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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Say what?

The Malays have a saying, "ayam bercakap dengan itik," which literally translates to "chickens speaking to ducks." This saying roughly refers to a situation whereby two people using different languages try to communicate with each other.

I had an interesting experience pertaining to this matter last night.

I went out to buy some burgers at a burger stall. While waiting for my order to be ready, I chanced upon a conversation between two Arab expatriates and one of the burger sellers. The Arab men were speaking English with a very thick Arabic accent, while the burger seller was trying to speak English as best as he could albeit with a distinct Kelantanese accent.

Sensing the difficulty in communication, I decided to act as translator. I became a sort of mediator between the Arab men and the burger seller. The Arab men would speak in English with a mix of Arabic, and I would translate it to Malay for the burger seller. And the burger seller would answer in Kelantanese Malay dialect, and I would translate it to English for the expatriates.

The whole thing took about 10 minutes as the Arab expatriates had a lot of questions. Nonetheless, I got to experience first hand the act of mediation. And boy, it wasn't easy even with a simple matter like buying burgers.

Coming home last night, I could see the urgency of mastering as many languages as possible. I am fortunate that my Malay and English are decent enough to be understood. And what little I know of Arabic certainly helped last night.

With the way the world is "getting smaller" these days, it's handy to be able to master more than two languages. Otherwise, we would indeed have a situation where chickens try to talk to ducks.

1 comment:

Jie said...

They don't have Ramly Burger in Arab, that's why la so many questions, izzit? :-)

I agree on the language thing. Try to learn other languages, even if it's just a smattering, it will surely help when we travel, or meet other travellers like those Arab expats.