Many people are either learning a foreign language or thinking about it and all dream of speaking fluently in this language, but there are some situations along the way, they would rather avoid. Mispronunciation is one of them.


I was teaching Spanish to a small group of foreign students when I was living in Mexico. We were revising how to spell words. I asked the group if someone could point out the difference between the two words I had written on the blackboard: gota (drop), and jota (letter J). one of them said “la differencia es el ‘joto’”. Meaning The difference is the gay-man. Joto in Mexican Spanish is not a very nice way to call gay people. Everybody in the class burst in a loud laugh to the surprise of the student. Someone had to explain to him that the letter J was ‘jota’ and not ‘joto’ – gay man.

False Friends
These mistakes happen in any language. You might have heard of false friends. They are words in two languages that look or sound similar but differ significantly in meaning.
When I was learning English, I used to make a few of these mistakes. I was talking to a friend about another friend of mine who just broke up with her boyfriend and I told her the following: “don’t mention it to Jenny because she’s very sensible about it”. And my friend answered: “I thought you said she was devastated, if she’s sensible (reasonable), she won’t mind.
I’ve often mistaken sensible (English meaning: reasonable) with sensible (French meaning: sensitive). When I realised my mistake, I swapped words and we both had a laugh.

Mistranslations are another danger. There are lots of references to these on the internet.
In a cocktail bar in Norway there’s a sign saying: “ladies are requested not to have children in the bar”.
Airline ticket office in Copenhagen: “we take your bags and send them in all directions”.
At a Budapest zoo: please do not feed the animals. If you have any suitable food, please give it to the guard on duty”.
In a doctor’s office in Rome: “specialist in women and other diseases” [ I beg your pardon!!!]
The funniest in my opinion are these following ones.
In an Italian cemetery: “persons are prohibited from picking flowers from any but their own graves”. 😂
In an hotel in Acapulco Mexico: “The manager has personally passed all the water served here” 😂😂
In a restaurant’s window: “Don’t stand there and be hungry, come on in and get fed up!” 🤣🤣🤣
Hilarious isn’t it! I just could not stop laughing.

The greatest mistranslation in history happened in 1830 during negotiations between France and the USA. A secretary translated a message sent to the White House that began” le gouvernement français demande” (the French government asks) as the French government demands. The US president took the request as a set of demands and was not happy at all. But once the mistake was corrected, negotiations carried on.

Not understanding the conversation
Sometimes you’re engaged in a conversation in your target language, but you lose the plot half way through. You’re smiling saying yes, yes, until your interlocutor stops, looks at you and asks? “so, then, what do you think?” and there’s no way you can answer ‘yes’ to this one. Awkward!

When I was a child growing up in Haiti, there was a famous Stand-up comedian who had a sketch about a Haitian immigrant in the USA who was lost in the streets of New York, unable to speak the language; and he would say that he couldn’t ask anybody for directions because even the dogs barked in English. This was supposed to be the funny part. However, he might have been right because onomatopoeia, formation of words from a sound, vary in different languages.
Chinese dogs go “wang,wang”, Spanish dogs go “ guau guau”. In sweden they go “vof,vof” and in English they go “woof,woof”.
The rooster on Spanish goes “ki ki ri ki”, in French “co co ri co” and in English “cockledoodledo”.

Language is intriguing, and we must bear in mind that we won’t be always right when expressing ourselves in a foreign language, but this does not have to prevent us from speaking it. We must learn from our mistakes, and most importantly we should be kind to ourselves and just have a good laugh.

What is your most hilarious moment when practising a language? Please, do share it in the comment below.