Bilinguals: Lost In Translation

The phrase “lost in translation” could not be more relevant to us bilinguals. I don’t know when it started or whether it became famous because of that movie with Scarlett Johansson, but what I do know is this: It describes the bilingual struggle. There are certain (well, many) situations where we find ourselves completely lost in translation. 

Earlier in this blog I wrote a post about struggling to find the translation to a specific word and killing yourself trying to figure it out. After popular (aka my brother’s) request, I decided to list some more examples  of being lost in translation that I’m sure all bilinguals relate to. Enjoy 😉

  1. Humor.You know how people say humor changes according to culture and what is funny in one country, may be offensive in another? This is very true. Luckily, people like me who have more than one culture embedded inside, understand a lot of different kinds of humor. This is not usually true for monolinguals though. I don’t know how many times I’ve been in South Africa translating a joke or doing something that is hilarious in Greece and all I get is this:bilingual-struggle-notfunny

    Why is this not funny? How am I supposed to separate the different kinds of humor in my head?

  2. Subtitles

    I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been watching a movie or anything with subtitles in my other language and at some point decide to look down for a second only to get frustrated yet one more time.bilingual-struggle-noThat is not what he said at all! It doesn’t fully describe the depth of what he meant! It had other levels to it-just please don’t.
  3. ComebacksWhen you’re in the middle of an argument and you just came up with the best comeback that would completely slay ,but it’s in your other language and absolutely in-translatable.bilingual-struggle-liar

    If we were having this argument in my other language I would have won OK?

  4. Unconsciously Translating Phrases That Don’t ExistMany times I unconsciously translate a phrase that exists only in my one language to the other and it takes a while for me to realize that what I just said makes absolutely no sense at all.bilingual-struggle-what

    When someone says “thank you” to me for example, I unconsciously answer “nothing”. Greek people say “nothing” after “thank you” all the time, meaning nothing warranting a thank you was done. So if you’re Greek, this makes total sense. If not, what I said just gets me looks of confusion.

Do you have any situation to add to this list when you feel absolutely “lost in translation”? Comment and let me know! 🙂


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