It’s been a pleasure here to simply sit back and listen to the unique accents that abound in this part of the Lake Norman area. There are easily distinguishable New York accents, and there are also the lilting melodic Southern drawls of local residents.
I’ve also heard the occasional British or German accents, too. I find it interesting to listen to the different accents and enjoy playing my own guessing game on where someone may be from for I find languages to be fascinating.
Aren’t we all familiar with the phrase, “lost in translation?” With all my travels to various parts of the world I feel it is important to take the time and learn some basics of the local language for whichever country I may be in at the time. Local nationals always enjoy and appreciate when a foreigner has taken time to learn their language. However it is very important to not get ahead of yourself and believe that you know the language better than you actually do. Otherwise it can be a recipe for disaster.
I remember back in 1998, while working as a diplomat in Pakistan, I was taking regular Urdu language classes. Although English was widely spoken by the majority of Pakistanis, I remained determined that I was going to speak Urdu. I took lessons twice a week and would practice my beginning Urdu language skills with locals who worked at the American embassy as well as with my household staff. Little by little I was able to carry on longer and more detailed conversations. I began to have more and more confidence in my ability to converse in Urdu.
One day I was hosting a state Minister to lunch so we could discuss some issues of mutual interest. In preparation for this important meeting I not only chose to dress in the traditional shalwar kameez worn by the women of Pakistan but I enthusiastically greeted my guest in Urdu.
“Kai hal hay?” (How are you?) I asked him.
“Tik tok.” (OK) He responded. In return, he asked me “Ap tikai?” (Are you okay?)
Smiling widely I told him, “Bilqu tik.” (Absolutely okay)
Switching to English he asked me what I thought of the local weather.
I decided to continue in Urdu and responded, “Ap bahat menga hai.” (I am very cold today…or so I thought I said.)
His eyebrows raised high at my response and with a smile on his face he asks me in English if I am sure.
Remaining confident I reply, “Bilqu!” (Absolutely!)
As the grin on his face is getting wider and wider I run my vocabulary of Urdu words through my mind. It suddenly hits me that I made an error and feel my face start to turn a bright crimson.
I look at him and respond, “Naheen! Naheen! Naheen Menga. Ap bahat sardi hai.” (No! No! I’m not expensive. I am very cold today.)
He continued to laugh at my linguistic faux pas, telling me he was beginning to wonder about the American diplomat with whom he was having lunch.
Needless to say my faux pas broke the ice between us and we became good friends for the entire duration of my diplomatic posting to Pakistan. Each time thereafter when I would see him he would always ask me, “so how is my expensive diplomat today?” He found it fun to seek me out at official functions, introduce me to his friends and colleagues as the expensive diplomat and then recant the story of our first meeting.
I’m confident I am not alone with entertaining language experiences. I’d love to hear from you too!
Carol Fleming lives in Huntersville with her two cats, and you can read more of her thoughts at www.americanbedu.com. She can be reached at admin@.americanbedu.com.