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Lost in (lack of) Translation

The good - at least it ended with the woman getting the answers/information she was seeking.

The bad and the Ugly - The set up: I work in a department that contains several related (but not really related) services. For each of these services there is ONE person who knows what is going on (they run the program, do all the work, everything). We send out memos to each other with general information as an FYI. We all share the same phone line with different extensions. When the office assistant is not at her desk, it rings to us all, and whoever can answers the phone and transfers it to the appropriate person.


I happened to be the one to pick up for a call that began with “Habla español?” Shit. No. Okay, I know like ten words, two of them being “muy poquito”. Because I am fluent in another romance language, I understand simple Spanish fairly well. Suffice to say, I know enough to know I know nothing and to be dangerously bold enough to say, “Fuck, why not give it a shot!”

She explained her question, all of which I completely understood. I KNEW the answer (even though it isn’t my service/project). I could. not. find. the. words. to. answer. UGH. Using a horrid mix of English, Bing translate (SOOOO BAD!), and French and Italian, together we managed to make ourselves understood, and she got the information she needed.

It was so painful. I felt terrible. I CAN do better than that, but I was so flustered. I give her so much credit for calling and advocating for herself and her family knowing she probably wouldn’t be able to find anyone who understood her. That she thanked me profusely made me feel even worse. Six hours later, and I am still sitting here embarrassed and frustrated that I was so disastrously bad. We serve a huge and growing immigrant population, and in our department, we have no one who speaks Spanish. I need someone to pay for me to be dropped in the middle of a Spanish speaking country for six months of full immersion training. Bless all of those people who are trying to navigate the system with little or no support. :(

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