Turkish English Dictionary Berlitz lost in translation
Istanbul, Language, Turkish

Lost in Translation: Learning Turkish

When you’re learning a new language, it’s easy for things to get lost in translation. When we lived in Istanbul we all made an effort at learning Turkish.  Success was mixed.  I enjoyed my Turkish lessons. However, the more I learned the more confused I became. Seemingly, Turkish is grammatically more closely related to Japanese or Korean than to any European languages.

I am Doing

In Turkish class, I was learning how to say “I am doing” various things. I am eating, I am going, I am… you get the picture.

My teacher was holding up flashcards with cartoons on them.

There was a picture of a man in an office busy at his desk. I knew that the word “iş” (pronounced ish) means work or job, and the suffix we were adding each time was –iyorum. So using my powers of deduction I declared: I am working  “Işiyorum.”

But, no. This is one of those false friends. I am working is “Çalışıyorum” (chalishiyorum), I said ışıyorum (ishiyorum) or …”I am peeing”. I can’t be the first student to make this mistake but both my teacher and our helper Omur, who was earwigging in the kitchen as usual just about “Ished” themselves with laughter.

In the meantime, Mr Incredible also had a misunderstanding at work when the subject of Crunchies came up. His ears immediately pricked up at the mention of one of his favourite chocolate bars. He dived right into the conversation asking where in Istanbul he could get hold of a Crunchie, only to be informed by his amused colleagues that a crunchie is slang for a very attractive young woman.

On a subsequent trip back to the UK he bought a large bag a Crunchies for his co-workers as proof of the word’s chocolate incarnation. I’ve tried to find the word crunchie (with various spellings) and yes I did feel silly typing things like “attractive young woman Turkish” into the search engine. The closest word I can find, courtesy of a native Turkish speaking friend is “Çıtır”, pronounced sort of like “chitter”.

What’s your funniest misheard or misspoke moment in a foreign language?

Even when you think the same language, things can get lost in translation. Moving to South Africa we were surprised how different the spoken English can be sometimes as I wrote about in this slightly silly post. And then of course, there are those mortifying times when you say one thing, but it sounds like you are saying something completely different.

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