We all occasionally see news stories about how lack of language knowledge created an embarrassing situation. Here’s one: “In Italy, a campaign for ‘Schweppes Tonic Water’ translated the name into ‘Schweppes Toilet Water.’” I have a folder full of these kinds of mistakes. I’ve made plenty of my own linguistic blunders; for example, in a laundromat in Mexico City in 1979 I asked to buy soup “sopa” instead of soap “jabón.” They looked at me funny, and then we all laughed. I’ve found that people really appreciate it when we make an attempt to speak their language, even with our inevitable mistakes. In fact, our gaffes are usually harmless and can be pretty entertaining.
I go to Mexico City every year, so I have become very comfortable there. I recently went to Argentina for the first time, and things were less comfortable. The food was different, the accent and some of the vocabulary was not Mexican, and I noticed other differences as well, and I loved it. It was wonderful to get a feel for a new place and its people.
Northern Michigan University’s Department of Languages, Literatures and International Studies specializes in these kinds of encounters. Come learn how to interact in a new language and culture. The encounters that can ensue will become some of the most vivid and pleasant memories of your college career, and indeed, of your life.
Dr. Tim Compton