Thursday, November 04, 2010
What you really need to know how to say
While visiting the family, I helped one of my brothers (the one who is 14 going on 40) with his Spanish homework.
He pulled no punches when we started. "My book," he informed me, "sucks."
Unfortunately I think many language instruction books fall into that category. When my dad and I visited Japan in 1999, our tour guide told us that when she began studying English, the first sentence her English textbook offered was, "The boy is holding a pencil."
(OK perverts, you get the point.)
My brother's homework assignment included sentences such as these gems:
"The employee sits at a desk."
"The hospital is full of patients."
And my favorite:
"Who drives a car with lights? The police."
I told him, "You're right. Your book does suck."
One of my favorite teachers in high school got me a book of Spanish slang when I graduated.
"Now I don't want you to get the wrong idea," she said. "But I also don't want you to get in trouble in conversation!"
I wish I could find that book...it had helpful translations, especially when it came to textbook Spanish words that worked in some countries, but were extremely naughty in others.
Examples from this book that I will never, ever, in a million years forget:
What you want to say: "Where can I catch the bus?"
How it sounds to native speakers:"Where can I fuck the bus?"
What you want to say (don't ask me why you would): "The policeman hit him with his stick."
How it sounds to native speakers: "The policeman hit him with his dick."
So back to my brother's homework. None of these are phrases he's going to need to use if he is on his own in Mexico, Spain, Central or South America, etc. So I made him a cheat sheet with the important stuff, which included:
"Where is the bathroom?"
"Hi beautiful, are you traveling alone?"
"Are you treating?"
And, probably the most important,
"Do you sell comic books in English?"