Monday, October 20, 2008

Lost in Translation

My husband speaks Swedish with our boys, but when his parents visit, there are actual adult conversations going on. If what’s being said is one sentence like “Let’s change your diaper” or “Let’s build a train set,” I feel pretty good about my Swedish comprehension because I know what’s being said. When the discussion deviates to emotions, verbs, or anything above a two-year-old’s vocabulary, I become a bit lost.

I don’t like to tell people I attended adult ed night classes for five years to learn Swedish. They might expect something from me. Like being able to understand the language.

On a recent visit, my mother-in-law and eldest son Lucas were having a fun time playing hide and seek in our house. The noise of their laughter played in the background while I savored a rare moment of daytime book reading (The Italian Affair if you must know.) When Lucas jumped out and found my mother-in-law, she gasped and exclaimed, “Du hittade mej!” (My translation: “You hit me!”)

She seemed shocked.

I was also shocked, that was not something my son normally did. Now, I hadn’t seen it happen of course, but I heard what my mother-in-law had said. She didn’t seem to be reacting much, so I marched in there and told Lucas in a stern voice that it is not OK to hit Farmor.

Everyone stopped and looked at me as if I’d lost my mind.

It was then that I conveniently remembered that “hittade” means found, not hit. She had been feigning surprise saying, “You found me!”

I apologized to Lucas who looked more confused than anything else. In fact, I think he was amused that Mommy had made a minor fool of herself.

No major harm done, I humbly accepted my lesson: when translating on my own, it’s probably best to fact-check before reprimanding. Actually, that might be a good lesson regardless of the language being spoken.

Now when the kids get older and it come to Swedish curse words, well, I’ll be blissfully clueless.

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