Language Laughs - Y Magazine
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First Person

Language Laughs

Readers recollect what they lost and found in translation while learning languages at BYU.

Chinese Chuckles

By Michael A. Hoer (BA ’80), Fruit Heights, Utah

As my wife and I prepared to graduate from BYU, we accepted teaching jobs in China. I knew Chinese from my mission, but my wife had no Chinese background. So she took a class at BYU before our departure. I encouraged her to speak the language whenever she met any native Chinese speakers.

On one occasion we met a delightful Chinese family. I explained that my wife was learning Chinese, then suggested that she say something to the family. The entire family stopped and waited for my wife to speak. She turned to the youngest child, a girl about 6 years old, and tried to say, “Ni hen keai” (You are very cute). However, what came out, in perfect Mandarin Chinese, was “Ni hen qiguai” (You are very strange).

Fortunately, we learned that language mistakes are not the sole realm of Americans. A few years later, as we traveled on a train in China, a young man approached us. We could tell immediately that he wanted to practice his English. He walked up with a big smile and asked, “Are you terrorists?” At first we were taken aback, but then we realized he probably meant to say tourists, not terrorists, so we said yes.

“Fantastic!” he beamed. “All terrorists are welcome to China!”

Gringos on Campus

By Linda Grayson Paulsen (’73), Springville, Utah

Before the MTC was created, missionaries called to foreign-language missions were housed and trained on BYU property. In 1970, when I was a sophomore, we frequently saw missionaries on campus.

One quiet afternoon, as I was crossing campus to descend the stairs behind the Joseph Smith Building, I heard someone speaking Spanish behind me. I had studied Spanish since junior high and planned to minor in the language, so I was familiar with it. The speaker had a purely American accent and was not at all fluent. A quick glance behind me revealed a pair of young men in suits with missionary name tags. To my surprise, I soon realized that the subject of the conversation was me! The current consensus was that I was too skinny to be truly attractive. At first I was thoroughly embarrassed. Then I got irritated. I decided that the person to get embarrassed here shouldn’t be me.

As our paths diverged at the bottom of the stairs, I turned to the elders, smiled, and said, “Buena suerte, misioneros” (Good luck, missionaries). The young men stood there stunned. As I walked away, one hollered after me, “¡Uh, gracias!”

Sp06_2615 Giving a Ring

By Ronald P. Duncan (BS ’61), Salt Lake City

Coming to BYU from South Africa in 1957, I decided the best way to learn the native customs was to try out the dating game.

In South Africa when you use the telephone, you never “call” anyone; you “give them a ring.” If the number you dial is “busy,” you refer to the line as being “engaged.”

On a certain weekend I tried to ask out a young lady who lived in my ward. I called her on the telephone several times that Saturday, but the line was always busy and I was never able to reach her.

The next morning I saw her at Sunday School. I went up to her and said, “I gave you a ring yesterday, but you were engaged.”

She gave me the funniest look and said, “What?”

I realized that I must have said something wrong but couldn’t figure out what. Someone took me aside and explained the difference in terminology, and I really felt embarrassed. I did eventually go out with this young lady but only once.

I have since learned to be very careful how I speak and to whom. I now look back at those days and smile, but I still feel a twinge of embarrassment.

A Shocking Greeting

By Jennifer Meikle Beckstead (’02), Maricopa, Ariz.


I enrolled in the intensive Spanish program at BYU and lived in the foreign language housing on campus during the spring term. At the end of the term, everyone in the program ventured off on a 10-day trip to Mexico.

We had been in Mexico for a couple days when some fellow students and I arrived at a host family’s home. After I had been introduced to and greeted by the family (with the traditional greeting of brushing lips on a friend’s cheek), I walked into the family room, where I spied someone whom I hadn’t greeted yet. I amicably hugged and kissed the man, who in return, cocked

his head funny, then came awfully close to my lips instead of my cheek. Taken aback, I nodded and returned to the kitchen, where I found everyone in fits of laughter. I couldn’t understand the father, who was talking through bursts of laughter, but my roommate explained in English that I had just kissed the electrician!

Got Leche?

By Cristie Atherton Gardner (BA ’73), Grafton, Ohio

It was the spring of 1970 and my high school sweetheart, Stan, had just received his mission call to the Mexico Mission. We decided to go to the International Cinema to see a movie in Spanish—after all, Spanish was my minor and he needed the practice.

So with enthusiastic spirits we purchased tickets to see a Cantinflas film. Unbeknownst to us, Cantinflas was famous for his double-talk, full of innuendo and clever puns. He also spoke fast—very fast. To our credit, we sat through the whole movie and watched and listened carefully for something we might recognize.

At one point in the film Cantinflas lifted a glass of milk, took a sip, and said, “Leche.” We simultaneously turned to each other and repeated the word. In a whole movie, we had understood only the word for milk.

Now, more than 35 years later, Stan speaks Spanish much better, and so do I. But we still laugh when we recall our double-talk date with our one-word vocabulary.

Word Play

By Jennifer Stone Rader (BA ’87), Reno, Nev.

I lived in the Russian language house in the 1980s. All language houses had native speakers, generally students themselves, to help us with our accent, vocabulary, and conversation. However, our resident native was our conversation teacher, Victoria Viktorovna, who lived in the house next door to us with her daughter.

Victoria’s mannerisms were typical of Russian women, but we interpreted her demeanor to mean that she was harsh and demanding. Cooking dinner with Victoria every week and eating with her every night were what I feared most about going to live in the Russian house that spring.

To earn credit for living in the Russian house, we had to submit audiocassettes and participate in family home evening every week. Victoria insisted on a formal FHE lesson, but like normal children, we wanted to play. Everyone tried to convince Victoria that games were an important part of FHE, but she would have none of it. We needed to learn to discuss the gospel in Russian.

Victoria and I eventually became friends. As I recorded my audiocassette one week when Victoria was nearby, I spoke about FHE and how playing games brought a family together—“kak nastoyashaya semya” (like a real family). I don’t remember what else I said that day, but Victoria was persuaded. She permitted us to play games all summer—as long as we learned the necessary vocabulary.

But in the fall, it was back to lessons as usual.

A Lesson in Spanglish

By Heather Langlois Lindquist (BA ’01), Boise, Idaho

My roommate Amy and I were anxious to try out our language skills the day we arrived in Spain for our study-abroad adventure. We decided we could handle going to the bank with the limited Spanish we knew.

Amy jumped in line first, ready to prove she had a great command of the language. When she got to the front of the line, the banker started the Spanish interchange by asking where she lived. She rattled off our new address in Spanish and looked back to give me

the thumbs up. The banker then asked which floor she lived on, and Amy was so excited to have understood the question that she blurted out, “Fourrrrrr,” in English but with a gringo accent and a rolled r.

The man looked at her. “¿Cómo?”

Amy repeated, “Fourrrrrr,” and held up four fingers, confused as to why he didn’t understand.

Finally, he asked her, “¿Cuatro?”

I couldn’t contain my laughter as Amy realized what she had said.

She quickly said, “Um, sí,” and left the bank to wait for me outside.

I was next in line. I stepped up to the banker, who didn’t even attempt the question. Instead, he put his hands together and rested his head on them as if to ask, “Where do you sleep?”

I pointed outside.

To this he responded, “¿Con Amy?” (With Amy?)

“Sí,” I said.

I had officially completed my first Spanish conversation using just one word.

French Fried

By Joyce Baggerly (BA ’70), Provo

I have a hard time making the sounds necessary to speak a language other than English. When I transferred to BYU as a junior, I’d already unsuccessfully tried German and Spanish. But my major required a foreign language, so I enrolled in French 101. The graduate student instructor was a native Frenchwoman.

I’m a dedicated learner, so I worked until I could understand what our instructor said and could read and write every exercise perfectly. I just couldn’t get my tongue to work so anyone could figure out what I was trying to say. I was an older student, so I wasn’t embarrassed by the laughter of the instructor and students when I recited.

By the end of the semester, I’d been to the instructor’s office a dozen times, but after our final written and spoken exam, she summoned me again. This time she told me that in all good conscience she couldn’t give me a passing grade and let me go on to 102. She suggested I repeat 101, but with a different instructor.

My answer to her was I hadn’t registered for French 102, but Latin 101. Her relief was obvious as she replied, “Good—no one knows how they said it. You’ll do fine there. And I’ll give you a C if you promise to never take any more French.”

I promised and did fine in Latin.

Practicing a Romance Language

By Melanie Hess Gubler (BA ’95), Lindon, Utah

After a day of sightseeing in Nice, France, and Monaco, I found myself in a separate train car than the other 10 girls in my party. I decided to stay put and study during the long return trip to our home base of Turin, Italy. I had come to Italy in the spring of 1993 with BYU Study Abroad to explore Renaissance humanities. A semester of Italian 101 was prerequisite for the trip. That, supported by three-plus years of Spanish gave me a sound understanding of Italian grammar. But trying to speak a foreign language made me self-conscious. So sitting there surrounded by Italians, I was determined to practice.

Various people came and went, and I tried out some phraseology. In Milan, four or five uniformed and tan young men boarded my car, and one took a seat next to me. This handsome soldier, named Danielle, struck up conversation with me. I learned that he and his associates were headed to Somalia for peacekeeping service. Danielle asked about the CTR ring I wore, and I explained what it stood for. He said he knew Mormons from his Boy Scout days. Danielle even took my address, promising to write from his destination.

By and by we reached Turin, and I exited the train with the soldiers. My study-abroad friends showed up just in time to take our picture and to witness Danielle kiss my cheeks European-style in farewell.

I was in ecstasy! Certainly, my 20-year-old self found it romantic to be kissed by an Italian soldier in a train station, and my vanity enjoyed a lift from the envy and amazement of my fellow travelers. But, on the bus back to our Turin lodgings, I reveled in the thrill of having successfully overcome the language barrier.

Be Careful What You Ask For

By Gina Patch Adolphson (BA ’03), St. Louis, Mo.

I enrolled in Italian 101 my freshman year to fulfill a general-education requirement. Learning how to express myself in a different way was exhilarating. For spring term I joined a travel-study program that would spend some time in Italy. In preparation for using my newfound language, I reviewed verb conjugation, vocabulary, and common phrases I would need.

When we arrived in Monterosso al Mare, a small city on the northwestern coast of Italy, I was anxious to start speaking Italian. Our group seemed to be the only tourists, and I found that most natives didn’t know English. Perfect! I needed a postage stamp for a postcard and realized stamp was not a vocabulary word I knew. I guessed that adding an a to the end of the English word stamp would create the word I needed. With my heart pounding, I entered a store and, in my broken Italian, asked where to buy a stampa. The workers spoke rapidly and directed me to the local tabacchi (tobacco store). They did not understand English, and I couldn’t understand what they were saying. I only knew I had no use for a tobacco store. Annoyed, they walked me outside and pointed the way to the tabacchi.

Completely unnerved, I joined my friends at a nearby restaurant to recuperate while I devised a new plan of action. Our waitress spoke English well, so I asked her how to say postage stamp in Italian. She informed me that it is franco bollo—a phrase I could never could have guessed. I was equally surprised to discover that stampa meant cigarette! Amused, I decided to stick to using only words I knew. Ironically, I found myself in the tabacchi later that day—to purchase my stamps.

BYU Polyglot

By Marcia Naomi Utiyama Green (BA ’06), Ann Arbor, Mich.

As a Brazilian who had lived in Japan and served a Spanish-speaking mission, I loved the many opportunities I had to use my languages at BYU. Taking classes in Japanese, Spanish, Portuguese, and ESL, attending the International Cinema, and living at the Foreign Language Student Residence (FLSR) made foreign languages a very important part of my college life.

Of all the languages I used at BYU, English caused me the most problems. I remember making funny mistakes such as saying, “I need to cut the nails of the fingers of my feet,” and, “That pork chauvinist.” In my mind, these made perfect sense, but they caused many native English speakers to laugh. As the resident native speaker at the FLSR Portuguese house, however, I had my turn laughing at their mistakes in mylanguage.

Foreign languages at BYU even helped me to meet my husband. My Portuguese copy of the Book of Mormon and my Japanese CTR ring were the reason for our first conversation at the bus stop across from the Wilkinson Center, and our first date was to watch a Japanese movie at the International Cinema. Even after we were married, we continued to go on free dates to the International Cinema.

Now that we have graduated and are away from BYU, we miss the old JKHB, with its walls covered with flyers in various languages, from Afrikaans to Tongan. We also miss walking around campus and hearing people speak in foreign languages, especially returned missionaries with accents. Their accents, however, only made their languages sound more beautiful, because the accents showed that they cared enough about another culture to learn its language.

French Lesson

By Marni Bevan Sanft (BA ’94), Provo

Fall semester 1989 I enrolled in German 101 as a freshman. My mother was a native German who had come to the United States in 1966 and married a returned missionary from the West German Mission. I had heard German spoken in my home my whole life, and I was thrilled to finally understand the language my parents spoke when they wanted to keep a secret. Both my parents helped me learn German, and I did very well in the class throughout the semester.

Early one Saturday morning in December, I took the final exam. It was my first final in college. I had heard that final exams would be more difficult than any of the tests I had taken in high school, but I felt prepared. After all, I had an expert study group. But as I sat and read the exam questions, I was overwhelmed! I couldn’t understand anything I was reading. I read and reread every question. German had been one of my easy classes that semester. What would the exams be like in my harder classes? I left that exam knowing I had failed it. Final exams were so much worse than I had expected. I began to wonder if I’d be able to pass any of my classes.

When I received my grades, I had an A in German. I was confused. After all, I knew I had failed that final exam. In January I started German 202. On the first day the instructor announced that the department had made a mistake with the German 101 final the previous semester. All 101 students had been given the 202 final exam. The department realized the mistake when no one passed the exam. I learned an important college survival skill that semester—never take a test too seriously.

Parlez-vous . . . Español?

By Heather Pierpont Lue (BS ’88), Provo

Growing up in Canada, I was required to learn French starting in sixth grade. Even though my family moved to California halfway through my freshman year, I continued to study French during high school.

When I got to BYU and ultimately decided to major in elementary education, I realized that my French would not be very marketable in Southern California. I decided to sign up for Spanish 101 and was excited when I found that the first lesson was easy for me. I was so excited that the next day, when the teacher asked for someone to respond in Spanish, I eagerly raised my hand. My reply flowed smoothly—I had done it! I felt confident, that is, until my professor kindly replied, “That was perfect—now can you say it in Spanish?” It took me a minute to realize that I had replied en français, much to my embarrassment. Thank goodness my conference-translating professor knew multiple languages, including French.

The best thing about having learned Spanish has been the times the Spirit has brought it back to mind when it would allow me reach out to a visitor at church or a new neighbor. Those times are worth any embarrassing beginnings.

What’s Your Sign?

By Talina Christensen McConahay (’98), Salem, Utah

I love meeting people from different backgrounds and faraway places. So I was excited upon arriving at BYU to find that two of my roommates were from Korea. One, Young Jin, had served a mission on Temple Square, so her English was quite good. The other, Jung Hee, was just learning English and was studying at BYU’s English Language Center. Jung Hee and I became fast friends as we struggled to communicate, giggling and trying this way and that way to get our messages across to each other. She asked me about the young man I was dating, my future husband, Russell. Like many from her country, she couldn’t pronounce the r sound. She tried so hard, but no matter how carefully she enunciated his name, it always sounded like “Lussell.” I asked her questions about Korea, its culture and language. We compared Korean and English words and taught each other, always finding something humorous.

We had a lot of laughs, but in one of our most memorable conversations the joke was on me. Russell and I were taking some American Sign Language (ASL) classes, and I was surprised to learn that Jung Hee knew some Korean Sign Language. So she and I started comparing signs for family members, animals, and household items. Then one day I came home from ASL class all excited to tell her the new word I learned—the sign for Korean.

I showed it to her and she laughed. I couldn’t understand why. The sign seemed, to me, to be perfectly natural and descriptive—a pinky finger touched to the corner of the eye to indicate the Asian slanted eye. Then I realized that she doesn’t think of herself as having slanted eyes. From her perspective, she has the normal eyes. I wondered what outstanding physical characteristic an Asian would choose to define an American. Jung Hee showed me. Her Korean sign for American was almost identical to the ASL sign for elephant.

French Connections

By Kathleen Butler Barlow (BA ’93), Milford, N.H.

My love of French began in seventh grade in my very first French class. Six years later, with the prospect of entering BYU, I still loved studying the language, and I decided to declare it as my major. My French classes at the Y were fantastic, and after several years of study, I decided to do a summer internship in Europe. Although my language skills had increased greatly over the previous nine years or so of study, I was still quite timid when it came to speaking the language with natives or other French speakers. I needed the chance to immerse myself in the language and the culture, and working at a gourmet restaurant in Belgium seemed like just the place to do that.

On the flight to Brussels, however, it did not seem like such a good idea anymore. I was full of fear and panic and wondered how I would ever survive the next three months. I distinctly remember a flight attendant who came over to ask me a simple question, which she asked in French. I understood what she had asked, but I shyly answered in English. I was so disappointed in myself, but over the next few months, things changed quickly.

I lived in a tiny town in Belgium, and for a good part of the summer, I was the only American there. My confidence in speaking the language soared that summer, and I was so pleased with what I was able to accomplish. At one point on the plane ride home, once again a flight attendant approached again, this time asking me a question in English. Without even thinking about it, I responded in French. It was not until later that I reflected back to my experience on the flight a few months earlier and realized just how much I had progressed during my internship. Although it had been frightening, I had dared to leave my comfort zone in Provo, and the reward for doing so was invaluable.

Enchanting Spain

By Melanie Cunningham Miner (BA ’00), Saratoga Springs, Utah

I had dreamed of going to Europe for a long time and couldn’t wait to arrive in Madrid, Spain, for my study-abroad experience. My roommate, Nancy, and I had decided to not speak English once we landed in Spain. I didn’t realize I’d have to use every bit of Spanish I knew before I even left the airport. My luggage went home with someone else, and I had to describe my bag and give all kinds of information to an older Spanish gentleman whom I could not understand.

Things got a little easier once we were at our new home for the summer. We had the nicest woman with a great sense of humor for ourmadre. She took us to the store around the corner to get a few essentials soon after we arrived. When I asked her where the shaving cream was, she asked me why I needed it. I told her I needed to shave my pies (feet) when what I really meant to say was piernas (legs). She gave me a funny look and took me to the shaving cream. I didn’t know how silly I sounded until later, when I realized what I’d said.

I had an incredible time exploring Spain’s cathedrals, museums, beaches, and everything in between. I’ll always remember the street in Valencia where I was walking with a friend who taught me how to express how I feel about Spain: Me encanta España (Spain is enchanting).

Meeting a Swiss Miss

By Nicklaus M. Walker (BA ’03), Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany

I was two months removed from my mission to Hamburg, Germany, and 18 credits deep in general studies and German classes during my first semester at BYU. Like many foreign-language students, I was required to complete certain lessons in the language computer labs located throughout the JKHB.

One day, hard at work in the language lab, I saw a beautiful female student sitting at a computer next to mine, completing a German lab lesson. Taking the opportunity to offer my “missionary fluent” abilities and provide service where I thought service was needed, I leaned over and asked her if she needed any help. She looked at me and stated, “Thanks. I’m Swiss. I think I got it.”

Feeling embarrassed and licking my wounds, I returned to my computer to complete my lab as quickly as possible. And wouldn’t you know it, that beautiful student and I were married 18 months later and have enjoyed speaking German in our home for the past five years.

Sleeping Problems

By Shawnie Satterfield Sutorius (BS ’95), North Salt Lake, Utah

It was a brilliant fall afternoon as I headed to campus. The kind of day I still miss—trees aflame with color, colossal mountains towering into the blue sky, and the smell of freshly cut grass in the air. All seemed right with the world. And to top it all off, I was going to my last class of the day: Spanish 201 with Brother Jackson—a kindly white-haired man who reminded me of my grandpa. As much as I liked learning Spanish, I did dread that day’s oral recitation. I remembered the awkwardness that followed my mistakes in previous recitations, and I was determined not to ruin this perfect day by embarrassing myself again.

In class Brother Jackson asked us to tell him how we were feeling and why we felt that way. Around the room he went, until it was my turn. “Keep it quick and basic, and you’ll be out of the spotlight in no time,” I told myself. I then tried to say I felt tired today because my roommates wouldn’t let me sleep: “Estoy cansada porque mis compañeros de cuarto no me dejarían dormir.” But I had forgotten about the feminine and masculine endings that Spanish words have. So I really said that I was tired because my male roommates wouldn’t let me sleep. “Don’t you mean compañeras de cuarto, not compañeros de cuarto?” Bro. Jackson corrected.

Thinking I could save face by making a joke, I all too quickly responded, “See my problem?”

A deafening silence followed as all eyes glanced at me and then at the bewildered face of my dear old professor. What had I said? This was BYU after all. I hoped I hadn’t shocked my professor into having a heart attack. I could see the headlines now—BYU Student Sends Professor to Hospital and Is Expelled for Confessing Honor Code Violations to Spanish Class.

Then the painful silence ended as Brother Jackson dropped his head with a little chuckle, which the class took as an OK to laugh, which everyone did while I turned a deep shade of red. (So much for keeping a low profile.) The perfect day was definitely over, but after that I finally learned to keep those feminine/masculine endings straight.

Missionary Mom

By VeLynn Petersen Tapia (BS ’94), Florence, Ky.

As I considered serving a mission, I worried that I might get called to another country and have to learn a foreign language. As it turned out, Alex, my husband-to-be, proposed on the same day I was to have my interview with my bishop to start filling out my mission papers. The papers would have to wait, but my fate was sealed.

Alex was from Mexico City. My future children would need to be able to talk to their grandparents, and the thought of sitting in a room full of in-laws I couldn’t understand was unbearable. So, in my last year at BYU, I enrolled in Spanish 101. At my job as an early-morning student custodian, I would listen to my Spanish tapes for hours on my Walkman or study stacks of note cards as I vacuumed the halls and offices in the Tanner Building. In that last year at BYU, I crammed in four Spanish classes.

Alex supported my efforts 100 percent and decided he would speak only Spanish with me. He pretended not to understand English and told me to talk in circles, make gestures, do a dance—anything but use English to communicate. I remember walking with Alex across campus one time and wanting to know if he thought it was attractive for women to wear a lot of makeup. What came out instead was “Do you like your women with a lot of butter?” We got a good laugh out of that one.

After we got married we attended a Spanish ward in Provo. As a new Beehive advisor, I studied my lessons two or three times a day to be prepared for Sunday. After more than a month of teaching, one of the Beehives came up after my lesson and congratulated me: “Good job, Sister Tapia. I understood your lesson today.”

Now 12 years later, I’m fluent and our five children are all bilingual. People often ask me, “Where did you serve your mission?” I have to chuckle as I give them the usual reply, “I’m on my mission!”

Growing on a German Farm

By Paula Hansen Bergeson (BM ’90), Orem, Utah

My BYU language experience took place in 1988, when I signed up for a BYU language internship after taking German 102. My German was pathetic. At my application interview, Professor Hans-Wilhelm Kelling (BA ’58) asked me in German, “How are you?” I unwittingly replied, “I’m beautiful.” Despite that, he placed me on a farm in northwest Germany to work for the summer.

It was hard but worthwhile. Although I was a city girl, I drove a tractor, fed cows and pigs, cleaned chickens, and helped castrate piglets. It was isolating to live with the German family, but I learned lots of German, became more familiar with the culture, and gained weight on the kuchen and chocolate. I even did some traveling. At the end of the summer, I was glad for the experience but wondered if I would ever again use the German I learned.

Fast forward to 2005. My husband works for the BYU Physics Department and wanted to do a sabbatical year of research abroad. He received a Humboldt Fellowship, and, with our eight children in tow, we moved to Munich, Germany.

While it has not been without challenges, we have enjoyed our year. The German I thought that I had forgotten has come back to me and been added upon. While I’m still far from fluent, I have been able to communicate with my children’s public school teachers. We have made friends with our neighbors, who are patient with our speaking skills. We’ve done some traveling, including visiting the family I lived with in 1988. Perhaps most important, my German has allowed me to represent the Church of Jesus Christ and share the gospel in small ways that I didn’t think would be possible.

Where Is What?

By Kimberly G. Hargan (BS ’80), Yerevan, Armenia

As an undergraduate in archaeology, I studied some classical Greek, Middle Kingdom Egyptian, and Hebrew at BYU. I started Hebrew the semester after our first son, Glen, was born. My wife, Cristan, and I arranged our schedules so that we could both keep up a full slate of classes. We would hand off Glen between classes. Hebrew, however, was the last class every day, so Cristan began to bring Glen and sit in. Yonatan Shunary, the professor, even put Glen into some reading assignments, with sentences such as “Glen likes his juice” and “Glen has a new tooth.” Even though she was not signed up for it, Cristan soon became the second-best student in the class.

One evening, after Glen was put to bed, we were in the living room doing homework. Cristan was seated on the couch, working on the Hebrew assignment that I had already gone through, while I was reading on the floor. At one point she asked, “What does eyfoh mean?”

Without looking up from my archaeology text, I responded rather absentmindedly, “Where.”

“Here in the Hebrew assignment.”


“What does the word eyfoh mean?”


Pointing, Cristan said, “Right here in this sentence in the Hebrew assignment.”

Suddenly understanding, I replied, “No, no—eyfoh is the Hebrew question word for where.

After a moment’s pause, we both doubled up in laughter, realizing we had just inadvertently done a riff on the old Abbott and Costello “Who’s on First” routine.

What? No Bonbons?

By Berenice Zavala Munyer (BA ’99), Rathdrum, Idaho

I learned about the language internship program while taking German 202. I completed the application and waited anxiously to receive my assignment. I remember an excited Professor Hans Kelling calling me into his office to tell me about a “very special assignment” he had just found for me.

A wealthy but lonely German woman was in search of a “companion.” She wanted somebody who would keep her company while her husband worked long hours. “I’ll do it!” was my enthusiastic reply. I daydreamed about my German summer with Frau Sanchez (her husband is originally from South America), sipping herbal tea while enjoying delectable miniature chocolates and, when we’d had enough chocolates, shopping in fancy boutiques along cobble-stoned streets.

To my surprise and initial dismay, my assignment turned out to be anything but dreamy. I was introduced to Judith, the senior maid, and Susana, her apprentice. I was to be the second apprentice. Judith spoke very little English and Susana spoke none at all. Despite the language barrier, we were expected to complete our daily task list. I spent my summer learning from Judith the correct way to iron a dress shirt, polish fine furniture, bake whole grain bread, make and serve a formal meal, and start and maintain a large garden, among many, many other tasks.

This crash course in German forced me to blunder through mistake after mistake before finally getting to the point where even many of the fun language nuances became natural for me. Although Judith and Susana laughed at me quite often, they were the best German teachers I could have asked for. Upon my return to BYU, I successfully completed German 340, Writing About German Literature—the only non-returned missionary in my section.

A Not-So-Impressive Performance

By Colleen Kirkham Tessen (BA ’83), Syracuse, Utah

While I was enrolled in Hebrew 102, the International Cinema played an Israeli movie. Three of us from the class and a non-Hebrew-speaking friend attended the movie. Even though we were in only our second semester of Hebrew, after the movie ended we decided to practice our Hebrew a little to show off our knowledge of the language to those around us. My non-Hebrew-speaking friend kept turning and smiling at someone who was standing behind us. As we were leaving she said, “Do you know who was listening to your conversation?” I hadn’t bothered to turn around to see whom she kept smiling at. “Hugh Nibley,” she said, “and he was getting quite a kick out of your conversation.” Needless to say, that pretty much stifled any further desire to publicly show off my foreign-language abilities.