6 Funny and Embarrassing Language Mistakes

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  1. Language Faux PasMistress or a teacher? Once when I didn’t remember something my husband was telling me we had done years earlier, I joked with him that it must have been with his mistress (yes, we joke like this). The word “maîtresse” in French means both mistress and teacher for younger kids. My daughter Sara, seven, looked at her dad wide-eyed and asked “What? Do you have a maîtresse too, like me?” Annika Bourgogne
  2. I’ll buy the intestines! I wanted to tell someone that I bought “used clothes” (mtumba) at this market here in Kenya, but instead I said I bought “intestines” (matumbo). She could barely stop laughing. Kim Siegal
  3. My grandmother, who was a diplomat’s wife, once said at an official, formal party, “Es ist kein Spass fuer mich, Ihnen Kaffee zu machen.” (It’s no fun making coffee for you) instead of “Es ist kein Problem, fuer Sie Kaffee zu machen.” (It’s no problem making coffee for you). Olga Mecking
  4. Sex or ice? In Welsh, the words for ice (rhew) and sex (rhyw) sound quite similar. When I’m in a bar and ordering a drink in Welsh, I generally take the risk-free option of not saying whether or not I want ice with it unless I’m asked. Jonathan Ervine
  5. I’ll take the animal’s feet. Once while I was living in Spain for my study abroad semester, I was in a little store that had candy. I saw what looked like chocolate covered raisins. The word for raisin in Spanish is “pasa” but when asking if they were chocolate covered raisins I accidentally said “pata” which is the word for an animal’s foot. So I was asking the clerk if they were chocolate covered animals’ feet. Kali Carollo
  6. Pass the co$k: The first time I visited my fiancé’s family in Morocco, I was trying to learn the new words for the food at the table in Arabic. I started to blurt out “Pass the cock” instead of “pass the butter” until my husband stopped me but everyone knew what I was about to say and the table grew quiet and awkward. Stephanie Meade

I would love to here about your language mistakes. Leave them in the comments! 🙂

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Stephanie Meade is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of InCultureParent, an online magazine for parents raising little global citizens. After living in four countries and working in many others as an economist in international development, she can speak four languages, including Spanish, French, Portuguese and English. She is passionate about all things related to language, especially raising bilingual children, as well as bringing up children with a global perspective. She is raising her own Moroccan-American daughters bilingual in Arabic and English at home while recently introducing Spanish. She always assumed she would speak Arabic by the time her oldest child was able to talk (which was four years ago now!) and she is finally making the time and effort to learn this year.


  1. Lottie - October 28, 2013

    This didn’t happen to me personally, but my friend told me about a foreigner riding a crowded train in Japan. He was coming up to his stop and needed to squeeze past a lot of people, but instead of saying ‘Oroshite kudasai’ (‘Please let me off’), he’d said ‘Koroshite kudasai’ (‘Please kill me’).
    Bad day at work?

  2. Emily - October 29, 2013

    I once asked to try a pair of “sandias” in a shoe shop in Ecuador. I meant sandals, but it turns out sandia means watermelon!

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