Best Blunders In The Lands Of Other Languages

Friday, February 5, 2010

So we´ve all heard: Learning a second language is hard. It´s also often hilarious to the ears of native speakers. Countless novice Spanish speakers have accidentally been very horny when they meant to say they were hot. During my friend Kayla´s first week studying in Japan, she found herself sitting awkwardly at a table of hushed Japanese businessmen when she accidentally made a toast to “penises.” My first month in Chile, when people asked me why I chose to study there, I told them because I “wanted to learn to suffer,” instead of expressing my desire to learn surfing.

Those who have a better command of the language can also use others’ lack of skill for mucho fun. I once had a friend visit me in Guatemala and told him that “Serote” was how to say “Sir” or “Ma´am” in this country. “Serote” actually translate closer to “Shithead.” It was not easy to hold back my laughter when he went in to a store and the following conversation took place in loud Gringo Spanish:

Friend: Hey shithead, I would like a Coca-cola.

Store owner: (with a murderously amused expression). A Coca-cola?

Friend: Yes, shithead.

(The store owner slowly grabs the soda and my friend pays.)

Friend: Many thanks shithead!

Most travelers have plenty of their own stories of their own mistakes in other languages. So here I encourage you to leave a comment below, sharing other hilarious language blunders you’re encountered.

By Luke Armstrong


About the Author

LukeArmstrongLuke Maguire Armstrong lives in Guatemala directing the humanitarian aid organization, Nuestros Ahijados. His book of poetry, iPoems for the Dolphins to Click Home About (available for sale on is especially enjoyed by people who “don’t read poetry.” (@lukespartacus)

  • LOL! These are amazing. I particularly enjoy the storekeeper's good humour.

  • Caity

    When I was studying in France and out at a party with my host sister I accidentally told the whole group that I was ibred.

    The host of the party asked me why I looked the way I did (they all thought I was Swedish or Norweigan and couldn't believe I was American) I tried to tell them "It's because I have Swedish and Norwegian ancestors in my family" but I actually said "It's because I have Swedish and Norwegian incest in my family." Needless to say, people became very quiet and looked a bit horrified until my host sister explained to them what I meant and cleared up my faux pas.

    The french word for ancestor is ancetre but I said anceStre which sounds like the French word for incest because of the S I put in the word.

    Ah mon dieu…

  • ATP

    I taught English in Korea for a year. I'm trying to impress my nine-year-old students with my counting ability. I count to twenty. I'm thinking I'm saying the word "eighteen" and wondering why the whole class is breaking into peals of raucous laughter…

    …and when I ask the Korean teachers about it, and repeat the word I used, eyes bug out and hands get clasped over mouths. My liaison, Charles, grins a mile wide and says, "That is the f-word you are saying."

    Turns out the Korean word for the number 18 bears a distressingly close resemblance to the Korean f-bomb. It's just a matter of inflection and consonant stress. And I was, literally, effing it up. No wonder my students kept asking me to say it again and again and again and again…

    Took me WEEKS to live that one down.

  • I recall telling many people in Argentina that I worked as an "avocado" — that was until I learned the word I was looking for was "abogado."

  • Tomato Man

    I was in Mexico once, and I meant to ask the cab driver if he had a wife, nstead I asked him if he wanted my wife.

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