We had an evening of board games at our house tonight. Present were three Latvians who speak varying degrees of English, a South African (moi), two Swedish nationals - one with an English accent and one with a South African accent (my son and husband respectively), an Irishman and two English nationals, one of whom has a somewhat Zimbabwean accent. Quite a mixed bag!
We realised early on that we had to avoid some games because they were definitely biased towards the English speaking people present (Scene It, 30 Seconds, etc.). The evening went off very well, but there was a somewhat interesting interlude when one of the Latvians (the one with the strongest English) was playing battleships with the Irishman. She knew the rules. He didn't. So she was trying to explain them to him, but he was struggling with her accent and she was struggling to find the right words... and with his accent. Heck I struggle with his accent, too. It took me three attempts a few weeks ago to figure out what he meant when he told me that Obama had gone out for a 'borrgorr'.
Somehow the game got underway, but there were hiccups.
- When he says A and E, they sound very similar to an unpractised ear
- She calls H 'ush' while he calls it 'haitch' - so she kept thinking he was saying 8
- In Latvian, the letter I is called 'ee' (as it is in several other languages) and she kept mixing the two up
Then, as I drove her home later, she told me how nervous she was about driving in England, because she is used to driving on the left. I pointed out that we do drive on the left in England, but that I had always thought they drove on the right in Latvia. No, she insisted. They drive on the left. It is we who drive on the right. Since we were in the car at the time, quite clearly driving on the left side of the road, I assumed she was confusing the words for left and right. Then it dawned on me. When we talk about the side on which we drive, we refer to the side of the road on which we travel. When she does, she refers to the side of the car on which the driver sits.
As we get to know these ladies better, I foresee many such misunderstandings, and it occurs to me that a simple translation isn't always enough to ensure clarity of understanding. There are frames of reference and paradigms in play.
For those of us who are called upon to develop multilingual resources, this might well be a consideration. It might be worth having a sense check with the translator and looking for a more readily understood transliteration instead.