https://www.duolingo.com/sellers13

What not to say in a foreign language!

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This is just a silly post on just a few of the mistakes I've made so far while studying French and Spanish up to A Level...

From French When someone is going a foreign language exchange with a student in France they are NOT going on 'une opération de change' unfortunately this means currency exchange. I learnt this the hard way!

From Spanish When you say I'm scared you say 'tengo miedo' never 'tengo mierda' like I did when flustered in a speaking exam

Please feel free to add your own examples so we can all feel stupid together (or maybe you're perfect and don't have any... sigh)

March 10, 2019

77 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/skyflakes95
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Not things not to say, but funny language mistakes nonetheless:

In Spanish, "media naranja" is an expression that means "soulmate." Literally it means "half orange," and it can also be translated to "orange sock." So for a time I regularly listened to a song with a line that goes "poder distinguir mi media naranja si ella me encuentra," and I thought this guy was singing about a girl noticing him for his orange sock. I will also never be able to share an orange with anybody ever again without laughing over my stupidity.

My friend's husband is from Venezuela and had never experienced a tornado before. My friend told him that in some places where tornadoes are frequent like the American midwest, some towns have storm sirens. Her husband refused to believe, saying that it was a myth or maybe something that locals told tourists to mess with them. My friend was baffled by what was so unbelievable about a loud alert that warned everybody about a storm. As it turned out, her husband heard the word "siren" and thought she was talking about the Greek mythical creatures. He has not lived this one down.

March 11, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Melyndi
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lol! too funny :3

March 12, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Jaelzion
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There's always the classic Spanish "Estoy embarazada" faux pas, LOL (means pregnant, not embarrased).

March 11, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Chilotin
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It meant embarrassed 100 or 200 years ago :) "Embarazoso" still means "embarrassing". There is another word in Spanish for pregnant, "preñada", but it is considered rude for humans (conversely, "embarazada" for animals is considered pedantic or childish). Most speakers have forgotten the euphemistic nature of "embarazada" (= uncomfortable).

March 11, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Davey944676

Sounds like a potential Frasier-style minefield, though. Sounds like it would probably be safest to always describe oneself or somebody else as "a little bit" embarrassed....:)

March 11, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/angus390025
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euphemisms for human pregnancy are common. In English we often say "expecting" for humans (although never for animals), thus avoiding calling a human pregnant. In French, they often say "enceinte" (surrounded by a belt) for pregnant and "grossesse" (state of bigness) for pregnancy, thus avoiding calling a human pregnant. In German, they say "schwanger" (heavy) for humans and "trächtig" (laden) for animals.

March 12, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/t20f7gYt
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No. "Schwanger" means pregnant. Just that.

(For the past 1200 years or so. According to wiktionary, the orginal germanic word that came from really meant heavy.)

March 12, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/angus390025
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That's rather my point, isn't it?

March 12, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/t20f7gYt
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Not really.

March 12, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/AndresGarner
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Yes, @Jaelzion I have almost said that and thank goodness I remembered what it meant because that would have been really wierd especially since I am a guy.

March 13, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/RedAngel666

Hi Claire,

oh I made a lot of mistakes like that. The most embarrassing was perhaps when I confused actual with current. I just had 1-2 years English at school and that to someone. 'This is the actual newspaper.' For me it was a totally normal sentence because in German current means aktuell. But the face of this poor man was priceless. He was so kind to explain what went wrong and I was just mortified. Good old false friends. :-(

best regards, Angel

March 10, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/dlhgl
Plus
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Another (famous) false friend for Germans is the word 'become' which sounds similar to the word 'bekommen' (to get) in German. It was often fun at school when someone mixed it up. Something like:

  • Student: I became a dog.
  • Teacher : But you don't look like a dog.
  • Student: ??? ................ Oh, I got a dog.
March 11, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/RedAngel666

Oh yes, that's a classic! :-)) It took me a while to 'become' that in my head ^^

March 11, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/t20f7gYt
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A fun example between French and German: Queing for ice-cream on a hot day, my former girl-friend (French-speaking) asked me "Welchen Duft willst du?" (Which smell do you want?)

March 11, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/t20f7gYt
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Another German example: Literally translating "Selbstbewusst" into English, you get "self conscious", while the correct translation would be "self confident".

March 11, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/skyflakes95
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That is a correct usage of "actual," it's just so antiquated that present day English speakers don't use it that way and it could cause confusion.

It's the second definition for actual here: https://www.dictionary.com/browse/actual

March 11, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/futurewitness

Always remember: your bread probably doesn't have a lot of préservatifs.

March 11, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Deact1vated_User

Definitely not. Mine has absolutely none. (>_<)

March 11, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Theron126
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One I've stumbled over a couple times: оккупация does mean "occupation", but it does not mean your профессия. As explained by a typical conversation at a border crossing: "Nationality?" "Russian." "Occupation?" "No, just visiting."

March 11, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/ArpsTnd
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In the Philippines, don't say "salvage" in your Taglish, in Philippine English, it means "mass killings" (if you meant "mass killings", well, go)

Although you're a KPop fan, you should not say "tae" here, it means "poop". Unless in your conversation, the Kpop personality is strongly implied.

Although "bold" means a font written in this way, or brave, don't use it here unless you really want to. In Philippine English, it implies "naked".

Don't refer a female host as a "hostess" in the Philippines. NEVER. EVER. TAPÓS. PERIOD.

Don't be afraid to say "❤❤❤❤" here, it is a tasty food here even though it means something unpleasant in Spanish.

"Seguro" in Spanish means "sure", in Filipino, it's "maybe" (spelt as "siguro"). If you want to say "sure" in Filipino, you say "sigurado".

That's all I can think of now.

March 11, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/ArpsTnd
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Why did the "❤❤❤❤" became hearts?

March 11, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/ArpsTnd
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I give up, this is it.

March 11, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/FrenchByte
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"❤❤❤❤" "❤❤❤❤" "❤❤❤❤"

Huh, I don't know.

March 11, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/KaptianKaos8
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What became hearts? ❤❤❤❤? ❤❤❤❤? Pu7o? Put0?

March 11, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/ArpsTnd
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Another entry for my native language:

Don't say "sml" here, it is very insulting and irritating. It does not mean "so much love" here. Just don't use it if you don't want to insult somebody unintentionally.

March 14, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/E.T.Gregor
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Don't know how often I've said to the bus driver: "Potrebbe fermare alla prossima fermata. Devo salire." The first sentence is okay (Could you stop at the next stop). But "salir" only means "exit" or "leave" in Spanish. In Italian, it means "go up" or "enter". So I'm asking to enter a bus I'm already on... Took me a while to learn that one.

March 11, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/David838524
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I have a really funny example that happened to my friend, who is American with a Venezuelan wife. They were visiting Venezuela and getting ready to go out and he asked her nephew if he could borrow his comb... or thought he did... what he actually said was "Puedo emprestar tu pene" - "can I borrow your penis?" Comb is "peine".

Going the other way, I have a friend who decades ago had recently arrived from El Salvador and told his music teacher he could not play his saxophone because he was constipated and everyone laughed at him. "Constipacion" is how people in El Salvador say they have a head cold...

March 11, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/angus390025
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'tengo mierda'

haha. reminds me of that comedy skit where the guy with a thick arabic accent says "peace on you" and thinks he saying something nice to the English people.

March 11, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Gunnar388832
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March 11, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Hubinou
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I asked my tango teacher at the end of a hard lesson if she was "casada" (married). She gave me a strange look. Oops, I meant "cansada" (tired)

March 11, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Melyndi
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oh my.. I've mixed those ones up too lol

March 12, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/ChevyBarnes05
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I said 'je suis chaud' to my French nanny and she was horrified, then, laughed. I was so embarrassed. She wouldn't tell me why (she spoke French and English). I searched it up, and it was supposed to be 'j'ai chaud' (I have hot) rather than 'je suis chaud' (I am hot). I am hot's literal translation means something I shall not speak further of.

Another one was so embarrassing. Now, before I say more, no one can blame me. I was learning to talk about Food in French at school, so, feeling good, I flicked through a French dictionary looking for ideas. I came across préservatifs, and said to myself: oh! preservatives! - and added it to my list of new vocabulary. Unfortunately, I didn't read the dictionary English translation (what else could préservatifs mean???) and used it when ordering food at my local French restaurant. The lady laughed and replied that the food most certainly did not contain préservatifs. I learned later, a few days after, what préservatifs really translated to.

The last funny thing I ever remember doing, relating to languages, was misunderstand the French meaning of 'ça suce'. Now, what I thought it meant was 'that/it sucks!' as in, 'that's not good' but the French take their grammar rules too seriously (JK, French are awesome) and made this really mean another way to put the French verb 'to suck' in a not so nice meaning.

Thanks for a great post,

LinguaLover05

March 12, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Koezumi
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"Je suis chaud" in slang means that you are ready to do something, for example "T'es chaud pour faire ça ?" and you answer "Ouais, j'suis chaud patate !" is totally correct because in this context it doesn't mean that you're hot. But yep, don't say to a girl that she is chaude if you don't want that she look at you and call the cops haha.

March 13, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Theron126
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I haven't done this one, but in Russian you don't say "I'm hot" for a similar reason )) You say "to me it's hot", "мне жарко".

March 12, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/sea-mist

I was reading somewhere that's the same for German too.

March 14, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/t20f7gYt
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Sort of but less so. If you want to say "I'm hot" you would indeed say "Mir ist heiß". However, you can use "Ich bin heiß auf ..." to say that you're avid to do something, somewhat like in French (see Koezumi's post).

Also "heiß" applied to a person means something like "sexy" or "exciting".
In fact, there's an old pop song about dancing Samba which starts with
"Du bist so heiß wie ein Vulkan".

March 14, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Mark841597
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I remember that I wanted to say 'in the mist' in German and said 'im Mist', which doesn't mean 'in the mist', but 'in the manure'. Never made that mistake again...

(Correct translation is: 'im Nebel')

March 12, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/sea-mist

I joined a German game team and had the word "mist" as part of my nic. I'd been there for several months before one of the Germans very politely told me I should change my name to which I said "why" only then to find that out lol

March 14, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Mark841597
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A friend told me this great story about the Dutch words for male and female cat. A male cat is a 'kater' and a female cat a 'poes'. The story is as follows:

Imagine a business setting in an office of a random multinational company. A team has been assembled and everyone has to introduce him/herself and tell one personal thing. Although the team was international the meeting was held in Dutch.

My (non-Dutch) friend said: "Ik ben ... en ik heb een kater". ("I am ... and i have a tomcat"). Then everyone looked really surprised and asked whether he had gone out the day before or been to a wild party. ("kater" also means "hangover")

After the few good laughs the next person had her turn and she started by saying: "wel... ik heb geen poes". ("well... I don't have a pussycat")

March 11, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/rescuedivemedic

I was working with some french Canadians, and after a hard night of drinking, we all met for breakfast the next morning. One of the lads, Pascal, looked particularly ill. When I asked if he was ok, he couldn't think of a better way to tell me he was hungover than, "Last night, I drink like a pork".

March 13, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Darius568602
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'Ik heb geen poes' Haha! Really! How personal can you get.

March 12, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Myrrael
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XD I can't breathe hahahhah

( Please use 'Ik heb een/ geen kat.', people, much safer! But much less funny... )

March 13, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Polygl-not
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I was taking real-life Spanish lessons at school while doing Duolingo Portuguese, and one day I completely forgot the word espejo (which means mirror). I could only think of the Portuguese word, but I knew they were similar, so I said espelho and hoped my teacher knew what I meant. She did.

Similarly, there was another student in my class who spoke fluent Portuguese and as I got better at Portuguese pronunciation I began to notice how he would accidentally use Portuguese vowel pronunciation on Spanish words like que or si.

March 12, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Moira582602

We learn a language by making mistakes.

I remember many years ago, giving a health talk in a village in Africa, in my terrible French and mixed up the words for hunger and wife. Great hilarity.

I'll always remember it. Years later, one of the ladies I met elsewhere said that she and the others remembered the important teaching point because of the fun they had with my mistake when we all laughed together.

March 13, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/RedAngel666

Great story, but at the end mission completed, right? They still remember you and your lesson. :-)

March 13, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/TMaya31
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I have too many to write down, I am glad I am not alone. I was in school, while doing my a speaking french exam, that my biggest mistake happened. I wanted to say 'I went from my town to the next town over', but ended up say 'I fell from my town to the next town over.' I got a B+ in my speaking french exam. I haven't forgot how hard, my teacher was trying not to laugh. I laugh about it now too.

March 12, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Darius568602
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I just remembered something. Long ago I spent some time in an international boarding school. I went there to learn German. I had studied German in school, but not enough to speak it well. I had just spent a year in France. Whenever I couldn't remember a particular word in German I simply germanised a French word. F.i. Rad fahren became 'bicyclettieren. Worked perfectly.

And if you don't know a word in Dutch you can always refer to it as 'dinges' (Thinggummy, I think is the word in English). I'd heard German speakers use the word Dingsbums. Very useful, I thought. So when I couldn't remember a particular verb I thought, well, why not make a verb out of Dingsbums. Unfortunately 'dingsbumsen' conjures up very different things in native speakers' minds, than I intended.

March 12, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Becky245205
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I think you are referring to 'thingamabob' or 'thingamajigger' in English. Other people may use 'thingummy' but I've never heard of it before :) I've never thought about what people use for this concept in other languages before.

March 13, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Darius568602
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And in American-English: 'whatchamacallit'. I've heard that in sitcoms. I've never heard thingamajigger. I'll add that to my vocabulary.

March 15, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Theron126
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I've heard "thingummy", I think this word takes a lot of forms :-) In Scotland we say "thingy".

March 13, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/t20f7gYt
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Yes, indeed ;). To steer clear of that particular association, you can just use Dings, or Dingens (there are regional variations), and as a verb, "dingsen" is not uncommon.

March 14, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Darius568602
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Ah, Dingsen. Thanks, that's very useful for speakers with a limited vocabulary.

March 15, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/ARCANA-MVSA
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Never, ever, ever give someone einen Gift in German. Give them ein Geschenk instead.

Unless you want to give them poison ... for some strange reason ...

Volgav vitsenanieff nivya kevach varatsach.

March 12, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Lalangue3
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I don't think I have seen this yet so I'll type it, be careful saying you're excited in both French and Spanish. Don't ever say you're excité. I tried searching for the Spanish equivalent but google is very unreliable, but I learned it in Spanish and French class. BECAREFUL! You don't want to say you're horny and sound like an idiot because you actually meant excited.

March 13, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Zig_Zag_Wanderer

And how about how not to pronounce some words? There is a word pronounced rather similarly to 'quand' which should not be used in polite conversation, for example...

March 11, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Jim606185
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Yes, it's also extremely important to pronounce u and ou correctly.

Un bisous dans le cou n'est pas trop pire …..

March 11, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Osunsina

Yoruba is a tonal language, and the wrong tone can change the meaning entirely. I learned "Inu mi dun lati rii," and used it a lot, thinking I was saying "I am happy to meet you." Literally, it is "inu mi (my insides) dun (are sweet) lati (when I) ri i (see you). But if the tone for "dun" is wrong, you are saying "My stomach growls when I see you." People looked at me very uncomfortably!

March 14, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/sea-mist

I cant remember the exact words I used now but one time I was in a German chat group and had been telling them that about my pets and told them I had wallabies. It started to get dark so I tried to tell them I was going to go and feed them... instead I accidently told them that I was going to eat them.

..............

A word of warning... if you are learning German and using songs to get your tongue into the language more. Beware that you know what the song is actually about.

I taught myself a song from youtube and I was going about singing it with no idea what the words meant at all. I was horrified when I found out what I was singing about ..the song was about having sex with animals. I just hope my neighbour does not know German.

When I was telling my German friends about what had happened (they were quite amused by my mistake), I discovered the song I'd been singing is not the only German song on that subject

March 14, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/t20f7gYt
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My guess is that you said something like "Ich werde sie jetzt futtern" instead of "füttern".

March 14, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/David838524
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These are really good ones. This is partly why I don't enjoy German as much as Portuguese, French, Spanish and Hungarian.

March 14, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Elena990243

I use to all ways pick eres when I should pick soy.

March 10, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/PangurBan2019

Once I said `tu quieres agua' to someone, and they gave me the strangest look. Only that afternoon did I realize that I should have used 'usted' as a sign of respect. That was the only time I was ever rude without knowing it.

March 11, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Polygl-not
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I did the same thing when I had my first real-world Spanish encounter, fortunately the lady I was talking to didn't seem phased by my incorrect pronoun usage

March 12, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/WinterSoldier.

"Hola, yo soy el hermano de la novia de Sarah" "Hi, I am Sarahs girfriends brother" nope. Not that again. Yeah...novio.

My brother is super built so when the elderly latino who I was talking to looked over at him he looked totally confused ;)

March 11, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Melyndi
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oh my... lol Yeah I{m always afraid I will make that mistake and misspell miedo jajajaja here{s a few more:

in Spanish cansado and casado are different words as are año and ano and from a mistake I made in class today consejo and conejo and tenga and tanga. It seems that Spanish mixed with my already bad spelling skills leads to a minefield of mistakes lol

March 12, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/David838524
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I thought of another amusing story where a German friend made a very humorous mistake in English, though fairly understandable from his perspective. He kept talking about a restaurant called Pizza Hat and we said we'd never heard of it and he was certain it was an American chain though it was all over Germany as well. We finally realized he was talking about Pizza Hut because "Hut" means "Hat" in German. I'm sorry to say we couldn't stop laughing about this and he got a bit embarrassed but the notion of the entire German-speaking world thinking about hats made out of pizza is one of the most absurd and surreal ideas that has ever invaded my mind. And of course because he was German, I envisioned this as a Tyrolean hat made of pizza complete with an outfit of lederhosen also made of pizza.

March 17, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Theron126
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Pizza Hat is an entirely understandable mistake - haven't you seen their logo?

March 17, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/David838524
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A very fair point, but one I've never considered. The verbal context of "hut" was supplied to me, I saw the logo as the roof (which it does resemble on any freestanding franchise). Your comment actually made me go back and look to see if that had always been their logo, because my story is from 20 years ago (it was a similar logo then).

March 17, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/David838524
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To be fair, I don't think my friend envisioned a hat made out of pizza as we did when he said it.

March 17, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/jonisha.j

These are so helpful!

March 11, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/xMira_
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Don't say "hi" in Korean in French class... facepalm I said "안녕하세요! Comment allez-vous?"

March 12, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/DTb9Qxck

the only person I speak a foreign language is to my self cuz I'm the only one who knows French in my fam.

March 12, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Draco_Galaxy

well when my brother would say" Nani?", as a joke, he would say " Nooni?" Ive since corrected him, as im studying japanese atm, but Wow xD

March 12, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/kamelbenyo

great man i love it

March 19, 2019
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