Coming to a country where both the language and the alphabet are unknown to you is a mission many may find daunting. Regardless, all of us TLG volunteers took the metaphorical plunge, packed our bags and came to Georgia, after explaining to everyone back home that it’s the country, not the state in the USA.
Arriving with basically zero former knowledge of Qartuli and barely a week of basic language lessons, myself and my fellow volunteers were plunged into Georgian society and let loose in our villages and schools.
Knowing so little of the language, having my own “foreign” accent, and having to deal with the use of both Megrelian and Qartuli in my village has made many memorable miscommunications possible. Add to that the different accents in my village, me and the German teacher having a conversation in a jumble of German, Qartuli, and English, and the occasional conversation in the village consisting solely of gestures, and it’s been a linguistic rollercoaster with ups, downs, and full-on chaos that has made me laugh, cry, and hang my head in embarrassment.
Like asking a 12th grader if he wanted a big family, instead of a big room, and accidentally saying a Megrelian swear word, whilst trying to say something in Georgian. I couldn’t figure out why my host mother was laughing so much until she explained what I’d said, barely able to talk. Needless to say, I avoid that word like the plague now, but they still make jokes about it every now and then.
Mishearing words can be just as bad as pronouncing them wrong. I thought my host father said the ghomi (cornmeal for the uninformed) was made of mice, not maize. Imagine my terror, I’ve been in the village two days, still suffering from massive culture shock and I think the people just fed me Jerry from the cartoons. Luckily, they saw I looked confused and looked up the word in the dictionary to show me. The relief I felt at that moment cannot ever be measured.
Language mishaps at school are usually worse, because you can’t explain to a 7 year old pupil that the innocent word “lollipops” he had to write, was accidentally transformed into something highly inappropriate just by substituting a few consonants. Keeping a poker face in these situations is vital. It has never been my strong suit, but oh boy, I have learned extremely quickly. Otherwise, fake a cough or a phone call and go laugh outside. Failure to do this will result in having to explain to your co-teacher why you are laughing and it could get awkward…
Miscommunications can be disastrous, dangerous and hilarious beyond belief. Laugh when it’s funny, apologise profusely if you offend and whatever you do, don’t tell the children.