Translating My Dutch Father-In-Law #1

Language Mistakes

My Dutch Father-In-Law is extremely enthusiastic about speaking English. He’ll dive into an English sentence with the kind of fearless confidence I wish I had when speaking Dutch. It’s the kind of fearlessness where sentence structure, past/presence tense and pronunciation do not matter. They are minor details of little importance. The important thing is to just say the thing you are trying to say in the way ‘you’ think it should be said and let someone else work it out. This has resulted in a lot of unintentionally hilarious language mistakes and conversations (so many that this might have to become a new series) that often leave us more than a little confused.

A good example of this was earlier this year while we were helping to put away my parents-in-law’s Christmas decorations. My Father-In-Law had set up a model train track around the base of the Christmas tree, complete with a set of scenery.

As he packed away the individual pieces into their boxes he proudly showed off each one; a miniature snowy tree, a small phone box, a tiny bridge. They were all pieces he was planning to use later when building his real train set (once we move out and he got his spare room back).

More model houses and scenery were lovingly packed away. Suddenly, while holding up a tiny street lamp (itself decorated with a Christmas bow), he unexpectedly announced, “You can only get these when shopping with Christ.”

“Hu?” my wife and mother-in-law exclaimed in unison. Had my father-in-law just confessed to having a religious shopping experience? Could he have been on a shopping trip with the savoir of the Christian faith?

Luckily I am usually able to puzzle together the true meanings of my father-in-law’s sentences pretty quickly (probably because of years of playing around with the language myself). I’m sure Jesus would make an excellent personal shopper but I know that was not what he was implying.

“You can only buy them at Christmas time.” I translated for my confused wife and mother-in-law.

My father-in-law smiled. Who says you need to be able to speak a language correctly to be understood. Besides, language mistakes are sometimes more fun.

4 responses to “Translating My Dutch Father-In-Law #1”

  1. gjwolfswinkel says:

    Yesterday I was gaming with a couple of friends from all over the world. We were chatting about the need to have a smoke detector in the vicinity of a washing machine or a dryer. And then one of the German guys typed the following sentence in the chat channel:

    “our dryer is in the citchen where often is smoke from cocking”


  2. Alison says:

    When you’re still in the stage of mangling a language, it’s surprisingly easier to understand mistakes others make. Probably because we’ve made similar mistaken connections. People who are perfectly fluent are too far removed. :)

  3. I’ve at times found myself needing to translate “Frenchified” English just so a fellow French-speaker could understand what the other French-speaker wanted to say.

  4. Vallypee says:

    I loved this one, Stu. As you know, being a language teacher, I collect mistakes like this. Well done to pa-in-law for a goody!

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