The 7 funniest language misunderstandings

Learning a new language always involves some misunderstandings, specially when you haven’t listened to the right pronunciation before, or when there is a word that you mix up with another that sounds similar. Here we have pointed out some of the funniest stories that a misunderstanding can cause.

Lost and Confused Signpost

  • I used to tell everybody how badly constipated I was. ‘I have been constipated for the whole week’ . I used to say it when I was in the UK. I did not know that the meaning of this word was quite different from ‘constipado’ in Spanish, which means ‘to have a cold’!
  • My grandmother once said to my dad in the car, ‘This place ‘Ausfahrt’ must be HUGE- we’ve been driving past it for ages!’ (Ausfahrt is in fact the German word for “motorway exit”).
  • Friends of mine who freshly arrived from France had a car breakdown. They spoke very little English and at a gas station they asked for a ‘candle’ – whereupon the employee looked at them in a funny way and said that he didn’t sell candles but that the drug store next door might have some (actually, my friends merely needed a spark plug – a ‘bougie’ in French – which is, literally translated, a ‘candle’).
  • My English friend met her Mexican boyfriend’s parents for the first time and the first words that she uttered are ‘estoy embarazada’ which she thought translated to ‘I’m embarrassed’ (because she didn’t know much Spanish) when it really means ‘I’m pregnant’.
  • When I was in Canada visiting relatives I told my aunt that I had to go to the bathroom but (probably because I’m Dutch) I pronounced bathroom the same as bedroom, I just can’t say BATHroom, so when I went into the house she actually went looking for me in all the bedrooms because she didn’t get what I was going to do there… it was really embarrassing.
  • I was a college student at that time. At the end of the Friday’s class, our teacher always asked us: “What are you going to do this weekend?”. And one Friday I said “I am going to Kiryu with my friends (Kiryu is the name of a Japanese city). The teacher looked at me with his eyes widened. It was obvious that he was shocked at what I had said. Then my classmate Mari said: “We are going to Kiryu”.  Well… I’m Japanese. Pronouncing the ‘R’ sound correctly is reasonably difficult for Japanese people, because we really don’t have the ‘R’ sound in our language. So, when Japanese people pronounce ‘R’, unfortunately, it sometimes (or very often) sounds like ‘L’ sound. Now you know. Our teacher thought my classmate and I said “We are going to KILL YOU.”
  • When I got here someone asked me what my job was in my country. Then I said that I was a lawyer there. All the people around me smiled a lot and I couldn’t understand why. Later, they explained me that I pronounced the word like “liar” and they said, “That’s no problem. Lawyers and liars are very close in their activities”.

If you have another funny story related to a language misunderstanding, share it in a comment!

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