This article is part of our section “inglés in company” which provides help for Argentine professionals working in English. Click here to know more abour our offers or workshops (Next workshops : Tuesdays 17 y 24 of April, “inglés en el entorno laboral”)
Do you feel comfortable speaking English in a relaxed atmosphere, or casual work conversation? That’s great! But don’t get confused… That doesn’t mean you are ready for a job interview in ENGLISH! Today we will talk precisely about these differences to help you land your next English-speaking job!
In the third quarter of 2017, Argentina had a 15,4% rate of employed looking for work (u.e. the percentage between the employeed population looking for a job and the economically active population), of which 12,1% are located in the Greater Buenos Area. Looking for a job in Buenos Aires is not something so uncommon. Let’s assume you are looking for a job yourself : you might have to train for a job interview in English as the number of jobs for English speaking professionals is growing in Buenos Aires.
We can assume it was an easy job to do your resume or CV in English (if you need some tips, here are good links of Infoempleo or The Entrepreneur – links in Spanish). You now know the vocabulary you used in your resume. You may feel ready to do the interview in English.
Why is it a mistaken thought many people have?
Why is English for interviews different?
There is a big difference between speaking English in a relaxed atmosphere, or casual work conversation – and speaking English while being at a job interview. Avoid making the mistake of thinking you are ready for a job interview because you are good at speaking English in informal settings.
- Because the skills you will have to demonstrate, and thus the vocabulary, are not the same
- Because the way to introduce things, concepts, ideas, are different in English than in Spanish.
- Because you will need the confidence and attitude you would have in Spanish in English
Let’s break down these three ideas to see which area you should dig into to prepare yourself successfully:
1.The skills you will have to demonstrate – and thus the vocabulary- are not the same.
The HR and person conducting the interview will generally start by asking questions about yourself. The question “Tell me about yourself” can be a bit tricky because it’s easy to get lost into details “I went to school here, and I worked here for 2 years and there for 3 years”. Skip what’s not essential and try to talk in terms of skills learned. An example would be:
I went to school there – where I developed a strong capacity to teamwork. I further enhanced that skill while working at (name of the company). I was regularly working on projects involving international teams. However, in my second job, I developed other skills such as (name the skills). Today, I believe my profile is a mix of (name 3 essential skills/knowledge you have).
You might also be asked to conduct reflexion upon yourself with questions such as “What weakness can you convert into a strength?”. Think thoroughly of your weaknesses and strengths and how one can be turned into the other. For example, you might be inflexible sometimes -weakness- but that makes you an organized person capable of leading a group -strenght-. A very good reference on this topic of weakness-strenght conversion is this infographic.
Another question might be a reflection on your future : “Where do you see yourself in five years”. To answer that question, take the time to reflect on what you want to improve and for what work purpose. Don’t think it in terms of position but in terms of skills. It might be developing your management skills to be able to manage a team in the next years. Show your interlocutor that you want to learn and improve! The sky is the limit!
Finally, another type of question you might deal with is reflecting about you vs others. You might face questions such as “ What can you do better in this position that others can’t” or “How did you deal with past conflict situations with your bosses/colleagues”. Always think over it in term of positive outcomes and without criticizing others.
2. Because the way to introduce things, concepts, ideas, are different in English than in Spanish
In this paragraph, we wanted to emphasize what you have to do, absolutely have to do, in an interview in English. It doesn’t mean that you don’t have to do it in Spanish, but you might have to do it MORE in English 😉
First, stating that you’ve developed a skill without giving a supporting example will not make your point. For example; if you’ve learnt team management, you can give an example of a situation in which you had to take the lead. How did you do it and how did it result? A good way to make sure that you explain your thought through and in a relevant manner is to use the STAR method. The idea is to support your idea (“I learnt team management”) with an example structured in the way “Situation, Task, Action, Result”. An article that explains it thoroughly is this one (link in Spanish).
Secondly, try to use connectors and introduction words. Linking phrases together is nicer to hear and follow. For example, you could say : “I have 2 years of experience working in your sector. Furthermore/ On top of that, I believe I have the skills and attitude necessary to fit into the role and contribute to the thrive of the activity”. It give strength to your speech!
Finally, the salary topic. It might be sensitive and you might not want to talk about it during your first (or second interview). You can read on Glassdoor what people comment about the average salary. It will give you an idea of what to answer if the question comes up.
3. Because you will need the confidence and attitude you would have in Spanish in English
Well, for this one, it all comes down to one thing : practice, practice, practice.
We want to emphasize on this one, especially because group interviews get more and more common nowadays. What does it mean? That you’ll need the confidence to know you’ll be able to speak English in front of people – and maybe not just a HR.
What can you do at home to train ?
Wy is it worth it for you to train ?
No need to panic. It just takes practice.
How can we advise you to train beyond preparing your answers (following the advices we suggested above 😉 ) ?
Practice, practice, practice
In front of the mirror. With an English-speaking friend. If you want to practice with a native and you don’t have an English-speaking native friend, Conversation Exchange platforms are for you. This article lists some good ones!
However, to be honest, it will always be better to train face-to-face with a native. In lvstudio, that’s what we do in many different formats! Come for conversation class, take an individual class focusing on interview training or join one of our workshops!
Listen to podcasts
Below, we suggest some podcasts related to job interviews or the workplace in general:
Any other suggestions? Let us know!
Record yourself with a camera while doing the interview. Watch it and notice your weak spots, where you have difficulties and why. Watch out your body language, which is as important as the spoken language. Here is a good article about it (link in Spanish). Try to correct your vocabulary/sentences when they seem too complicated and confusing. Make them shorter, clearer – and don’t forget to smile!
4. Do personality tests
Do some personality tests to know more about your work behavior. These tests will give you hints about your weaknesses and strengths at work, your way to deal with pressure and workload, how you communicate with others or your relationship to hierarchy. Of course, a free test on internet is never 100% accurate but it might give you some ideas, which you can develop with examples. By personalizing the analysis of your answers, you will get useful ideas to answer interviewers’ questions about yourself. Here are links to some well-known tests: DISC test or the MBTI test.
5. Do a worskhop
At lvstudio incompany, we propose some workshops for people looking for a job or employees looking for training in English. The ideas we proposed above will never be better than a face-to-face and personalized guidance! Our workshops leaders are native teachers with teaching and working experience, who will help you to be comfortable during the interview and to show the most out of your strenghts in English.
Want more info on our workshops? Click here!
OUR NEXT WORKSHOPS
- Duración: 2 días, 4 horas en total
- Dirección: Palermo
Workshop 1: Inglés en el entorno laboral
Días: Martes 17/04( 19.00hs-21.00hs), Martes 24/04: (19hs-21.00hs)
Precio: $700 (hasta el 01/04)
Workshop 2: Inglés para la búsqueda de trabajo
Días:Martes 08/05( 19.00hs-21.00hs), Martes 15/05: (19hs-21.00hs)
Precio: $600 (hasta el 22/04)
MORE INFO HERE! or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks a lot for taking the time to read! Do you have any other suggestions on how to train for an English-speaking interview? Let us know!
Are you taking the TOEFL soon and worried about the speaking section? The speaking section is usually the most difficult part for students. There are basically 6 types of questions on the test; this week we will talk about the first three.
Question One: The first question is the the most open and usually the easiest for my students. It involves a question about something specific to you, such as “Describe your best friend” or “a person who has inspired you”. You have 45 seconds to respond . I usually tell my students that if they run out of things to say after describing the person or thing, think of a personal detail like “I remember this one time…” It’s a lot easier to describe something that actually happened and you will probably feel more comfortable saying that than something invented.
Question Two: Question 2 is similar to question one but in this case it asks for an opinion. It is usually an either /or question such as “which do you prefer?” You are giving your opinion here so it is ok to choose sides. That doesn’t mean you can’t mention the positives and negatives of both options, however. Just keep in mind you have to express your opinion in 45 seconds.
Question Three: In question 3 you will read a campus-related situation and then listen to a discussion about that same topic. The question will ask you to describe the opinion of the speaker and their reasons for holding that opinion. They want the speaker’s opinion, not yours. You are simply reporting what they say. The important thing here is your note-taking skills. Brief, concise notes listing the points made by the speaker are essential. You have 60 seconds to briefly describe the text (maybe one or two sentences) and then convey the students opinion (usually 2-3 points). It’s a good idea to brush up on campus vocabulary as there are a lot of specific vocabulary words that are not commonly used outside of campus life.
The testing centers often use small cubicles in a large room so there may be many other students within your range of hearing to distract you during the speaking section. Try to practice in an environment where you do not have perfect silence so you are prepared. It also a good a idea to practice with a native speaker to correct you. We will discuss questions 4-6 in a couple of weeks,. In the meantime, if you want to take an english course in Palermo with a native speaker, come visit our Spanish school in Buenos Aires at LV Studio.
In most people’s mind the word “expat” recalls images of luxury, shiny desks in multinational corporates and privileged lifestyles. On the other hand, when it comes about the term “immigrant”, we tend to think about dreams, hopes and cardboard suitcases. Two words, two deeply different concepts.
As someone who has been living in Asia for several years, I’ve always taken for granted that I was an. In Asia just looking Western immediately qualifies me as such from local people’s perspective.
In China most locals assume that all Westerners are beautiful, rich, smart and powerful. While in Hong Kong people are more used to foreign presence, you can still feel some respect and admiration towards the Western community. In Taiwan foreigners’ reputation is generally not that positive, as Taiwanese know that expats enjoy much better salaries and privileges than locals with fewer obligations.
In all these places though, Westerner equals expat.
Indeed in Asia the difference between expat and immigrant is purely based on race: Westerners are expats while dark-skinned people are immigrants. This mindset is very strong throughout East Asia because in countries such as China, Japan and Korea the local population is genetically very homogenous. For this reason, the concept of cultural identity corresponds to the concept of racial identity. For instance, in order to be considered Japanese you have to be born and raised in Japan in a Japanese family.
The distinction between expat and immigrant gets more blurred in the West. In countries like US, UK and Australia the local population is genetically very heterogeneous, therefore the national identity is based on shared culture rather than race. If you were born a raised in the US you are American, whether you look Caucasian, Asian or Black. For this reason living in a Western country as a foreigner is very different from moving to Asia from Europe or the US.
The elements that determine a foreigner’s social status in the West are education, money, career and social network. For instance a French banker who is employed by a big corporate and moves to London for work is an expat. On the other hand, a Spanish construction worker who moves to the US willing to take any job in order to pursue a better future is an immigrant.
Are expat and immigrant two words that simply define a rich foreigner and poor foreigner? The issue is not that easy.
Some people think that the real distinction between expat and immigrant relies on where salaries and taxes are paid. The true expat would be hired by a company in his home country and then sent to a foreign branch of the company for a limited amount of time. In this case salaries and taxes would be paid in the expat’s home country. Differently, if a person was hired directly in a foreign country with a local contract, then we could call him an immigrant.
But what about those people with high-profile jobs who decide to move to a new country autonomously and get very high paying jobs at local companies? Are they to be considered immigrants as well?
Another school of thought defines the difference between expat and immigrant according to the length of stay. For instance, if the foreigner planned to stay in the host country only for a limited amount of time, then he would be an expat. Differently, if the foreigner had in mind to stay long-term, integrate with the local community and settle down in the new country, the he would be an immigrant.
In conclusion, it looks like the difference between expat and immigrant is actually very ambiguous and everyone has his own idea about it. While in some areas of the world the distinction is purely based on racial factors, in other regions the elements that determine which category you belong to are less precise. Everyone picks for himself the definition he feels comfortable with.
In every country you will find a wide range of idioms and expressions that are used in everyday situations. Here is a list compiled of the ones you should know while you are in Argentina but watch out, make sure to know how to use them and with who because sometimes they can be offensive. These idioms and expressions, along with lunfardo, will keep your knowledge up to date while you blend in with the locals.
- no le llega agua al tanque
- when someone isn’t thinking straight or is missing the point.
- a las chapas
- to go really fast
- arrastrar el ala
- to hit on someone or advance with romantic intentions
- lo atamos con alambre
- to jerry-rig it
- bajá un cambio
- To relax or chill out
- cara rota
- a shameless person
- caer como peludo de regalo
- a way to say an unwanted guest who shows up unexpectedly
- calavera no chilla
- you get what you deserve
- calienta la pava pero no ceba los mates
- Someone that messes with you or teases you
- faltan cinco pa’l peso
- to come up short
- echar panza
- to let go of yourself, to be lazy and gain weight
- comerse un huesito
- to sleep with a hot babe or when you make out with someone
- echar un polvo
- to have sex
- no dejar titere con cabeza
- to take no prisoners, when someone destroys everything and takes it without leaving anything behind.
- estar en el horno
- to be in a bad situation
- dejate de joder
- get out of town! You gotta be joking! Stop messing around
- echar un cloro
- take a piss
- más loco que una cabra
- Something very crazy
- le faltan algunos jugadores
- Someone who isn’t there or when one he is out of his mind. A stupid person
- medio pelo
- hacer gancho
- to play matchmaker, to be cupid
- meter la mula
- to rip someone off
- hablar hasta por los codos
- to talk a lot without stopping
- la verdad de la milanesa
- the real deal
- hacerse la mosquita muerta
- to act innocently after doing something wrong
- hasta las manos
- to be busy, have your hands full
- ni a ganchos
- no way
- ni a palos!
- no way
- mala leche
- bad luck; also when someone has bad vibes
- no dá
- sorry, unacceptable, doesn’t give
- la noche está en pañales
- the night is young
- ponerse la camiseta
- to be a team player
- parte la tierra
- wow what a beautiful woman!
- me pica el bagre
- I’m hungry
- qué pito toca?
- What is his story? Whats up with him?
- me quema la cabeza
- it blows my mind
- tirame las agujas
- give me the time
- la sacaste barata
- you were lucky
- tener una vena
- to be super pissed off
- saltar la ficha
- to blow a fuse
- screw you, take it!
- tomalo con soda
- calm down, take it easy
- tirar los galgos
- to flirt or hit on someone
- Esta mas bueno que comer pollo con las manos
- Something really good
- mas aburrido que chupar un clavo
- To be extremely bored, so bored that you would suck on a nail.
- mas feo que tropezar descalzo
- Something that is really ugly “Worse than stepping on something without shoes”
- más feo que patada en los huevos
- more ugly than getting hit in the balls
- perdido como turco en la neblina
- When you are super lost and don’t know the way
- desubicado como aceituna en Pan Dulce
- Something out of place “Like putting tunafish on sweet bread”
- desubicado como chorizo en ensalada
- Something said or done that is out of place/rude
- mas buena que Lassie atada
- When someone is courteous or nice
- más pobre que ratón de Iglesia
- Someone who is very poor. “more poor than a church rat”
- más contento que perro con dos colas
- Someone who is very happy. “happier than a dog with two tails”
- más peligroso que mono con navaja
- Something who is very dangerous. “More dangerous than a uncontrollable monkey with a pocketknife.”
- ordinario como canapes de polenta
- Something ordinary
- más al pedo que bocina de avión
- Something very useless
- más duro que perro en bote
- Someone who is very scared
- menos onda que un renglón
- someone or something boring
- mas feo que pisar mierda descalzo
- When something is very ugly or undesired, Ojo!, this is offensive
- mas duro que gato de yeso
- Someone who is scared
- el muerto se rie del degollado
- When one criticizes another person when he/she has the same defects
- Más aburrido que choque de tortugas
- When something is very boring. More boring than a turtle crash
- más falso que billete de tres pesos
- When someone or something is fake or stupid
- más fuerte que trompada de oso
- Strong . “Stronger than a punch of a bear”
- mas inutil que cenicero de moto
- Doesn’t serve any purpose
- pesado como sopa de chancho
- Someone or something that is overbearing
- mas solo que Indio malo
- To be alone without friends
- peor que casarse y vivir con la suegra
- When something is difficult or complicated
- raro como perro verde
- When something is strange
- raro como politico honesto
- A situation or person that you have little confidence in. Seems too good to be true but you give it a chance.
- mas pesado que collar de sandias
- A thick minded person, over bearing or has no manners
- mas nervioso que pescado en Semana Santa
- When you are very nervous for something.
- fuerte como aliento de perro
- Something strong “Like the breath of a dog”
- menos onda que bandera de chapa
- When someone or something isn’t fun, cool or is boring.
- mas solo que Adan en el dia del amigo
- To be alone without friends
- mas cerca del arpa que de la guitarra
- When you are about to die or in a critical situación
- Menos estado que Palestina
- when someone has is not phisical capable of performing something.
- Hacerse la rata
- skipping school.
- Estoy seco
- I have no money.
- No te hagas el vivo
- don’t be a smart ass
- Seguirla remando
- Keep trying.
- Es un bagayo
- She is really ugly.Ojo!, this is offensive
- Pegar un tubazo
- To make a phone call.
Sometimes you just can’t help clicking, no matter how reasonable of a person you think you are. At least, I can’t. Clickbait is anything that creates the desire to press a button or click the link based upon its outrageous or fantastic claims. The imperative to “get more clicks” is the mantra for many web developers and content providers these days. The misleading and often sensational manner of getting them is not important.
It can be a headline, often with a tagline that includes “Shocking”, “Sexy”, “You won’t believe” or an overabundance of exclamation points. Sometimes it is the siren call of an enticing photo…think wardrobe malfunction or dog driving car. List-baiting is another way they get you to click, because who wouldn’t click on “27 Suspicious Nipples and the Cats Who Love Them“. Sometimes it is asking a simple, ridiculous question, “Did Miley Cyrus use her pet iguana to smuggle missile parts?”
So instead of calling your article “English Language Tips”, how about sexing it up a little with “29 Sexy English Language Tips that will Save You Thousands of Dollars!“
Remarked many have on the ouroborotic properties of Yoda’s language, the way it forces listeners to circle back on his meaning like an R3 droid in reverse. But the Master also favors another rhetorical device: anadiplosis, or the “repetition of the last word or phrase from the previous line, clause, or sentence at the beginning of the next.” For instance, in The Phantom Menace, Yoda cautions Anakin Skywalker:“Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” The device confers emphasis, emphasis in the service of interconnection, interconnection flowing into escalation, escalation intimating endlessness, endlessness begetting—look, once the anadiplosis gets rolling, it’s hard to stop.
The word anadiplosis means, literally, a doubling or folding up. It is one of our most common rhetorical gestures, woven into the Bible (“Then, when lust has conceived, it bringeth forth sin. And sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death”), political discourse (George W. Bush in an address to Congress on Sept. 20, 2001: “Our grief has turned to anger, and anger to resolution”), poetry (“The mountains look on Marathon—And Marathon looks on the sea”), and the classics (From Gladiator: “They call for you: The general who became a slave; the slave who became a gladiator; the gladiator who defied an Emperor.”)
The device must owe some popularity to its satisfying, musical repetitions. We love variation within logical structures; the If You Give a Mouse a Cookie children’s series depends on the delight of consequences unspooling rhythmically from a single action: If this, then that. If that, then THAT. But anadiplosis isn’t all singsong and counting games. Milton used it to announce the presence of a rarefied poetic force ordering words to heightened effect. “Lycidas is dead, dead ere his prime,” he wrote in his most famous elegy, the bell-like toll of dead less description than metaphor, suggestive of the way a grieving mind can worry terrible truths. At the same time, anadiplosis stitches clauses together, melting contiguity into continuity. The pathos of letting it extend the thought “Lycidas is dead,” so otherwise final, could not have escaped Milton.
If registers of speech were dress codes, I’d clothe anadiplosis in “poetic-formal.” Poetic-formal because anadiplosis is stately—stately, in part, because it forces the prose to slow down. Back to the Bible: Peter urged his disciples to “make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love.” The care and time implied in the construction of the sentence echoes the conscientiousness of Peter’s followers as they arrange their virtues into an edifice, an unshakable moral frame. Anadiplosis is about grand conclusions wrung from small beginnings. In so transparently revealing how ideas build on each other, the device offers something rare: the technique—the mechanics—of thought captured in language. It’s at once spontaneous and powerful: an organic crescendo. Intelligence refining itself as it goes.
Anadiplosis also carries a lot of momentum. Consider a DirecTV ad from 2012:
When your cable company keeps you on hold, you get angry. When you get angry, you go blow off steam. When you go blow off steam, accidents happen. When accidents happen, you get an eye patch. When you get an eye patch, people think you’re tough. When people think you’re tough, people want to see how tough. And when people want to see how tough, you wake up in a roadside ditch. Don’t wake up in a roadside ditch: Get rid of cable and upgrade to DIRECTV.
As Ron Burgundy might say, that escalated quickly. In addition to winding (straw) arguments about with incantatory force, anadiplosis is the Kevin Bacon game of rhetorical flourishes. Watch it connect past and future in a poem by Yeats, “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death”:
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.
The supreme and otherworldly suspension of the lone pilot in the clouds finds an analogue in the stanza’s perfect balance. He weighs the years to come: a waste of breath. He weighs the ones that have fled: the same. And between past and future, an anadiplosis, a sense of redundancy and gathering, potential motion. Someone using this device is both stalling and building, careening forward and standing still. That duality of experience—inhabiting a frozen moment while being, tragically, a slave to time—is one subject of Yeats’ poem. Anadiplosis helps it land, even if the airman doesn’t.
Source: Katy Waldman at slate.com
Knowing how to speak two languages is not the same thing as knowing how to translate. Translation is a special skill that professionals work hard to develop. In their book Found in Translation, professional translators Nataly Kelly and Jost Zetzsche give a spirited tour of the world of translation, full of fascinating stories about everything from volunteer text message translators during the Haitian earthquake rescue effort, to the challenges of translation at the Olympics and the World Cup, to the personal friendships celebrities like Yao Ming and Marlee Matlin have with their translators.
The importance of good translation is most obvious when things go wrong. Here are nine examples from the book that show just how high-stakes the job of translation can be.
1. THE SEVENTY-ONE-MILLION-DOLLAR WORD
In 1980, 18-year-old Willie Ramirez was admitted to a Florida hospital in a comatose state. His friends and family tried to describe his condition to the paramedics and doctors who treated him, but they only spoke Spanish. Translation was provided by a bilingual staff member who translated “intoxicado” as “intoxicated.” A professional interpreter would have known that “intoxicado” is closer to “poisoned” and doesn’t carry the same connotations of drug or alcohol use that “intoxicated” does. Ramirez’s family believed he was suffering from food poisoning. He was actually suffering from an intracerebral hemorrhage, but the doctors proceeded as if he were suffering from an intentional drug overdose, which can lead to some of the symptoms he displayed. Because of the delay in treatment, Ramirez was left quadriplegic. He received a malpractice settlement of $71 million.
2. YOUR LUSTS FOR THE FUTURE
When President Carter traveled to Poland in 1977, the State Department hired a Russian interpreter who knew Polish, but was not used to interpreting professionally in that language. Through the interpreter, Carter ended up saying things in Polish like “when I abandoned the United States” (for “when I left the United States”) and “your lusts for the future” (for “your desires for the future”), mistakes that the media in both countries very much enjoyed.
3. WE WILL BURY YOU
At the height of the cold war, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev gave a speech in which he uttered a phrase that interpreted from Russian as “we will bury you.” It was taken as chilling threat to bury the U.S. with a nuclear attack and escalated the tension between the U.S. and Russia. However, the translation was a bit too literal. The sense of the Russian phrase was more that “we will live to see you buried” or “we will outlast you.” Still not exactly friendly, but not quite so threatening.
4. DO NOTHING
In 2009, HSBC bank had to launch a $10 million rebranding campaign to repair the damage done when its catchphrase “Assume Nothing” was mistranslated as “Do Nothing” in various countries.
5. MARKETS TUMBLE
A panic in the world’s foreign exchange market led the U.S. dollar to plunge in value after a poor English translation of an article by Guan Xiangdong of the China News Service zoomed around the Internet. The original article was a casual, speculative overview of some financial reports, but the English translation sounded much more authoritative and concrete.
6. WHAT’S THAT ON MOSES’S HEAD?
St. Jerome, the patron saint of translators, studied Hebrew so he could translate the Old Testament into Latin from the original, instead of from the third century Greek version that everyone else had used. The resulting Latin version, which became the basis for hundreds of subsequent translations, contained a famous mistake. When Moses comes down from Mount Sinai his head has “radiance” or, in Hebrew, “karan.” But Hebrew is written without the vowels, and St. Jerome had read “karan” as “keren,” or “horned.” From this error came centuries of paintings and sculptures of Moses with horns and the odd offensive stereotype of the horned Jew.
7. CHOCOLATES FOR HIM
In the 50s, when chocolate companies began encouraging people to celebrate Valentine’s Day in Japan, a mistranslation from one company gave people the idea that it was customary for women to give chocolate to men on the holiday. And that’s what they do to this day. On February 14, the women of Japan shower their men with chocolate hearts and truffles, and on March 14 the men return the favor. An all around win for the chocolate companies!
8. YOU MUST DEFEAT SHENG LONG
In the Japanese video game Street Fighter II a character says, “if you cannot overcome the Rising Dragon Punch, you cannot win!” When this was translated from Japanese into English, the characters for “rising dragon” were interpreted as “Sheng Long.” The same characters can have different readings in Japanese, and the translator, working on a list of phrases and unaware of the context, thought a new person was being introduced to the game. Gamers went crazy trying to figure out who this Sheng Long was and how they could defeat him. In 1992, as an April Fools Day joke, Electronic Gaming Monthly published elaborate and difficult to execute instructions for how to find Sheng Long. It wasn’t revealed as a hoax until that December, after countless hours had no doubt been wasted.
9. TROUBLE AT WAITANGI
In 1840, the British government made a deal with the Maori chiefs in New Zealand. The Maori wanted protection from marauding convicts, sailors, and traders running roughshod through their villages, and the British wanted to expand their colonial holdings. The Treaty of Waitangi was drawn up and both sides signed it. But they were signing different documents. In the English version, the Maori were to “cede to Her Majesty the Queen of England absolutely and without reservation all the rights and powers of Sovereignty.” In the Maori translation, composed by a British missionary, they were not to give up sovereignty, but governance. They thought they were getting a legal system, but keeping their right to rule themselves. That’s not how it turned out, and generations later the issues around the meaning of this treaty are still being worked out.
Source: Itchy Feet
Excuse Me While I Kiss This Guy
My sister has a rare talent for mishearing lyrics. When we were younger, song meanings would often morph into something quite different from their original intent. In one Wallflowers hit, for instance, she somehow turned “me and Cinderella” into “the incinerator.” My favorite, though, remains that classic of the swing age, “Drunk driving, then you wake up”—a garbling of the Louis Prima hit that saw a brief resurgence in the nineties, “Jump, Jive, an’ Wail.”
My sister’s creation of a night of drunk driving from jumping and jiving is actually a common phenomenon, with the curious name mondegreen. “Mondegreen” means a misheard word or phrase that makes sense in your head, but is, in fact, entirely incorrect. The term mondegreen is itself a mondegreen. In November, 1954, Sylvia Wright, an American writer, published a piece in Harper’s where she admitted to a gross childhood mishearing. When she was young, her mother would read to her from the “Reliques of Ancient English Poetry,” a 1765 book of popular poems and ballads. Her favorite verse began with the lines, “Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands / Oh, where hae ye been? / They hae slain the Earl Amurray, / And Lady Mondegreen.” Except they hadn’t. They left the poor Earl and “laid him on the green.” He was, alas, all by himself.
Hearing is a two-step process. First, there is the auditory perception itself: the physics of sound waves making their way through your ear and into the auditory cortex of your brain. And then there is the meaning-making: the part where your brain takes the noise and imbues it with significance. That was a car alarm. That’s a bird. Mondegreens occur when, somewhere between the sound and the meaning, communication breaks down. You hear the same acoustic information as everyone else, but your brain doesn’t interpret it the same way. What’s less immediately clear is why, precisely, that happens.
The simplest cases occur when we just mishear something: it’s noisy, and we lack the visual cues to help us out (this can happen on the phone, on the radio, across cubicles—basically anytime we can’t see the mouth of the speaker). One of the reasons we often mishear song lyrics is that there’s a lot of noise to get through, and we usually can’t see the musicians’ faces. Other times, the misperceptions come from the nature of the speech itself, for example when someone speaks in an unfamiliar accent or when the usual structure of stresses and inflections changes, as it does in a poem or a song. What should be clear becomes ambiguous, and our brain must do its best to resolve the ambiguity.
Human speech occurs without breaks: when one word ends and another begins, we don’t actually pause to signal the transition. When you listen to a recording of a language that you don’t speak, you hear a continuous stream of sounds that is more a warbling than a string of discernable words. We only learn when one word stops and the next one starts over time, by virtue of certain verbal cues—for instance, different languages have different general principles of inflection (the rise and fall of a voice within a word or a sentence) and syllabification (the stress patterns of syllables)—combined with actual semantic knowledge. Very young children can make mistakes that shed light on how the process actually develops. In “The Language Instinct,” Steven Pinker points out a few near-misses: “I am heyv!” as a response to “Behave!”; “I don’t want to go to your ami” in reply to going to Miami. People immersed in an environment with a new language often initially experience the same thing: a lack of clear ability to tell what words, exactly, should properly emerge from the sounds that are being spoken. Most likely, my sister’s unconventional talent stems partly from the fact that English is not our first language. For us, on a basic level, word processing will always be just a bit different from that of native English speakers.
A common cause of mondegreens, in particular, is the oronym: word strings in which the sounds can be logically divided multiple ways. One version that Pinker describes goes like this: Eugene O’Neill won a Pullet Surprise. The string of phonetic sounds can be plausibly broken up in multiple ways—and if you’re not familiar with the requisite proper noun, you may find yourself making an error. In similar fashion, Bohemian Rhapsody becomes Bohemian Rap City. Children might wonder why Olive, the other reindeer, was so mean to Rudolph. And a foreigner might become confused as to why, in this country, we entrust weather reports to meaty urologists or why so many people are black-toast intolerant. Oronyms result in not so much a mangling as an incorrect parsing of sounds when context or prior knowledge is lacking.
Other times, the culprit is the perception of the sound itself: some letters and letter combinations sound remarkably alike, and we need further cues, whether visual or contextual, to help us out. In their absence, one sound can be mistaken for the other. For instance, in a phenomenon known as the McGurk effect, people can be made to hear one consonant when a similar one is being spoken. “There’s a bathroom on the right” standing in for “there’s a bad moon on the rise” is a succession of such similarities adding up to two equally coherent alternatives. (Peter Kay offers an auditory tour of some other misleading gems.)
What usually prevents us from being tripped up by phonetics is the context and our own knowledge. When we hear a word or phrase, our brain’s first cue is the actual sounds, in the order in which they are produced. According to the cohort model—one of the leading theories of auditory word processing—when we hear sounds, a number of related words are activated all at once in our heads, words that either sound the same or have component parts that are the same. Our brain then chooses the one that makes the most sense. For instance, if I’m talking about the role of the syllable in language comprehension, you’re also, on some level, thinking about a silly-looking ball rolling away. You’re also considering the smaller snippets that form each word’s makeup: roe, along with roll; sill, along with silly and syllable. Only after I say the whole phrase do you understand what I’m saying. Songs and poems, in some sense, lie between conversational speech and a foreign language: we hear the sounds but don’t have the normal contextual cues. It’s not as if we were mid-conversation, where the parameters have already been set.
Along with knowledge, we’re governed by familiarity: we are more likely to select a word or phrase that we’re familiar with, a phenomenon known as Zipf’s law, according to which the actual frequency of a word can affect how seamlessly it’s processed. If you’re a member of the crew team, you’re far more likely to select “row” instead of “roe” from an ambiguous sentence. If you’re a chef, the opposite is likely. One of the reasons that “Excuse me while I kiss this guy” substituted for Jimi Hendrix’s “Excuse me while I kiss the sky” remains one of the most widely reported mondegreens of all time can be explained in part by frequency. It’s much more common to hear of people kissing guys than skies. Expectations, too, play a role. You’re much more likely to mishear “Cry Me a River” as “Crimean River” if you’ve recently been discussing the situation in Ukraine.
Mondegreens are funny, of course, but they also give us insight into the underlying nature of linguistic processing and how our minds make meaning out of sound. In fractions of seconds, we translate a boundless blur of sound into sense. It comes naturally, easily, effortlessly. We sift through sounds, activate and reject countless alternatives, and select one single meaning out of myriad homonyms, near-matches, and possible parsings—even though speakers may have different accents, pronunciations, intonations, or inflections. And, in the overwhelming majority of instances, we get it right. To gain a better appreciation of how complex that constant instantaneous interpretive dance is, consider the problems of speech-recognition software, which, despite recent improvements, still usually generate a mix and muddle of whatever a user was trying to say.
Our brains are exceptional creators of logical meaning—even when it’s not quite the intended one. Some mondegreens are so plausible that they can become the real thing. “Spitting image” was once a mondegreen, a mishearing and improper syllabic split of “spit and image.” (Spit is another term for likeness.) When you eat an orange, you’re actually consuming “a naranj” (from Persian and Sanskrit). Your nickname is, historically speaking “an ekename,” or an additional name. Who knows. Maybe someday, when you do something for all-intensive purposes, no one will blink an eye. And, maybe in the future, some avant-garde poet will finally pen a verse to that most lovely of women, Lady Mondegreen.
Source: The New Yorker