A. They'll be able to understand you.
B. You'll make some embarrassing mistake.
C. They'll laugh at you/be rude.
I'll tell you from LOTS of experience that you will probably experience all 3 at some point in the process of learning a new language. Hopefully C doesn't happen to you...I think it's really only happened to me once or twice, but you just have to think to yourself... "I'M the one trying to speak your language. If you're so smart, why don't you speak to me in MY language?"
There are people who don't have the patience it takes to make the extra effort to try to understand what it is you, as the foreigner, are trying to say. They also don't have the patience to help you understand what it is they are saying to you in response.
However, there are also MANY people who are very understanding in these situations. From my experiences in Brazil, Spain, Italy, Morocco, Puerto Rico, Portugal, and Paraguay, most people are more than willing to have extra patience with us extrangeiros. Sometimes, they are even curious as to where you're from and how you ended up on their side of the world!
But back to what I originally meant for this post: B. You'll make some embarrassing mistake.
It happens to the best of us. Some of you readers (ahem, Allie and Sarah) may remember a certain time in Spain after a night out at a discoteca that I inadvertently ordered a "shawarma de polla" instead of "shawarma de pollo". For those of you who don't know, a shawarma is a middle eastern pita-style wrap of shaved lamb, chicken, turkey, or beef with various vegetable toppings and sauces.
I was trying to order the chicken shawarma but accidentally ordered a shawarma of male parts. Just like that, changing the "o" on the end of pollo to an "a", and had I ordered the most vulgar shawarma the shawarma guy had ever heard of. After everyone dried their tears of laughter and my face faded back to white from beet red, I got the CHICKEN shawarma I ordered with no harm done. This definitely falls into the B category, wouldn't you say?
Here's another good one... While teaching Spanish to High School kids back in the states, I heard this from a male student:
"Estoy tan embarazado!"
What he was trying to say: I'm so embarrassed!
What he really said: I'm so pregnant!
See how languages are confusing?!
FALSE COGNATES, people.
And now for my inspiration for this post:
Tiago would kill me if he knew I was writing this. We were on the ferry boat headed to Guaratuba the other day (see post here), and it was pretty windy/chilly on the ride over. Tiago turned to me and said in English, "Hot me!"
I died. I knew what he was trying to say. Poor guy. It makes sense, doesn't it?
What did he mean, you ask? "Warm me up!"
This falls into categories B and C. I couldn't help but laugh!
One last foreign language fail:
A loooong time ago, Tiago and I were talking to my mom on Skype. Tiago was trying the best he could to speak some English and he was doing a pretty good job! That is until he said, "I love your son very much."
We laughed as he instantly realized his mistake and she said "That's sweet of you, but he has a girlfriend!"
Do YOU have any embarrassing foreign language fail stories to share?