I don’t always know the word I need to use in my second language. Most of the time, I take the long, roundabout way to describe the one single world I’m looking for and then hope the local will help me out and inform me of the easier way to say it.

I’ll use my husband as an example because a perfect story comes to mind. We were at a Starbucks and he wanted one of those cardboard sleeves for his hot drink. Speaking only in the local language, he ended up asking if they had a “sock” for his hot drink. It was the closest word he could think of and he was pretty certain it wasn’t the correct word, but that’s when we were hoping to add a new word to our vocabulary. The barista then responded, “Oh, a sleef?

Then there are times where I feel pretty confident that I’m saying the word right, even though it’s my first time giving it a try. I have a moment of pride when I think that I’m saying the word correctly because I happen to have all the necessary words to convey what I’m trying to say.

On one particular occasion, we were at a restaurant and I needed a highchair. I was smart enough to know that I couldn’t directly translate the words “high” and “chair” and get the same meaning of the word. So, I combined the words for “baby” and “chair”. I put all my verbs, nouns, and adjectives in the correct order as I made my request. The waiter then looked at me a little bit confused and responded back, “Ohhhh baybee chair” (complete with a rolled ‘r’ at the end).

“Yes. Yes, a baybee chairrrrr,” I responded.

Finally there are times when I don’t even try to come up with the word and I just ask, ready to learn a new word in the language. Like the one time I didn’t want mushrooms in my omelette…

Me: Yes, I want everything except these (pointing to mushrooms). What are these called?
The cook: Oh, mus-rrroom (again…with a rolled ‘r’). 

So now, I make it a pretty common practice of mine to throw a mispronounced English word into the conversation when I’m not quite sure what to say. Amazingly, it works more often than I expect it to. If it doesn’t work, then I know I can return to my roundabout way of figuring it out.

Do any of your second languages have English words mixed in or have a word with a very obvious English influence?

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