Literal translation can be a dangerous thing if you're just starting to learn a foreign language. I discovered this for myself in a rather amusing manner.

For those who haven't deduced as much from my recent nodes (eg Wonderland, hogwan, Korean language, Korean pop music), I'm currently teaching ESL in South Korea. At a night club the other night, I met a girl whose name (or the best romanization of her name) is Sun Young. At the moment, I know about 200 words of Korean, which is almost an order of magnitude more than her English. Consequently, we ended up conversing in Korean the whole night (if "This fruit is delicious." "More beer?" "Yes." "Cheers!" can be considered conversation).

Despite the language barrier, we hit it off pretty well, and arranged to meet again. This time, she brought along a couple of her friends, both of whom spoke some English. Fairly early in the night, however, her friends decided that they were tired, and were going to call it a night. In an effort to get them to stay a while longer, I pulled out my trusty English-Korean dictionary and looked up the word "energy," so I could tell them that I still had plenty of it. The word the dictionary gave me was one whose pronunciation is something like "jeong-lyeuk." I told them that I had plenty of it, and they gasped. Afraid that I'd mispronounced, I showed them the entry in the dictionary, which had some alternate words and some explanation.

Laughing a bit, one of Sun Young's friends pointed at one of the alternate words and said, "No, use this one. Other one is... ah... for man."

I had a sinking suspicion that I knew what she meant, but to be sure, I asked the Korean teachers at my school the next day what the word meant, and told them what I'd said. They nearly fell out of their chairs laughing. "You said that?!" Finally, one of them managed to regain her breath and confirm what I'd suspected; I had inadvertently told the Korean girls that I had a great deal of sexual stamina. What I'd said was equivalent to "Don't go home yet, baby, I can screw all night!"

Since that night, I now always reverse translate back to English, using my Korean-English dictionary, before using anything out of my English-Korean one.

I once spent a summer working on an archaeological dig (don't ask). We were a mixed bunch - Israelis, Americans, Canadians, Germans, and a large group of Spanish students, with whom we all hit it off rather well. I was the only non-Spanish person stuck in a ditch with about ten of them, so I quickly learned a basic selection of useful phrases, as well as tuned my ear to eavesdrop to such a degree they were calling me "antenna parabolica" before the month was out.

My confidence, however, occasionally got too much for them. Among the more amusing incidents involves myself, a rather high wall I was standing on, and an innocent young man by the name of Daniel. You see, we were excavating a house, and as we dug deeper the walls became taller, to the point where it was impractical to clamber over them every time you wanted to borrow or return a tool. A quick look through a phrase book informed me of the correct Spanish idiom for "catch!".

So anyway, one fine morning I am standing on the aforementioned rather high and wobbly wall, and I find myself in something of a fix for getting off it. Daniel, who was working with, is standing in the "room" below waiting for me to join him. So I take my courage in both hands and prepare to jump down, not before taking the precaution of turning to him and crying "catch me!" in what I thought was perfectly serviceable Spanish.

All work stopped. People first stared in astonishment and then creased up in superior laughter. Daniel, poor Catholic soul, is redder than red, arms to his sides, looking torn between shock and amusement. You see, I had just yelled for him to "take me!" for the entire site to hear, and he wasn't sure how to politely decline without causing offence...

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