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.
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.
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.
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?
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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