I have often been amused by some of the mix-ups that take place when words or sentences are translated from one language to another. I remember watching a particular episode of “I Love Lucy” that illustrated that very well.
Ricky, Lucy’s husband, was very frustrated with a particular situation that was taking place between himself and his wife, Lucy. Finally, he said, “Lucy, I know what you are doing. You are trying to put a sweater on my head!” Lucy was confused and said, “What on earth are you talking about?” He repeated himself, “I know that you are trying to put a sweater on my head.” After pausing for a minute, she asked, “Do you mean that I am trying to pull the wool over your eyes?” He said, “Yes, that’s exactly what I said!”
Another example was when my good friend, Jim Kilgore, was speaking at a church in South Korea where Billy Kim is the pastor. Pastor Kim speaks fluent English and Korean. Therefore, he was able to understand both what Jim was saying in English, and what the interpreter was saying in Korean. After Jim had been introduced, he stood up and said, “Thank you all for coming tonight. I am tickled to death to be here.” The interpreter stopped, turned, and looked at Jim Kilgore. He asked, “What do you mean, ‘tickled to death’?” Jim then explained that it was simply an English phrase that meant he was very happy to be there and it brought him a lot of joy and excitement in his heart to be in Korea. The interpreter turned to the audience and said in Korean, “Our speaker tonight has laughed and laughed and finally he died.” The audience sat there, stunned. I guess “tickled to death” got lost in the translation!
But, my favorite one happened to my friend, Yanni, who is a missionary in Africa. Yanni speaks eight languages very fluently. She is one of the most remarkable people I have ever met in my life. I had dinner with her and some other friends, in Belfast, Northern Ireland, a few years ago.
Yanni knows that I live on the lighter side of life and am always looking for a funny story, so she told me about a young girl she once heard speaking at a church meeting. The girl was speaking in a language that was not her native tongue. She was trying to say, “I can look back over my shoulder and see my past. It can be divided into two parts – before I started following God, and after I started following God.” That’s what she was trying to say. But, what she actually said was, “I can look back over my shoulder and see my behind. It can be divided into two parts!” Well, when she said that, everybody in the audience just about fell out of their chairs! You can imagine what that must have been like.
You may have your own stories and examples of how things have gotten mixed up in translation from one language to another. And, even though those stories are amusing, that really is not the main point of this Tip. When I talk about things getting mixed up in translation, I am really not referring to words translated from one language to another. I am primarily talking about misunderstandings that happen within the same language.
How many times have you told someone something that was clear in your own mind, yet, everything got mixed up because it was not clear in the person’s mind to whom you were speaking?
I have discovered it is far better to double check things and go over them several times in order to be sure that there is clarity, rather than simply assume that someone understood what I was talking about. There are two sentences I always use to help bring clarity. The first is, “Would you mind saying back to me what you heard me say so that I can be sure I was clear?” And, second, “Could I say back to you what I think you said so I can be sure that I understood correctly?”
If you ask those questions, in both cases, you put the burden on yourself to get the information right. Whenever you are talking to someone, always put the responsibility squarely on yourself for being clear. That will eliminate blame and will help you to be much clearer and communicate correctly.
Whether it is in another language or in your own language, be careful that you understand what is being said. It is bad enough when things get mixed up in different languages, but when they get mixed up in the same language, well that shows that we are not communicating in the best way possible.
We are all better than that! Let’s prove it in the future!
Tip: Be careful that things don’t get mixed up in translation!
Have a great week! God bless you!
Dr. Robert A. Rohm
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