When good ESL goes bad -- but funny

I should start this post with a disclaimer: I have nothing but respect for people that move to a new country and make every attempt to learn the language. I can’t even imagine how hard it must be to cope. I’ve made several attempts to learn French, German, and Italian, but soon gave up and said “Meh, everyone speaks English anyway.” So I really shouldn’t make fun of those who have tried and succeeded, because they’ve done what I can’t.

But honest to Og, the mistakes they make are sometimes very amusing. Case in point:

My Chinese coworker is going on vacation next week. To London. And she’s taking a few days in Paris. And she’ll spend a little time in Brazil. London, Paris, Brazil, then back to London, then back to Boston. Several of us remarked that that was going to be a huge amount of flying.

I warned her to wear a hat in Brazil, as well as a lot of sunblock. After all, the sun in that region is very intense. She asked why Brazil is so sunny. I explained that it’s near the equator and gets more direct sunlight, etc.

We then got into a discussion about how to pronounce Brazil. You know, the one in Belgium.

Ah. It’s pronounced Brussels.

When I told this to my GF, she related the tale of a conversation she had with a Hispanic guy working at a tollbooth. He proudly announced that he got something, but he couldn’t pronounce it. “Subowania? Subpunmonania?”

“Um, could you spell it?”

“Sure. S-U-B-P-O-E-N-A.”

This has lots of opportunities for fun.


I’ll put the obligatory link here. If you haven’t visited this site, it’s good for several hours of workplace-safe giggles.

Oh my.

That site makes double my happy and removes much gay found.

I was kayaking with my wife last week. She was looking all around enjoying the scenery unaware of the huge low-hanging branch we were approaching.

As the kayak got closer, I yelled “Baby, DUCK!!”
“Huh? Where?”
As she looked all around the shoreline for a baby duck, she smacked right into the low hanging branch and we rolled the kayak. (It was a tandem so we both ended up in the water)

Next time I should try shouting something less ambiguous. Like TREE!!!

I once worked with a Chinese woman who was well educated in her own country and spoke textbook English, but as you know, speaking English in American is not textbook English. I did her a favor and she said,

“You’re very welcome”
“You’re very thank-you.”

Same person, another day. This time it was my bad but funny.

She said, “I’m going to tie one on Friday.” Well, I guess she had picked up a little slang and was planning on hitting the bars. No, she actually said, “I’m going to Taiwan on Friday.”

Years ago I went on a few dates with a very cute and squeezable young lady of the Chinese persuasion. Her answering machine message cracked me up.

“Herro. Dis is Gail. I’m not home light now, but if you wanna leave any message, listen to da beep!”

I miss her sometimes.

And her response: “FOUR!!!”

Ah, too bad the OP’s topic restricts us to funny things in English.

There’s this story I could tell of an American friend of ours who went to Japan and…oh, well.

OK, here’s an experience from my own family. My mom is Vietnamese (I’m half Vietnamese, half American). We both came to the US with my dad right after I was born. She speaks English fluently now, but when I was a kid it wasn’t so hot.

Once, when I was seven years old, a few weeks before Halloween, Mom informed me that she wasn’t going to let me go trick-or-treating. When I asked her why, she told me that there were widows who liked to put poison in candy and give it to kids. Knowing what widows were, I argued that, while they might have been sad that their husbands were dead, I didn’t think they’d poison my candy. “No, I reading in the paper and I see on TV. There are widows that putting poison in the candy!”

It took at least five minutes of back-and-forth along these lines before I realized she was trying to say weirdos. :smiley:

The best example I can think of is when I worked at a pulp and paper plant for a couple co-op terms in the early 90s in Cornwall, Ontario. Cornwall isn’t too far from the Quebec/Ontario border and has many fracophones that live there. One day during work out of the blue a Quebecois co-worker announced “I like to do children!”. Once I gained composure I informed him that he chose the wrong translation of “faire”, it also means “to make”.

My wife is Taiwanese so I should be able to come up with some good examples but it’s usually me mangling Mandarin. We went to a Chinese New Year celebration a couple years ago when my mother was visiting and there were a couple elderly gentleman writing chinese calligraphy of your name for a $1 donation to the community center. My mom decided to do this and had to repeat her name, Donna, several times before he thought for a couple minutes and wrote it out. When we showed it to my wife she contorted her face, stiffing a laugh and wouldn’t tell us right away what was wrong. The chinese symbols translated to “slutty chick”.

I once went to a boyfriend’s house to visit. His Peruvian roommate answered th door. He ushered me in, saying my friend was “in the chicken.” (kitchen)

At work in surgical ICU, I once overheard an intern, while trying to impress his Bolivian(lovely, female) resident, ask a Spanish speaking patient what she’d like for her first meal after surgery. She was having a hard time deciding, so he, in his questionable street Spanish, asked if she’d like a lobster cunt. :eek:
The resident had to leave the room, she was laughing so hard. The patient, in her sixties, wasn’t so amused.

picunurse, do you speak Spanish? I ask because I’d love to know the exact wording of the intern’s (mis)statement. :slight_smile:

I do, but I’d never heard the term before, the resident had to tell me, and sorry to say, I don’t remember.

Heh. I have a good-bye letter from one of my students:

I show this to people when they ask me if I was popular with the girls in Japan.

Sorry, I hit submit too soon. I’m sure he used the street term for “piece of tail” learned on the streets of Tijuana. I was in San Diego at the time.

Ach, my (Chinese) stepmother was once yelling about a mess my brother and I had made when we were little, and though her english was pretty good she was angry and thus a little sputtery, and said something like, “I wasn’t meant to be your house-chicken!”
She of course meant housekeeper. Don’t get me wrong, I love her very much and have had nothing but respect and affection for her all my days. But I couldn’t help myself, I burst out laughing behind my hand, which of course pissed her off royally. I was a good child, so it was probably the worst trouble I got into for a real long time.
picunurse’s post brought it all back. I feel terrible. More so because it still makes me laugh.

I’ve noted these in another thread, but I had some comical errors in trying to speak Spanish with my last girlfriend:

(translated from Spanish)

Me: I got out of the Air Force so that I wouldn’t have to go to the blonde.
Her: The what?
Me: The blonde. You know, the blonde in Iraq.

(blonde = güera, war = guerra)

Me: You want me to just burn in the car?
Her: Huh? Burn what?
Me: What do you mean, burn what? Burn myself, silly!

(burn oneself = quemarse, stay (in a place) = quedarse)

OK, I know what you’re talking about because hacer in Spanish is similar. But how does “I like to make children!” make any more sense?

I dated an Argentinean guy for awhile whose English was perfect, except when angry. He was a chef, having problems with the other chefs at his restaurant, and was planning on quitting and starting his own catering business. He angrily exclaimed, “I’m going to kiss their ass goodbye!”

I let him know in that instance, he wasn’t the one required to do the kissing.

I once worked with an Iraqi translator (“L”) whose English was way better than my Arabic, but still spotty.

One day, he asked me who actually discovered America.

I considered my answer for a moment, and replied,

“Well, most people think of Columbus because he was the first one that many people heard of. But he wasn’t even the first European. The Vikings got to America before him. And even before them, there were people living there. We call them Indians, or Native Americans”.

“L” nodded knowingly, concurring, “Redskeletons”.

After a brief delay, I corrected him, “Uh, do you mean redskins?”

He replied, “Yes, yes, redskins”.

“L” had obviously confused the words ‘skin’ and ‘skeleton’ – two parts of the body that begin and end with the same sounds. He had also likely heard the name of the famous comedian Red Skelton.

For the rest of the day, I had to cover my mouth when I pictured Columbus coming ashore in San Salvadore being greeted by a bunch of Red Skelton lookalikes, dressed as Indians, wielding joy buzzers and flowers that squirted water.