Wednesday, September 17, 2008

If not A, then B...

Until I moved to Denmark, I had never learned a foreign language. I did take a year of French in high school, but the extent of my current knowledge involving French amounts to the ability to count to 10 and to say I love you, and I can't think of any situation in which those limited abilities would be of any use.

So, I know English, and now I know a bit of Danish. On a daily basis, I deal with customers from all over the world. For the most part, these dealings are all via Email. The customer sends in a mail written in their own language, I throw the text into the wonderful world of google translations, and between my own knowledge of what the customer probably needs, and the translated version of their text, I can figure out what to send as an answer to their inquiry. This works fairly well and has never really been a big issue.

But then, we also offer our customers other means by which to contact us. One of which is via Skype for those outside the US who don't want to pay for a call. Just as my day was ending yesterday, the Skype rang and since I didn't want to be rude and make them call again to get someone else, I went ahead and answered it. The woman was speaking Spanish. I don't know Spanish. I can tell her, in Spanish, that I don't speak Spanish, but that's about it. She didn't speak English and kept trying to speak to me in Spanish. This is when my brain short circuited a bit...

Something up in my head decided that if this woman didn't understand English, then we must switch over to the only other language stored up there. So suddenly I find myself saying to the woman.. "Nej" and "Jeg kan ikke forstå". Hmm... me thinks that perhaps this may have confused her even more.

When I finally got off the call, I just had to laugh at myself, and at the way my brain worked in this situation. I knew somewhere in my head that she didn't know Danish either, but another part was taking over and spouting out little Danish phrases in the hopes that something would stick.

Maybe it's time to start learning language #3. Rumor has it the 3rd one is easier than #2!


  1. ok, are you a glutton for punishment or what??!! LOL... I knew Spanish for many years, but all this Danish is pushing it out of my brain ...there is just not enough room! LOL

  2. ROFL. You are so funny. Do you also notice, these persistent people who just keep on in whatever language also think if they speak very sl-ow-ly you will suddenly understand everything? Lately I've adopted the local 'Hvad siger du?' in day to day conversation without realising but it always backfires when I'm out because then they immediately think my Danish is Peter Hoeg standard. Trouble is, like biting one's nails, I'm finding it very hard to stop doing.

  3. Precisely the reason that I chose to drop the "Taler du engelsk?" from my vocabulary. It leads to confusion. Some think if I can ask that in Danish then I must speak Danish and am apparently wondering if they do or if they prefer to speak English -it's all very confusing to explain!


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