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Oops!! . . . Did I Just Say That?

Published Aug 3, 2010

Give me your … skin?!

I am currently learning and trying to converse in two new languages. While it may be a lot of hard work, I am almost daily provided with plenty of comic relief courtesy of the many mistakes I make. I thought you might enjoy hearing some of my more recent bloopers.


Pidgin has many similarities to English, but is still different in a lot of ways.  When learning you must be careful to not just simply “Pidginize” your English, as this often conveys the wrong meaning. While teaching my Pidgin literacy class, I wanted my students to pay especially close attention to what I was writing on the board. I should have said, “Yu mas lukim gut.” Instead, I took the “Pidginizing” route and said, “Yu mas wasim klos.” I realized instantly what I had said, as did they, and we all got a good laugh. I had literally told them that they had to wash their clothes!

One time, I was talking to one of our national pastors. I wanted to know at which village one of our Bible School graduates would be preaching the next day. I said, “Em i go long dispela sios, o datpela sios?” Now “dispela” is a legitimate Pidgin word, but “datpela” was definitely a “Pidginization”. I hadn’t realized what I said, but heard my friends laughing as they teased, “Hey, Sarah! Is ‘datpela’ a word?”

The other Saturday I was at the soccer field, getting to know people and practicing language. I wanted one of the children to shake my hand. In Kamea I should have said, “Fe’a ndapu.” This means, “Give me your hand.” Instead I said, “Fewa ndapu.” This means, “Give me your skin.” The whole crowd burst out laughing.

Walking down the trail one day I came upon a group of about 20 people sitting on the side of the trail. I started using all the Kamea I could think of, which of course was rewarded by them talking rapid fire to me with words I did not understand. One older man seemed to be the spokesman, and he kept saying one phrase over and over and waiting for a response from me. Every time he would make his speech, everyone else would laugh. I couldn’t figure out what it was, but I just kept smiling and went around and shook everybody’s hand. Then I said goodbye and continued on my way. But I kept thinking that I knew the one word he had been saying, “sopa”. Then it dawned on me, and I laughed when I realized that he had been giving the missionary a hard time and asking me for a cigarette!

Last month I was down for several days with a stomach bug and very high fever. During this time I learned that it is not always the best idea to try and speak new languages when your brain is in the process of being fried. A lady had come to visit and I came out to the kitchen table for a change of scenery. The conversation was all in Pidgin, and I tried to jump in at one point. I was feeling so badly though that I got halfway through what I was saying and just stopped and said, “O, whatever!” My co-workers all laughed, and when I felt better a couple days later, I did, too.

Last Wednesday, I was talking to several of the church ladies after the service. I was trying to explain to them about smoke signals. (Why? Don’t ask!) When I started, my Pidgin was on a role.  I wasn’t even thinking in English. Then, all the sudden I hit a roadblock! I had no idea what to say next. I looked at my co-worker, Rachel, and said “You finish!”  We both started roaring with laughter, as did all of our friends.

I love learning these languages and am thankful for the opportunity it gives me to build relationships with people… and for all the laughs that it provides along the way. Keep praying that God will give me ability and fluency in both languages that I might effectively communicate the Gospel to these people. 

Tags: Language Learning, Pidgin