Lost in translation

21 Jul
Whenever anyone tells me they’re going out of the country for a while I always think the same things:
  • How’s the food?
  • Is the beach close?
  • What language do they speak?

The third one isn’t the most important, but important nonetheless. It never fails to impress me when people travel on their own to places where English isn’t spoken.  I can never grasp how they manage to get around, order food or ask for directions.  You can only point to so many things with wide-eyes and large gestures until you run into something that’s not within eye-sight to point at.  So to all those travelers who have gone to non-english speaking destinations, I am both envious and amazed.

I spent most of last week visiting my parents with Mr. Kelley.  It was similar to witnessing what I would be like in say, Brazil.  My parents speak English, but it’s limited.  They know basic words and can hold a conversation about day-to-day things, but if you ever want to discuss the meaning of life or topics of the existential, esoteric nature you’re barking up the wrong Asian tree.  It was interesting to watch and listen to my boyfriend interact with my parents.  Both parties worked very hard to understand the other and it mostly worked, but sometimes all one could do was smile and nod. Depending on what was being discussed, there are some words that aren’t translatable.  For example, my parents differentiate Mr. Kelley’s two dads, not as “dad” and “step-dad”, but rather “real dad” and “fake dad” despite the fact that both matter immensely to him and he considers them both his dad. The fact that there was no accurate word for step parent in Cantonese simply meant they had to use the next best thing.   This goes to show that no matter how loud you speak, how large the gestures or how many adjectives are thrown in some words are simply lost in translation.

Photo credit: http://bit.ly/ogcer5

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