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Your Secret Life as a Language Ninja

There are many of us native English speakers who are guilty of failing when it comes to languages. Too often we gesticulate vigorously, speaker loud and slow as though trying to communicate with a zombie, and perform an intricate mix of pictionary and charades to get our point across, rather than actually attempt to get our mouths around foreign sounds.

There are also many of us who adore languages, who can’t get enough of them, who secretly hide their fluency in foreign tongues that only those nearest and dearest to us know anything about. Which means we get a sick, gleeful satisfaction when people think we can’t understand them… We often hear horror stories of English speakers being incredibly rude to speakers of other languages when they think they’re not listening, and for those of you that do that: shame on you.

But here is a sort of tables turned, tongue in cheek look at when the opposite is true; as you read, we hope you smile as much as we did!

In the supermarket…

Photo via Wikimedia

Being a checkout operator on a daily basis is hard enough work with Joe Public what it is. Bearing the brunt of everyone’s bad days yet being expected to do so with a smile is not a job for the faint-hearted; being bitched at in your own language is one thing, but to have the same thing happen when the person doing the bitching thinks you don’t understand them is somehow even worse. Time to activate that revenge button… (link)

I1 At the station…

Okay so this one is a little funnier and a lot more innocent, however, it does make you wonder what parents are teaching their kids about other nationalities: prejudice has to come from somewhere, it’s not something you’re born with, it’s taught: (link)

(Not) chasing cars

First we have the sexism on top of the language faux pas (link):

Then we have the ripping off of the tourist (link):

And also, adventures with taxi drivers (link):

Tip your server…

It’s one thing when you’re rude to the waiting staff - an unacceptable thing at all times, we’d like to add - but to other customers? You’re setting yourself up for trouble there... (link):

And whilst we don’t think that the customer is always necessarily right, it is never a good idea to be rude to a potential one (link):

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Sign language…

Because like with any other language, sign language has its users and abusers too: here are a couple of examples to prove that point. The hearing volunteer (link):


The trying-to-be-romantic (link):

Enough with the negativity!

Okay so that’s enough of the bad stuff. How about some language fails that are actually quite endearing? The almost-crush (link):

The ‘accidental’ perving (link):

The ‘ready to help’ (link):

And finally, the ‘cat-calling to friendship’ trope, one of our favourites (link):

Retail therapy?

Finally, because as nice as it is to hear, well nice stories, it’s the silent, graceful way revenge was sought in this last example of language rudeness that makes us very happy indeed (link):

We are no saints…

Sometimes when we hear someone attempting something in a language and getting it wrong, we smirk. Occasionally, when we come across tourists looking bewildered in cities as vast and sprawling as London, our hearts sink - both for them being so lost and ourselves at having to attempt an explanation to help. But then, we are travellers, we know what it’s like from the other side.

To go into a pharmacy in Spain and have the pharmacist attempt to sell you the most expensive painkillers to soothe your headache before you glare at them and growl out más barata. To be on a train in China and have the occupants of your carriage openly debate if you are Russian or American. To visit a cafe in France and have the barista immediately identify you as British and sneer at you with their colleagues in French, then blanche when you order coffee, tell them you’ll sit on the terrace and ask for directions to the station (also in French).

So maybe, what we need to learn along with languages is how to be a bit kinder, more tolerant towards others. Perhaps instead of losing our temper and patience with those that are trying their hardest with their language skills, we should put ourselves in their shoes, remember what it was like when we were doing the same. Or in the words of the late, great Dr Wayne Dyer: "When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind."

Photo via Flickr