Post Tagged with "fun with languages"

A totally practical way to see the world

Mary Anne Oxendale currently lives in Shanghai, China. In this interview with PocketCultures she tells us about culture shock, teaching to travel and the difference between Mandarin and Shanghainese.


From your blog I see that you have moved a few times. Where are you originally from, and where have you been previously?

I’m originally from Vancouver Island, which is a small island by Canadian standards, off the west coast of British Columbia. I tentatively left when I was 19 and went traveling around Europe for a few months. After that, I alternated attending university terms with more escapes to Europe, eventually pausing my degree after three years to move to London when I was 22.


January 13, 2011 5 comments

Knowing When No Means No … in Italiano

After knowing someone six years, being in a long-distance relationship with them for four and uprooting everything-that-is-normal-and good in your life and moving halfway around the world to be with a person, you’d think you’d know them.


Not sure what that means?

I know how you feel.

My now-husband and I met in the romantic City of Lights in the spring of 2000, when we were both working at nearby Disneyland Paris. Lingual limitations prohibited a real relationship, but we were friends and occasionally we’d get together to look through our dictionaries and exchange new words.


October 14, 2010 Comments disabled

The trouble with cooties*

Isn’t it funny how the minute you stop looking for something it pops up in the most unexpected way at a most unexpected time? After years of being bitter and single, I finally had gotten to the point where I thought You know what? I’m a cool gal and I am perfectly happy on my own!

Then I met him.

As he is Dutch and was living in the Netherlands, our main method of contact was Skype. Before our first session, I was so nervous. Even though I’d practically spilled my guts out to this guy via e-mail, the idea of actually talking to him was positively nerve-wracking.


September 2, 2010 4 comments

Day of lovers and literature

It was recently Sant Jordi in Catalunya. The day of lovers and literature, tradition holds that the man gives the woman a rose in return for a book. Not a public holiday, it seems to be as the streets come alive with people strolling amid the colorful book and flower stands.


Watching the day unfold over a coffee and cigarette, I recalled past girlfriends I’d had in the states and some flames from my first year in Barcelona, but mostly I thought about my Spanish wife. Love and relationships are complex topics, which like dark matter, I only vaguely understand. I will say, though, being with a person from a foreign country definitely adds an element of unpredictability to the equation.


May 5, 2010 1 comment

5 tips for raising a bilingual child

This is a guest post by Eve Bodeux. Eve is mother of two boys, married to a Frenchman. She lives in the Denver, Colorado USA area and blogs at

Parents the globe over have bilingualism (or multilingualism) as a goal for their children as they realize the value this advantage provides in our ever-smaller world. Mixing traditional approaches with modern supplemental activities allows enthusiastic parents to encourage their children in learning a second language. Here are my five top tips for success!


February 11, 2010 7 comments

Who is this Elvis?

Gayle (Australia) and Godwin (Ghana).

While watching tributes to the one and only Michael Jackson via international media this week, in Ghana, the comparisons with Elvis were frequent.

Godwin: “Who is this Elvis?”
Me: “Elvis Presley.”
Godwin: “Who?”
Me: “You know, Ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog…”
Godwin: “I do not know.”
Me: “Really? You’ve not heard of Elvis?”
Godwin: “No.”
Me (pausing a moment): “What about The Beatles?”
Godwin: “No.”
Me (suspicious): “Are you pulling my leg?”
Godwin (annoyed): “I’m not touching your leg.”
Me: “I know. I mean: ‘Are you kidding?’’”
Godwin: “What about?”
Me: “About not knowing The Beatles.”
Godwin: “Why would I be kidding?”
Me: “It’s just. Wow, imagine there’s no Elvis.” (D’oh! No puns…)
Godwin: “OK. Let’s hit the toad and frog.”
Me: “You’re funny.”

While it’s astonishing (for me, at least) to discover a nation where no one I spoke to, this week, knew of Elvis or The Beatles, Ghana boasting its own rich musical culture, anyway, this exchange gives you a taste of our number one challenge: communication.

The thing that still bewilders me is that ideas, experiences and perceptions that seem to have been hard-wired from birth—from Elvis to expressions like “pulling my leg”—have virtually no frame of reference in my life here.

Indeed, when I once remarked that someone had “a kangaroo loose in the top paddock”, Godwin asked, “What’s a paddock?” There are no “paddocks”; land is hardly fenced.

You see, communication is as much about language as it is culture, and we’ve had some rip-roaring arguments because of it. Misinterpreted semantics, that is.

So I dropped idioms altogether for a while. I believe, however, that building a mutual frame of reference ought to be half the fun. I mean, I take pleasure in foreign cultures because of the differences in how we think (and also because they teach me that universal principles—love, trust, kindness and forgiveness—hold true everywhere, in spite of our differences). So, I do include idioms carefully and occasionally.

And Godwin teaches me local proverbs. “Ntek, Kantek, Aniwanpehd” is “Kusa” (another language) for “If I pull and you pull, the calabash will break.” Essentially, if we keep fighting, then the relationship (symbolized by the calabash) will collapse. So, stop fighting!

For his part, Godwin is hammering away at Aussie slang. “Frog and toad” is rhyming slang for “road”. “Kitchen sink” replaces “drink”. He endeared himself hugely when he declared: “Let’s hit the toad and frog and have a sink in the kitchen.”

Personally, I struggle with Frafra, his main language. Frafra’s philosophy is: “Why make a two syllable word when we could have fun with six?” Gomatiataho (rainbow) sounds Japanese (my second language, so it clicks) but I’m having trouble with its array of breath-suffocating words.

On a serious note, I asked Godwin how he thinks he’s changed since we met: “I am better at listening and less likely to jump to conclusions while you talk. I now cross-check by asking questions instead of assuming based on my own interpretation. And I think you’re more tolerant of my round-about explanations and less impatient now,” he said.

I agree. And I know more than ever that mutual understanding is achieved best when I listen first, with my heart, and then speak—with “calabashes” of mindfulness.
One of our simple pleasures is creating meals exclusively from local ingredients, like we create nonsense language from silly conversations.

Me: “Mpo-oheya.” (Thank you—you must choke on the “o”s)
Godwin: “Mpoka kaboi.” (You’re welcome)
Me: “Was that ‘cowboy’?”
Godwin: “Mpoka KA BOI.”
Me: “Sounds like ‘COW BOY’.”
Godwin: “Mpoka ‘BLOOOONDIE’!”

He means Clint Eastwood (aka. “Blondie”) in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly—also a recent discovery for him.

And that’s how we’re creating “Fra-lish” (and building that mutual frame of reference) even if I can’t quite use it with the feisty old market women (who whisper slyly, I now understand, about my “wonderful hips” when I go haggle: Differences in the feminine ideal—now that’s a whole other topic…)

On the blog This is Ghana you can read more about Gayle and Godwin’s life in Ghana. Especially interesting at the moment are the posts on Ghanaian reactions to Obama’s visit last week.

Enjoyed this?
Read more stories of cross-cultural relationships from My Partner is a Foreigner

July 13, 2009 Comments disabled