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Message lost in translation


To add fuel to this fire we have people who knowingly and deliberately try to withhold information from others

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Communication is an art; but it’s becoming increasingly apparent to me that ground rules first have to be agreed upon before it can be effectively practised.

Even when two people are “communicating” in the same language, you have to be so careful, because you never know if what you – with your background information in your head – are saying, is being fully understood by the listener who has different background information in his head.

To add fuel to this fire we have people who knowingly and deliberately try to withhold information from others.

Take my parents, for example, bless them for all the good things they have done over the years, but I can never forgive them for the damage done to my neck when I was still but a child. You see, when they needed to speak to each other in “code” they simply switched from the English that I knew to Afrikaans it could just as well have been Russian.

My poor head – that at age four was too big for my body – would whip from one to the other wondering what they were saying and if it involved me. I used to listen for my name, but the cheeky buggers used to refer to me as “een mens”.

I felt that same head-whipping ignorance recently, being in a bit of a rush, I ignored a “till closed” sign. The young lady behind the till was not impressed with me and muttered something to her colleague who replied, and the two of them engaged in what turned out to be a head-whipping conversation for me.

Fortunately or unfortunately, I never once heard “een mens” so I assumed they were not speaking about me.

Things were even complicated at school when the girls would sit in the boys’ company and use the P-language. Apparently, all they did was insert a P into every syllable. And though it sounds as if it should be easy to decode, when spoken by the girls Russian!

They would say: “This boy is working on my nerves”, but it would come out: “ThiPis bPoy iPis worPerKPing oPon mPy nePerves!”

And my poor neck would whip around as I listened out for “ePeen mPens”.

As I said earlier, even English to English can be a challenge.

One day I was excited to learn that there was a new alcohol-free beer on the market, so I stopped at a bottle store to see if any stocks had arrived. I was interested to see if it was truly alcohol-free or just alcohol-reduced.

The gate to the bottle store was closed – probably to prevent theft – but there were two young men at the door eager and willing to help the customers.

“Good morning,” I said. “Do you guys perhaps have any Castle Free?”

The young man on the left looked at me for a while, and in a measured tone – so that I got the message – said: “No sir. We only have the beer that we sell.”

Obviously, he concluded that I could afford to buy beer like everyone else.

For example, with thousands upon thousands of kilometres of copper cables criss-crossing our country, I realise that it is impossible to have the manpower on hand to protect a few hundred metres here and there from being stolen. However, I do have a problem understanding how this problem cannot be solved.

After all, there cannot be thousands upon thousands of scrap metal dealers in a city, and the stolen cable has to be sold somewhere – so someone is actually knowingly and deliberately buying it, fully aware that what he’s buying is crippling the country.

One day someone has to sit down with me, and in a language I can understand, and without Ps in every syllable, explain to me how this ongoing problem is nowhere near being resolved.

Everyone loses if we don’t solve this problem unless, and dare I say it, soPomeoPone iPis bePeniPifiPitiPing froPom iPit.