Imagine that you’re monolingual

My dislike of making phone calls collided with the necessity of phoning customer support to reconfigure my modem after our recent bout of liquid sun.

Viewed objectively, I could help myself in two ways:
I could order a new landline instrument so that I do not have to use my cheap cellphone on which I cannot hear very well even though my ears are very clean indeed; or
I could try once again purchase a better cellphone with one of those fancy amplifier controls.

I will not even mention having to close the door of my windowless study so that the background noise of the television in the next room does not interfere even more with my mission.

My back-up broadband signal (which is supposed to be faster, but is actually slower than my ADSL modem) was more faded than my shirt – all day. I put off the phone call until I could stand it no more.

You see, it is bad enough for me having to do all this in English, which is my mother tongue, but I live in Portugal, and need to function in Portuguese as a matter of principle.

You have to listen to all the recorded messages in Portuguese, anyway. Having fairly worn out my keypad entering numerous digits for the options I required, I only had to wait about two minutes before I found myself speaking to a real human.

I have made similar phone calls on many occasions before. So I am prepared. Yay! Because I am extra vigilant, I catch the guy’s first name. I am surprised at my own fluency this evening, until I realise that I have actually been thinking about this phone call throughout the day, and have been translating from Portuguese for half the day.

Within less than five minutes, the ADSL modem is reconfigured. I am charming when I thank the fellow by name, saying how easy these things are with his help. He is equally charming in return.

After the end of the call, I realise that this is the first time I have not had customer support offer to guide me through the steps to Internet connectivity in English.

I burst my own self-congratulatory bubble by thinking that there is a slight possibility that I lapsed into speaking Portuguese with a hint of a German accent. Anyhow, I probably sounded no stranger to him than I did to all those people waiting in the bank who got to listen to the long chat (in Portuguese) I had with a Ukrainian friend I bumped into this morning – or than I did to my nice Brazilian dentist (again) when I spoke with him first thing this morning, with my entire upper lip and lower nostrils completely anaesthetised.

The point about all this minute detail is that it takes place in one language. If you imagine you are monolingual (in a foreign language), then you can be. Eventually. Almost.

This is what Facebook has done: it has imagined it can pass for monolingual. Eventually. Almost.

Imagine that you’re monolingual. People will understand you. Eventually. Almost.

My Facebook language is set to Portuguese – as you can tell by all the yellow highlighted bits in English.

That is all I am complaining about today – apart from the very familiar and/or rude use of the second person singular in the non-highlighted bits, that is.

Now, imagine that you are Portuguese and truly monolingual, and you will begin to understand the problem.

Doesn’t Facebook know that this is precisely why translators exist?


3 thoughts on “Imagine that you’re monolingual

Add yours

  1. I can sympathise and understand, and still found your article very funny. Been there, done that – in Spanish, and in English with someone whose English was about as good (or bad) as my Spanish. Frustrating, annoying, and very funny in retrospect.


  2. I forgot you were offering a complaint, and just lived the vivid experience. Being amound the outraged helped. I’m glad there are people like you. I don’t know were they are around here, but maybe I’ll look them up and tell them.
    There was a vacuum in Austin Texas, were English instructions were translated into insults. I think we finally got lucky. I kept asking for corrections. It has never happened again. Someone cared across the board in this city. I think again, people like you obsessed with doing a great job and allowing it to happen.
    I’m good at seeing the need, and getting the right people to pay attention. But not so good at actually getting great quality done, like you are.
    In a way, you are my hero. One of them.
    And you create captivating stories too. double wonder.


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