One of the nurses asked me, “You said the patient’s blood type is O positive, correct?”
I nodded and replied, “Apnar kan khub sokto!” The entire room erupted in laughter.
Oh no…what did I say? The nurse laughed and responded, “Sister, you just told me that I have very hard ears!”
In my attempt to say he had good ears to be able to hear me in such a noisy environment, I had instead complimented the hardness of his ears. At least I’m good for some entertainment on occasion!
After sharing my mistake with one of my colleagues, she recalled a time when she was still learning the language and was teaching a children’s church class. The lesson was about Jesus being the light of the world. However, the words for light and potato are quite similar in this language. So, instead of teaching that He is the light, she told them that He is the potato of the world! She couldn’t understand why the children kept erupting into laughter, until later another worker told her what she had said. I felt much better after hearing her story!
These language blunders are quite funny and make for good stories, but truly, being able to speak to someone in their heart language is essential for effective communication. Making the effort to learn Bangla means a lot to Bengalis. Especially when you know the history of their fight for the freedom to speak in their heart language…
As a language student, this year I had the privilege of joining in on the celebration of Language Martyr’s Day. Every year on the 21st of February, all students march through the streets with flowers and banners. All the participants in this parade walk barefoot to show honor to those who died. It is a somber holiday with deep pride for the freedom to speak this language that they love so dearly. I felt proud to walk alongside the students and speak with them in their mother tongue.
Language learning may feel discouraging some days, but in the end, it will be worth every long night, silly blunder, and slow conversation.
- Submitted by Ely Johnson