It’s spring break, so that means getting out of Paris for a few days. I pretend to be a local in France, although my accent and my minuscule vocabulary quickly give me away. In the Czech Republic I’m a tourist all the way, Rick Steves guidebook and all. In France I do my best to decipher the French menu; in Prague I don’t even try. But spending a few days here has confirmed it: I have made progress in learning French. Because Czech looks uttery foreign and, for the most part, impenetrable, while many things I see in French I can at least get the gist of.
Our first day here, we were faced with this menu item:
What could it be? The translation was on the next page:
I don’t think that means what they think it means!
If you’ve ever traveled overseas at all, you’ve probably seen other, even worse translation gaffes. I joke that I could make a full time job out of fixing faulty translations in shops and restaurants. But the more I struggle to learn French, the more sympathy I have for everyone else navigating two (or three or even more) languages. And I’m appreciating more and more what a privilege it is to speak English. Not much here is translated into French. Or Italian. Or Spanish. Back in Paris, nothing is translated into Czech. English trumps them all.
Language: A rich and varied garden of words, idioms, and expressions. Meanings and connotations and shades of nuance branching out from roots that reach down through history and culture. I gripe about pronunciation conundrums in French, but imagine what it must be like for English learners to keep the pronunciation of these words straight:
Through. Though. Thought. Trough. Rough. Drought. Bough.
Look. Loop. Book. Toot. Soot.
We have plenty of irregular verbs to keep things interesting:
Buy. Bought. Go. Went. Gone.
And then there are phrasal verbs. You learn the verb “to throw,” but good luck with throw out, throw down, and throw up. Or put down, put up, put in, and put out. Sometimes I’m amazed people of different languages can communicate with each other at all!
Our first night here in Prague, we went out to dinner with my friend Max, who has lived here since September. He took us to a nice place on an island in the river across from the National Theater. I skipped the grilled pork chop with flab and went for the duck leg with spätzle, including some bits of bacon encased in spätzle! After our tasty meal, our friendly, patient, and most helpful waitress pulled Max aside to apologize for her poor English. Poor English? Are you kidding me? She spoke perfectly fine for communicating with tourists trying to order dinner. I could tell her command of English was miles better than my French, and likely better than Max’s Czech.
Max wasn’t surprised, saying such humility was common here. Well, I’ll tell you this: no waiter in France has ever made such an apology to me for their English. They’re too busy correcting my French.