15 People Describe Their Worst Language Barrier Stories So You Don't Make The Same Mistakes

List Rules
Vote up the worst stories you don't want to repeat.

Being multilingual is an extremely useful skill. Sometimes it leads to you overhearing something you weren't suppose to. And sometimes things can get lost in translation. These people are sharing their language barrier stories so you can try and avoid any awkward language misunderstandings.


  • 1
    9 VOTES

    John F. Kennedy Thought A Dutch Minister Had A Scandalous Hobby

    From Redditor u/izzels:

    When John F. Kennedy met Joseph Luns, the former Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs, Kennedy asked for his hobbies and he answered: "I fok horses", Kennedy, struck with surprise responded: "Pardon?", Luns replied: "Yes, paarden!". 'Fokken' means 'to breed', and 'horses' means 'paarden' in Dutch.

    9 votes
  • 2
    7 VOTES

    They Thought The Dutch Were Swearing All The Time

    From Redditor u/marybowman:

    When I began working in the office in a Dutch university, I understood no Dutch at all. I kept hearing them say the "F" word all of the time. I kept thinking that was so strange. So, one day one of my colleagues was showing me a program on the computer. She said "This work, "vak", means "course"......she laughed so hard when I told her that, all this time, I thought she was swearing.

    7 votes
  • 3
    7 VOTES

    He Was Insulting His Coworkers Without Knowing It

    From Redditor u/THEY_CALL_ME_FARTER:

    My grandpa used to work construction and gave my uncle a job. Most of the people on my grandpa's crew didn't speak any English and my uncle didn't speak any Spanish. So, my grandpa thought it would be funny to tell my uncle how to say buddy in Spanish. Except it wasn't actually "buddy." Long story short my uncle had been calling all his coworkers "dumb*ss" in spanish and no one said anything to him because he was the boss's son.

    7 votes
  • 4
    6 VOTES

    They Tried To Be Thankful But Ended Up Being A Weirdo

    From Redditor u/Dresner29:

    On a school trip to France, my friend couldn't work out why he was being laughed at when saying thank you to anybody in French.

    He was trying to say "Merci beaucoup", meaning thank you very much. What he was actually saying was "Merci beau cul", which means thank you, nice *ss!

    6 votes
  • 5
    6 VOTES

    They Tried To Say "Years" And Said Something VERY Different Instead

    From Redditor u/jackcarr45:

    When I first started learning Spanish, I traveled to Madrid on a school trip. I was sat in a cafe with a friend when the waiter started speaking to us. He asked for my age, to which I replied "tengo catorce anos". Looks fine to any normal English speaking person, but I forgot about the accent on the 'n'. So, instead of saying "tengo catorce años" (I am 14) I said "tengo catorce anos" (I have 14 anuses). The waiter laughed and walked away. My friend laughed too. I had no idea.

    6 votes
  • 6
    8 VOTES

    A Spanish Phrase Didn't Translate Very Well To English

    From Redditor u/Party_Hardy_:

    I work for a company in Texas, but our corporate office is in Spain. Because of this, many of our employees are Spanish.

    A month ago, my grandmother passed. I was very upset, and found out about it at work. Everyone saw me cry and leave for the day, and for her service, etc.

    My first day back, I jokingly made a comment about how my hair looked great that day. Our Spanish maintenance manager said "well, you have no grandmother". We were in our morning meeting with all of the managers. I couldn't believe he had said that, and I was SO hurt. My eyes welled up, and I could tell he was confused.

    Turns out, it's a phrase that is used in Spain when people are being conceited. As in, you must not have a grandmother to tell you how pretty you are since you have to say it about yourself.

    He was mortified when he realized his mistake.

    8 votes