Thursday, September 21, 2006

Lost in translation

Published 9-21-06

Learning a second language requires a certain amount of discipline to be successful. My daughter likes her Spanish teacher. She had two years of Latin before starting 9th grade and finds Spanish much more enjoyable than doing the declensions that weighed down her studies with Latin. I guess I don’t blame her. There’s not much opportunity to converse in Latin, unless she’s talking to God at Mass on Sunday. What makes the Latin so helpful is that it is a root language and all the other romance languages spring forth from it. To hear is to listen. I can’t do either, which is why I only speak English. My Spanish would translate something like this, “Paco and Maria have a house on their birthday and it’s blue. Paco lives in a refrigerator. They are very happy.”

How to immerse Shannon in Spanish? She has some tapes, but then there’s always television. JD and I talked about the Spanish language television stations and agreed that the soap operas are a little too racy; thus she’d get more than just a language education from watching Spanish television. Overall, the fluidity with Spanish makes it one of the most enjoyable languages to speak and listen to. Sometimes I’ll click through the sports that are in Spanish and I’m mesmerized by the energy of the Spanish announcers; kind of like Marv Albert on 10 shots of espresso.

A prime example of being lost in translation is the year 1978, when Mom and Dad took us on one of those cross country RV trips that I always talk about. Dad met this German man in the campground at the Grand Canyon. Being polite, Dad extended a visit to the German man, should he ever “hypothetically” make it to California. We weren’t home two weeks when a knock came at the door. “Gunther” stayed on the couch at our house for three days. Dad’s two years of German from his days in the Army failed him miserably, and we had no ability to converse with our unexpected guest. My best friend next door was in a high school German class and he came over to translate for us. The first night went something like this: “When is your birthday?” “Can I borrow a pencil?”, and the really engaging conversation ice breaker, “What is your Mother’s name?” These three questions filled up about two minutes of the entire three days he lived with us, and for the next two days we stared at each other until he left. What a great memory. Dad never used his two years of German again.

Some other things just get lost in translation when the music is really loud. I was working at this pizza joint in San Francisco, while I was in college. The music was turned up a little, when I tried to take a customer’s order. It went something like this:

Me: “Hi, welcome to the Front Room. What can I get for you?”
Customer: “Do you have pickled herring?
What I heard: “Do you have difficult hearing?”
Me: “Ugh… sometimes…..”
Customer: “Do you have some now?”
Me: “I hope not!” “Can you speak up?”
Customer: “Huh?”
Me: “What?”

I hope Shannon masters her studies of Spanish. I look forward to her thoughtful and engaging conversations with my buddies at La Fiesta Taqueria in Folsom. Last time I tried it on one of the fellows there during the lunch rush, he thought I was taking an exercise class. Maybe I looked like I needed one. There’s a lot lost in translation.

Learning good Spanish will open all kinds of doors, plus it’s the next best step to learning Italian and of course she will need immersion to master Italian. That would mean bi-annual trips to Italy, visiting the relatives and seeing the countryside. She might need a chaperone to take her there. I will certainly volunteer to go. The sacrifices we parents make for the sake of our children. I’ll be sure to bring along my hearing aid.

Tammy Maher is a resident of El Dorado Hills and a biweekly columnist for the Mountain Democrat. You can reach her by email at or on the web at


E Reilley said...

Tam, I laughed till I cried.

Jalapeno52000 said...

Love reading your stuff. Have never told you that, but I do. You can put me there, where you were, and put a smile on my face. After reading your latest though, Desiree's doctor called,,close to your last name..didn't pay close attention..Mauers..and I thought it was Shannon, so I put on my best Spanish and talked away, hoping to help her with her Spanish. She sounded very confused and kept insisting she did not know what i was talking about. Finally after a few minutes she said, "Mrs. Crane, if this is you, I do not speak Spanish." I was so embarrassed. Told her I thought it was some one else and apologized. I mean really, I blame it all on you Tammy! ;o)

Shan-M said...

Hahahaha! Sorry Mrs Crane but.....Hahaha! I'm not that good yet....but when I am, I will deffinatly call you and talk to you en espanol! ;-p

Jeeps said...

Great post, Mrs. Maher!

Tom McGowan said...

I had a situation where a customer asked me, Where is the mayonaisse?"

I told him aisle four, left hand side, bottom shelf.

He came back to me a few minutes later. "No, I am looking for mayonaisse!".

I again told him the location. Then added, "You can't miss it, it is on the entire bottom shelf."

Minutes later, here he comes again. He tells me that he still cannot find the mayonaisse. So I walk him over to the section and show him all the different brands and sizes of mayonaisse.

He shook his head no. Pointing to a cut on his hand, he says, "Mayonaisse"

Then I said, "Oh BAND AIDS!!!!!!