principal at the kid's new school, or some elderly lady at church, and I'm preemptively cringing at the awkwardness of it.

Speaking of awkward, that word does not exist in Dutch, which is really unfortunate because it perfectly describes most of my experiences here. Especially the ones where strangers make an off-hand remark to me in Dutch, and I respond with a overly enthusiastic nod which I hope communicates, "I agree with everything you've just said, and since you said it so well, I have no need to verbally comment!" Then I chuckle and look away, hoping that they didn't just ask me a question, or tell me about the sudden death of their mother. 

In the last month, I've been yelled at by strangers three times. As they shake their fist at me and spew out angry Dutch words, I shrug and happily walk away, oblivious to anything they are saying. Sometimes it's better to not understand. 

video

Nate singing in Dutch for Sinterklaas to put candy in his shoes.

Now, I know many of you have also learned a 2nd language, or lived in a foreign country, and are dying to tell me your funny/embarrassing/awkward stories. And would I like to hear them? Ja hoor! 

1 comment:

Dakin said...

Ok, so I really didn't have to learn a new language...but the accent alone left me so confused during our first months in England! Now I understand most everyone except the northerners. But the idioms still get me sometimes. I'm commonly asking people to repeat phrases and tell me what they mean by them. "Dont get your knickers in a twist" or "throw the dummy out of the pram" are 2 you hear all the time!