Monday, May 16, 2011

Translation please!

The Slovak and I have always had a buffer between our families and our other culture, more or less by default, since we live so far away. By this I mean that we introduce certain cultural or language elements to the other side of the family, but always in a controlled and limited way and the families aren't living with The Foreign on a daily basis.

For example, my family is familiar with the Slovak/Hungarian family names we use (Apo, Babka, Dedo) and we've talked about various Foreign customs we keep and cooked Foreign food for them. At the Slovak's parents' house this past Christmas we set out a snack for Santa (and had to save it from Dedo clearing it away after 3 minutes). That kind of thing.

We don't often speak the other language when our parents are around, either, though we do when on our own or even in the next room. Or trying to make my sister uncomfortable. Because we're mature adults, we are.

...but that's all in person. A big part of our communication is obviously online, through Skype and - this is key - Facebook. Skype, of course, is still individual contact, but on Facebook all your friends see what you're saying (unless you take measures so they don't).

This becomes significant for us because both our parents have Facebook accounts and regularly look at our various updates. Obviously. We, in the meantime, have a very international circle of friends, a large number of whom speak both English and Czech or Slovak, so the conversations on our pages tend to be...multilingual.

I do a lot of conversation recording there, for instance, so a lot of my updates are half English, half CZ/SK, or all Czech, or all English except the one key word in Czech... Or else 3/4 of the comments to an English status are in CZ/SK...after all these years in Prague most of my close friends are here or in Slovakia, anyway!

Which brings us to the title of this post: the most frequent recent comment on the Slovak's and my pages is "Translation please!!" from my mother. Especially when she sees that it involves the word "K", of course. She wants to know what's going on in her granddaughter's life, or what funny thing she said today, and she can't understand the language it's in! How frustrating.

I brought it up to laugh at her on Skype the other day after several "Translation!!" comments in a row. "You don't like it when we have something on there that's not in English, do you?" She laughed and said, "It's frustrating!! The Slovak hardly ever has any English on his page any more, I just scroll down once in a while to check..." She understands that we live a multilingual life, but it's one thing to be aware of and another thing to witness.

So I go back and provide a translation when requested, though of course The Funny is sometimes lost when explained, and recently half the "translations" have been "The Slovak is talking about hockey again" (world championships in Slovakia!).

We actually get fairly regular comments from various people, asking for translations or mentioning they don't understand - or pretending they do understand - although I've been concentrating on my mom's reactions in this post because with K's recent Czech explosion this is really the first experience my family has had of what Babka and Dedo have all the time: a grandchild saying funny things (and inspiring Facebook updates) in a language they don't understand. I love that my mother wants to know even the things that are strange to her, though.

So basically, this is another stage of the grandparents learning to live with the reality of a new, Foreign element in the family. I've written about other aspects before, and no doubt will again.

This multilingual family thing, it is a balancing act. And the balancing always fascinates me.


  1. the facebook topic, I can totally relate. The same thing happens with me. I usually write in English, some Spanish and occasional Croatian. But I can't always translate (english to croatian, since I'm still learning the language) and I don't want anybody to feel left out. balancing is very important.

  2. Given my Facebook page runs on 4 languages as standard, that would drive me insane. Would your mother cope with Google Translate, as imperfect as it is?

  3. I've thought about suggesting she use an online translator if I don't explain something she wants to know about, or at least suggesting that I usually charge a fee for these services :-p but actually, she's hardly the only one that asks. A bunch of my friends will comment from time to time to the same effect, in fact.

    It doesn't bother me - I think it's pretty funny really - but it does make me think about what it's like to be on the other side, especially when it involves someone as important as your own children and grandchildren!



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