30 May Lost in Translation in Thailand: iTranslate to the Rescue
Anyone who has ever traveled abroad can attest to the difficulties surrounding language barriers. They are an everyday occurrence. Not one to shy away from a challenge or trying to communicate better, I attempted with 6 different taxi drivers the Thai expression my Thai friend had taught me:
“Can you please take me to the zoo?” [In Thai]
An even blanker stare as the driver hit the accelerator and sped off.
This was not my first run in with this. Any traveller who has been around can tell many a yarn of the frustrations trying to communicate with the natives.
Case in point [somewhere in Latin America]:
“Hola senor, yo quiero comprar una manzana” [Spanglish – hello sir, I want to an apple” I say to the nice old man confidently]
The fruit market attendant looks up confused at the strange, pot-bellied gringo speaking to him.
“Es posible yo compro una manzana?” [Spanglish proceeds – Is it possible I buy an apple?]
He looks back and forth to his fruit market compadres for assistance in dealing with this white devil.
Blank stare as the man decides said gringo is in fact unable to speak his dialect and thus unworthy of his attention and fruit.
Then out of the blue. The heroine of the story shows up. (Heroine of the story, not to be confused with our very own language translation problem of heroin showing up).
The local girl gracefully enters the conversation:
“Hola senors. El chico muy guapo aqui quiere comprar una manzana por favor”
The fruit man smiles
“Oh yes. Of course this nice young man can buy an apple. I thought he was asking me for a birthday cake or a wrench” [In Spanish]
Now, after said angel arrives to translate to the good denizens of the fruit market, I am elated to have my fruit. However, I am utterly devastated by the fact that my pronunciation of MANZANA is so bad it must sound like the mating call of humpback whales to my sought after friends.
I am an alien.
However, what I can not wrap my head around, and I am sure many of you have felt the same, is that I said the world MANZANA exactly like this good Samaritan.
Now let’s fast forward back to my new home – Thailand.
Learning Spanish is not quite like learning Thai. There is a profound difference. So I thought I would get smart with it. And so I thought to myself not , ‘What would Jesus do’, but rather, ‘What would Steve do?’
So I turned to my trusted iPhone.
For months now, my iPhone app iTranslate sat unused and lost in the abyss of overambitious app buying that we do when cruising the app store.
“Yes, of course I need an app for a Chinese gourmet recipe book for surely I will be versed in Mandarin and will shortly be able to impress my friends with my Chinese cooking skills”.
However, I decided to give it a shot and I opened my iTranslate. And in that moment, a new world opened. Since moving to Thailand, I had purchased a monthly Internet phone package for a mere $10. So now at my fingertips, lay the solution I had been dreaming of. For now I, Turner, or as my neighborhood knows me, Walks with Elephants, can suddenly converse in deep philosophical discussion with the Thai people.
My 3am slightly inebriated conversations with my taxi driver on my way home became engrossing cultural exchanges:
“Please don’t rob me”
“I drank too much whiskey tonight. I will be hungover and eat pad thai all day. Can you suggest a good ancient Thai remedy for this?”
“No luck in finding love in the bar tonight. The lady boys seem to fancy me though.”
My new taxi driver friends were delighted. We were no longer separated by language and now could connect in a way that only a small electronic device could deliver. iTranlate had become my Messiah.
Feeling even more confidant in my trusted ally iTranslate, I took my new found super power with me to BIG C, Thailand’s Walmart, in order to buy some fancy new digs (see: cheapest shit business attire I could find) for my English Teaching job interview I had the following day.
After perusing BIG C for 20 minutes I had finally found some pants that were suitable (see: only slightly revealing my Buddha belly hanging over), however, the pants were way too long in the length and in need of some tailoring. Then, as if the Universe sensing my hour of need, acted. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted a sewing machine in the mega superstore.
I approached the first employee in the area, a shy and intimidated looking Thai girl of 20ish years of age.
“Don’t worry”, I communicated to her with my body language, “things will be okay, for we can communicate without forcing you to speak in my mother tongue”. I pulled out of my pocket my iPhone in a smooth Steve McQueen confidence, motioning that my magical device sent from Steve that I was brandishing would aid us in our hour of need.
I hit iTranslate and spoke with ease “Excuse me, if I buy these pants, will you cut them for me?” motioning in the direction of the changing room where the sewing machine rested.
Then without much wait, the computerized voice bellowed out in Thai from the magical device:
“Excuse me, if I buy these pants, will you come visit me”.
And just like that, my pants and Thailand dating problems were solved with one push of a button.
Steve works in mysterious way.