Take 5 With Kathy – “Lost in Translation…”

Last weekend my husband and I were in Toronto for his cousin’s wedding. We also enjoyed visiting many other relatives and friends,some whom I hadn’t seen for a few years. It was a great time of celebrating together and bringing each other up to date on the happenings of our lives and families. All of these gatherings took place at different restaurants as we savored Chinese dim sum, various other Chinese delicacies, calorie-defying desserts, and tasty weight-conscious salads. It was a delicious mix of chatter, laughter, deep conversation, and a blend of “Chinglish” (Chinese combined with English). Most of his relatives are fluent in English so the dialogue flowed seamlessly from one language to the other allowing me to keep up with the gist of the discussion. Inevitably, however, my husband or a cousin would stop to translate so I would more fully understand. At one coffee shop I chuckled as a Chinese man who had been waiting for our table asked me if I spoke Chinese. I’d had my back turned to him while we were chattering away at our table.

With any exchange of languages, however, some things do get lost in translation. At the traditional Chinese wedding banquet, which included a 10-course meal, we were seated with three of my husband’s cousins. Our table was by far the most lively as we began to enjoy the company of each other. As we scanned the printed menu, one cousin began laughing as she pointed out the name of one course,

Snow Pea Leaves

with King Mushroom

Now, I had just eaten snow pea leaves for the first time the day before, so it took me a minute to catch on to why this was so humorous. If you haven’t gotten it yet, read it with different emphasis. The joke of the evening was that Snow Pea had eloped with King Mushroom! Perhaps it is one of those things where you have to be there to find it as funny as we did, but for us it set the tone for the rest of the banquet.

Rainbow, Chopped in Crystal Fold

With Duck Meat

We anxiously awaited the arrival of this dish to discover it was a lettuce wrap!

Another cousin related she had heard a Chinese restaurant in the city had “Human Beef” on their menu. It should have read “Hunan Beef”. Of course, on-line translators and auto-correct function are probably at fault for most of these slips and I am in no way poking fun at one language or another. I’m sure other language groups would be bent over in hysterics at my attempts to translate their menus!

We’ve seen several more amusing signs and brochure errors in our travels that caused the real meaning to be lost in translation. While some are simply comical, others can be misleading, confusing, or actually dangerous. I remember seeing one by a hotel elevator that said, “Cause the fire, use the lift”. Had there been a real emergency, this could have led to momentary hesitation possibly putting English-speaking patrons at risk.

All joking and concern aside, I began to think of this on a deeper level. To prevent such translation errors from occurring it requires our knowledge of a language to be proficient and current. We must be familiar with idioms and various interpretations of a word or phrase. We must be continually studying and applying the language to convey the truth accurately. Otherwise we can mislead, distort the truth, and cause people to miss the intended meaning.

On a spiritual level, it is vital that I be well-versed in my knowledge and understanding of God’s Word so I accurately communicate its truths to others. Jesus rebuked Jewish leaders for this when He said, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.[i] God warned the Israelites, “Do not add to or subtract from these commands I am giving you…[ii]

Often it is easy for me to misinterpret what God is doing in my life, the lives of those around me, or the happenings around the world. The one thing that never changes, however, is the truth of the Bible. Psalm 12:6 says, “The words of the Lord are flawless, like silver refined in a furnace of clay, purified seven times.” (NIV)

My responsibility is to “be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” (NAS)

May I be faithful to you, Lord, in correctly interpreting your precious words!

Until next Sunday,


[i] Matthew 22:29, NIV

[ii] Deuteronomy 4:2, NLT

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