I was 9 when we had our first family holiday abroad. We spent two weeks at a beach resort in Mallorca so – naturally – my first foreign language experience was with German!

My brother and I were playing table tennis at the hotel one day when we noticed a boy of our age watching us. We asked him if he wanted to play but he didn’t speak any English. Using hand gestures, we encouraged him to join in.

When we found out that the boy (whose name was Carsten) was from Germany, we asked our dad, who’d learned some German in his time at school, for some help. He taught us some essential German words and expressions, including Guten Morgen! (Good morning!), Danke schön! (Thank you!) and, of course, Tischtennis (table tennis).

Overall, trying to communicate with Carsten was a great experience. However, I learned a very important lesson about the dangers of translation and the importance of context when I asked my dad for the German word for watch, which he told us was Armbanduhr.

I’ll never forget the confused look on Carsten’s face when I asked him “Armbanduhr Tischtennis?” It did not, as we believed, mean the same as “Do you want to watch table tennis?” I later found out that an Armbanduhr is the kind of watch which you wear on your wrist. No wonder Carsten was so confused!

What was your first real life experience with a foreign language? Have you had any funny misunderstandings?


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