Who Is Translating For Whom?! In Chiang Mai, Thailand

Bjorn in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Bjorn in Chiang Mai, Thailand

When I lived in Chiang Mai, I went with my friend to the mountains where he was born and raised. The high school in the region was having their graduation the weekend that I was there. I was the only foreigner in the area, and they thought it would be fun to have me say a few encouraging words in English to the graduates.

Preparing For The Graduation Speech

At that time my Thai conversational skills had significantly improved, and I could understand and speak Thai quite well. But they wanted me to speak in English for the students to hear, so my friend became my translator.

Since my friend’s English was not that great, we decided to write the speech down beforehand in English and Thai. I wrote one sentence in the first column, and in the second column my friend wrote it down in Thai. That way, he could still easily follow along using the notes even though he might not understand everything I would say during the speech.

Day Of The High School Graduation

The day of the high school graduation came and after about an hour of announcements and teachers speaking, it was my turn. There were around 150 students in the room with their family members.

Something’s Very Wrong

Half-way through I noticed something was a little “off”. Actually, something completely off about what my friend was translating! As I kept talking, I realized that my friend was “translating” to Thai what I would be saying next! He must have skipped one line ahead of me in the notes!

Who Is Translating For Whom?!

If someone could understand English and Thai, they would be wondering who was translating for whom! Was the foreigner translating from Thai to English for the Thai guy or the Thai guy translating for the foreigner?! I didn’t know what to do and just kept going!

It was hilarious, and whenever I meet my friend now, we always have a good laugh about it.

Not Always According To Plan

From living overseas I’ve learned that things don’t go always according to plan. You can plan and plan and plan, but it just doesn’t always go the way you expected or planned for it to go.

The best advice I can give anyone going overseas is to just go with an open mind. Learn as much as you can from those you meet and have fun. It’s not the end of the world if you make a mistake. In fact, you’ll make tons of mistakes, but if you beat yourself up too much about it, then you’ll will be afraid to try again.

Mistakes just happen now and then, and especially if you are learning a new language. You’ll say the wrong word, or use the wrong tone and it will totally change the meaning of your sentence! Some times it’s funny, other times it can be a little offensive. Then you just apologize and move on.

Know that he most encouraging thing you can do in another country is to be willing to learn their local language. That means more to them than you can possibly imagine.

Leave a Reply