When Rewards and Frustrations Go Hand in Hand

By Gio Lester © 2017

Living in a multilingual community can be rewarding and frustrating all at the same time.

Miami is such a community. I find rewards in being exposed to so many languages and cultures wherever I am. It is frustrating when the population can’t differentiate between the languages they speak.

Some colleagues have mentioned the use of Americanized terminology in court or other encounters by the Spanish speaking individuals they represent. We have had discussions about whether to use the LEP individual’s version of the term or insist on using the correct Spanish terminology. And their examples are usually of Spanish speakers adapting English words in their speech.

Something similar happens to many Brazilians who have lived a long time in South Florida. In everyday situations and in depositions, I have run into individuals who have so mixed their Portuguese with Spanish that they do not even know what they speak anymore. It is not the famous Portuñol. They actually believe they are speaking Portuguese, but use Spanish words whose meaning they believe they understand.

I have had parents who took their children to the oficina do pediatra, and the issue is that oficina in Brazilian Portuguese is body shop in English and office in Spanish. In Brazil, we take our children to the Pediatrician’s consultation office (consultório). Just last week I ended up getting confused during an examination under oath (EUO) when the examinee said he had gotten a map and a direção to the location he was going to. I understood he got directions, but he had actually meant he was given an address, which would have been endereço in Portuguese. The examinee had used the Spanish false cognate and failed to communicate with me.

Photo courtesy of https://streetsmartbrazil.com/

And the number of people aplicando para a universidade – and that is directly from English – is astounding. These are individuals who are seeking to transfer their credits from Brazil to universities here, in pursuit of their graduate degrees. They are educated but their English is only functional, meaning they can make themselves understood with some difficulty; it is not good enough to carry out a more involved conversation. Therefore, false cognates are an easy crutch – but they can render conversations a bit confusing.

Losing one’s linguistic identity can result in miscommunication and misunderstanding. That “direction” bit above took a few extra questions by the examiner to finally make sense to all. Using the right word would have saved us some frustration, time and done wonders for the rapport between the parties.

To all my colleagues, I recommend reading as a great way of keeping up with your language. And also read out loud, listen to your own voice, make a point of listening to broadcasts directly from your country to make sure you are getting the “clean” version of your language, and take courses in your own language. Those techniques have worked for me.


Feature image: Photo by Porapak Apichodilok from Pexels https://www.pexels.com/photo/ball-shaped-blur-close-up-focus-346885/


Brazilian-born Giovanna “Gio” Lester, Co-Chair of NAJIT’s PR Committee, started her career in translation and interpreting in 1980. Gio is very active in her profession and in the associations she is affiliated with. In 2009, she co-founded the Florida ATA Chapter (ATIF), served as its first elected president (2011-2012), and later as president of its interim board. As an international conference interpreter, Gio has been the voice of government heads and officials, scientists, researchers, doctors, hairdressers, teachers, engineers, investors and more. Gio has been a contributor to The NAJIT Observer since its inception in 2011, and its Editor since 2016. In 2017 she was appointed Chair of the Miami Dade College Translation and Interpretation Advisory Committee, which she had been a member of since 2014. You can follow her on Twitter (@cariobana) and she can also be reached at gio@giolester.com.
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2 Comments
  • Jeff Staflund
    Posted at 17:52h, 02 February Reply

    Hi Gio,

    It’s interesting to read about how language interference manifests in your part of the world. I live in New Brunswick, Canada’s only officially bilingual province. (This is an oversimplification, but Canada is officially bilingual only at the national level; most provinces have English as their official language, with the exception of Quebec, where it’s French.) In New Brunswick, Francophones make up a good third of the population, and Anglophones, two thirds. The English and French communities have lived in close proximity for hundreds of years. English is the dominant language in many areas of the province, but French is still very present., and both languages influence each other, to the great chagrin of many language purists.

    When working in court, I try to reflect how the parties are speaking to one other as much as possible, unless there are issues with clarity. I see my role as a facilitator of communication more than as an enforcer of prescriptive language norms, which by the way are often imposed by institutions far removed from how people actually speak.

  • Gio Lester
    Posted at 21:02h, 02 February Reply

    “I see my role as a facilitator of communication more than as an enforcer of prescriptive language norms, which by the way are often imposed by institutions far removed from how people actually speak.” That last bit – “far removed from how people actually speak” is very telling. That was the main issue with the infamous orthographic agreement imposed onto Portuguese speaking countries. But I digress…

    Back to the issue here, awareness of these differentiations is very important so we can properly communicate the intended message. Thanks, Jeff.

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