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18 years a Swiss: a bilingual childhood

Hello there. I’m the newest hire for the translations department here at Digitec Galaxus AG. But who am I actually translating for? What experiences, stories and fun memories do we possibly share living in Switzerland? This article is my attempt at answering these questions.

Before I started my job here at Digitec Galaxus AG, I’d never really thought about how other English-speakers spent their day-to-day lives in Switzerland. Of course, as a nerd with a tragic allergy to sunlight, nature and other humans, I didn’t really have enough experience with other native speakers to draw upon.

Recently, however, I’ve been wondering about how others felt. Surrounded by German speakers, do the nuances of what we want to say get lost in translation? Have you ever been misunderstood (and was it funny)? What experiences do we all share? As you might know, us translators write an article solely for you, the readers, every few months. Naturally, I jumped at the chance to learn a bit more about how you have fared among this mountainous country we call home. So, with a lack of better places to start, here’s some of my experiences so far.

Growing up, Switzerland style

So, I’m going to preface this: I’m probably not the best example for the average English-speaking digitec or Galaxus user. I’m an English and German native speaker, but have lived here in Switzerland basically my entire life. I’m also just out of High School. So, judging from the stats we collected from you in a previous article, I’m more the exception than the rule.

From Chile to Zanzibar: this is our English-speaking Community
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From Chile to Zanzibar: this is our English-speaking Community

Growing up, most of my friends and classmates spoke German, so my parents tried hard to preserve my basic English skills. Most of the cartoons and movies I watched were in English, as well as most of my books (Horrible Histories in particular really improved my linguistic understanding). My primary school English teacher was basically useless, so I went to an English school once a week to achieve about the same level of knowledge in both my mother tongues. Needless to say, this all helped me in the long run.

The horror of any adult: teenagers

Gymnasium, the Swiss equivalent to High School, is where it all really kicked off. As with most puberty-laden teenagers, this is where I started developing actual interests, hobbies and dreams. In my case, it was around this time that I discovered the wonderful world of rock music, more specifically lyrical songwriting (I have Queen to thank for that).

Yes, the power of rock was the strongest motivator for me to delve deeper into linguistics, but it wasn’t the only one. Aside from school of course, classic novels, Dungeons and Dragons and YouTube helped me build up my skill in my foreign mother tongue. (If you enjoy gaming, check out «Zero Punctuation» by «Yahtzee» Croshaw, I probably owe something like half of my vocabulary to him.)

This slowly developed into an active interest in languages in general, so by the time I graduated, I more or less knew which path I wanted to take. That is, if I didn’t become a world famous legendary rockstar before my mid-twenties. Speaking of the future: I’m actually still the intern here, due to leave for University in London next September. And I wonder what adventures in the wonderfully wacky world of languages await me there?

Story time

Like many of you, I also know my share of embarrassing or notable linguistic mishaps I encountered while living here. Here are some that I enjoy. Note: as I was a snot-nosed high schooler at the time, most of them are of course some variant of a sexual pun.

  • The time we were flipping coins in math class and my Swiss teacher (who taught in English) logically concluded that he had «got head at least three times».

  • That one time an exchange student from Geneva arrived late for English class and apologised for her tardiness. Naturally, she translated the French «Je suis désolé d’être en retard» into «I’m sorry for being retarded».

  • When I wanted to nail down a teacher for a school project, so my brain logically translated that sentence into German as: «Ich will meine Lehrerin nageln» → I want to nail my teacher.

And those are just the stories I remember off the top of my head. How about you? I’m sure some of you have interesting anecdotes to share. Write them in the comments.

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Patrik Stainbrook, Zurich

  • Intern Translation
Patrik sponges up anything new. No matter how niche, he needs to immediately know everything about it. It’s hardly surprising his hobbies range from board and video games through linguistics all the way to rock and metal. And it doesn’t end there. He plans on living in London, striking a balance between his life as a musician and a linguist.

3 comments

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User andreslizano

Greetings from another geek metalhead (based in GE) and thanks for the article!

A friend in high school who was learning Spanish at the time (my mother tongue), came up to me and a group of friends before lunch time and proudly said: "Let's go for lunch, me gusta la polla!" Now, the phrase itself is grammatically correct, but instead of saying he likes chicken (el pollo), he told us he likes dick (la polla). 15+ years later, this story has never gotten old!

While learning French in high school, I had trouble pronouncing the “u” in French (the Spanish “u” is more like the “ou” in French) and kept mixing them up. So one day, after a rough night, I kept telling people I had “mal au cul” (my ass hurt) instead of “mal au cou” (my neck hurt). Hilarity ensued.

Good luck in London!

Cheers,

Andrés

01.07.2019
User yankeepat

My friends still call me "The Negotiator" using a totally overblown american nasal accent. They thought it was hillarious how I pronounced the name of this 1998 Kevin Spacey classic.

01.07.2019
User Darin

when I miss pronounce figs, to follow, and I keep saying gay when I mean humid, seem to have german sexual connotations LOL and that's just a few of my goofs.

01.07.2019