Lost in Translation | ExpatWoman.com

Lost in Translation

Posted on

30 April 2015

Last updated on 26 May 2015

Lost in Translation

Being an expat is daunting at times, and language barriers don't exactly help if you're in a country that does't speak your native tongue. But even when the language is the same, meanings can be different, as EW's Catherine learnt..!

When you first become an expat it can be a little daunting.  It can be even more daunting if you are residing where they do not speak your native tongue.  But what about the language barriers in places where they do speak the same one? Do they exist? Do not underestimate that even though you are moving to a country where they speak your language, stumbling blocks can still occur with communication.

Lost in Translation: Expat Communication Problems

Have you ever been to America and asked where the toilets are? In the UK this a perfectly normal question to ask in a restaurant, but isn't necessarily the case over the pond. This simple question of a personal need can cause you grief in countries even where the same speech is used; who would have though there were so many ways to ask this simple question?

For example:
  • Nigeria:  I need to ease myself?
  • UK:  Where are the ladies?
  • USA: Where is the bathroom?

Each one of these questions has different connotations in the other country. Saying the wrong expression in the wrong country could cause people to be offended or not to be understood at all. Have you ever asked a question in a foreign country where they speak the same language and the person is staring back at your like you have spoken Double Dutch? Imagine saying all three of the above questions in one breath!

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After living in the USA I have picked up a few sayings. Something my friends mock me for. If we are in a restaurant and I ask , “Where is the bathroom?” the usual rejoinder is: “Why? Are you going to have a bath here?”

As an expatriate you will find yourself in many situations across the world where you are lost in translation, and misunderstandings between cultures occur. They are to be expected and sometimes can be amusing; it could be the spark to ignite a new friendship! You may feel confused as to why this arises. It is easy to imagine misunderstandings between people who speak different languages, yet it does occur frequently between people who share a language. You may speak Portuguese yet still make a blunder with someone in Brazil.

Translation in Language

Dialect and cultural differences can be so diverse even when a common interchange of words is shared. It is important to remember even though someone is speaking your language; it may not be their first language. You may speak the local chat; however, your accent may not be familiar. This even happens with countries in close proximity.

SEE ALSO: Have you ever tried learning Arabic? Let us help you get the basics! 
For instance, ask someone from England to explain what the Irish mean by their use of the noun ‘yolk’; (hint: it has nothing to do with an egg yolk).

As an #ExpatWoman this this makes for a rich and interesting world. We are fortunate to experience these glitches and we should welcome them, not fear them. Make sure you research local laws and customs before your big move. If you do find you have inadvertently offended someone, apologize, and explain you didn’t understand. You could even ask them to teach you about the cultures differences, if appropriate. It brings cultures together and we learn from these experiences. It furthers our understandings of the countries we are living in which will only enrich us.

Have you as an #ExpatWoman found yourself ‘lost in translation’. Want to share your story? Do you have a question? Why not join our forum, and help other woman learn about new cultures.