Posted by: sbilingual | October 1, 2012

The Sounds of Confusion

Have you ever stopped to think about what Mill Street has in common with R$ 1,000.00 or what taxi has in common with Imposto de Renda (Tax in Portuguese)?

I was driven to think about these apparently ‘infinitely-unlikely-to-exist’ similitudes recently, when working with interpretation outside of my main stream of work (Academia).

It is the sounds… : The articulation/occlusion patterns of different peoples making one people think that the other people refer to something that they have in mind.

Believe it or not, I repeatedly asked the name of the ‘rua’ (street in Portuguese) a client of mine lived at for thinking that he was ‘obviously’ diverging somehow from the subject as he repeatedly stated ‘Mil’, therefore ‘one thousand’ in Portuguese.

I simply couldn’t believe that my client had understood my question or knew what he was talking about… . A street called Mil in Australia, like 1,000 St or something?

Not uncommon is the situation I faced that day, in which the client knows a bit of English and is actually giving us what we are asking for but we cannot make sense of it because, basically, we are not ‘in their world’ enough.

Mill, very unfortunately for me, is the name of a street in Australia, that is, is not the same as Mil, which is ‘one thousand’ in Portuguese, despite both being pronounced ‘the same way’.

In another ‘interesting’ day, a woman said to me ‘eu gostaria de entregar o meu (‘I would like to hand my’ in English) taxi’.

Well, since ‘taxi’ in Portuguese is ‘taxi’, I then asked her who the owner of the ‘taxi’ was (in Portuguese).

She said that it was her.

I then asked her to whom (‘para quem’ in Portuguese) she would give her ‘taxi’.

That is when she revealed ‘the secret in all’ to me: ‘Para a Taxation Office, e claro!’

‘E claro’, obviously: She wanted to lodge her Tax Return… .

‘Oh, well’, one would say, ‘at least you finally understood…’.

‘Oh, well’, I say, ‘next time I will account for this sort of thing…’.

It is also not that uncommon that people who were born overseas mix their original language with the English language, the little that they know, when speaking… . The lady then said ‘tax’, in Portuguese ‘Carioca (person who was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazilian word)’ English, let’s say, but my ears heard ‘taxi’, the Portuguese language word that means taxi in English.

I think I like it when the words are spelled and said precisely the same way in both languages… . Am I lazy?

Words like influenza, aspartame, and gas, for instance, form my dream of ‘bridge’ between one people and another.

Ah, paradise… : Influenza, says my client; ‘influenza’, I tell the person conversing with them… .

Ah, influenza is influenza… . ‘Why are not all languages the same?’, I ask.

Then you answer quickly: So that you can make of building bridges between them your breadwinner?

Oh, you are right: I have forgotten, for one fraction of a second, that I am an INTERPRETER.

To find out how Bilingual Resources Group can support your interpretation, translation and bilingual staffing needs, please call 504-253-0364 or visit


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