Getting your ideas across in a new language isn’t easy! Whether it's a false cognate that gets you or you just can’t remember the right word, these language slip-ups can often result in pretty funny miscommunications. And you shouldn’t be embarrassed by silly mistakes! Even the people who work at Duolingo get a little mixed up—we asked a few to share their silliest language moments. Hopefully, these will inspire you to be brave and keep practicing!
“At dinner with my boyfriend's Chinese family, I tried to tell his aunt that the tofu dish she made was very tasty. I didn't know that there is an idiom about tofu that gave my sentence another meaning of something like, "I really enjoy flirting with you." Fortunately everyone knew what I was trying to say and they just found the mistake hilarious.” —Ramsey, Assessment Scientist
“When I was living in Brazil, I once dropped a cake (bolo in Portuguese) in the elevator. It got super sticky and I went to the maintenance staff to tell them, but I told them I dropped a bola (ball) in the elevator instead. We proceeded to spend the next hour looking for my bola in the elevator shaft until I finally was able to pantomime that I dropped a bolo instead. I've never mixed up the two words since then.” —Ryan, QA Specialist
“Once, while teaching middle school, I asked my sixth graders to turn to page 24 in Spanish, but my pronunciation of "page" was very wrong and sounded very inappropriate for school. Nothing is more embarrassing than eleven-year-olds laughing at you!” —Parker, Educational Content Developer
“When I was taking Mandarin classes in Beijing, I had a Chinese friend that asked me what we'd done in class that day. I spoke (in Mandarin) about how we were learning about wild animals—including xiōngmáo. My friend was SO confused. He repeated the word a few times trying to understand. It turns out panda—what I was trying to say—is xióngmāo, with tones reversed from what I'd said. Xiōngmáo, with a flat tone and an up tone, means "chest hair". I said I had been "learning about wild animals… including chest hair." Oops!” —Eva, Program Manager
“When I was an exchange student in Belgium, I was telling a friend about the wide use of preservatives in food manufacturing in the U.S. I used the word préservatif in French to talk about this. Unfortunately, préservatif means "condom" in French! My friend couldn't stop laughing at my mistake! Needless to say, I've never made that error since!” —Lisa, Staff Freelance Operations Manager
“Someone asked me, ''¿Cómo estás?"—a simple "how are you?”— and instead of saying, estoy bien (I am well), I said estoy buena which roughly translates to "I am sexy." I definitely won't make that mistake again!” —Isabel, Software Engineer II
“I was learning Spanish in advance of my wedding in Cartagena, Colombia and getting to meet many of my husband's Colombian family for the first time. When I arrived, my sister-in-law was helping me set up my hair appointment and asked about my style preference. Although she spoke English I decided I would impress her by texting back in Spanish: "Me gustaría un mono clásico." As I neglected to use the tilde over the "n" in mono, I messaged her that I wanted a classic monkey rather than a bun in my hair. Never forget the power of accent marks!” —Kristen, Senior Strategic Engagement Executive, Duolingo English Test
“I was talking to my Lyft driver about egg freezing in Spanish (don't ask) and I used the only word I knew for "egg"—huevo, the thing we eat for breakfast—to refer to female reproductive cells. It turns out that there is a completely different word for that in Spanish, and my driver couldn't help but burst into laughter.” —Meghan, Software Engineer
“I went to a restaurant in Spain, equipped only with some rusty Spanish skills. Helpfully, the waiter spoke some English. As he took my order, he apologized for his poor English. I tried to respond in Spanish and compliment him, but I accidentally switched better (mejor) and worse (peor). I ended up saying the opposite of what I intended: "My Spanish is much better than your English!" I corrected myself quickly after I realized I had issued an insult instead of a compliment. He was gracious, but I was so embarrassed!” —Jill, Strategy and Business Operations
“English is my second language, so I sometimes forget the more peculiar names for things. At a previous job, my new desk was on the top floor. Around noon one day, the sun shined down from directly above my desk through the... the window that was on the ceiling. I pointed upward to show my coworkers the truly incapacitating amount of glare from the sunlight, but I wasn't able to recall the name of the... sunroof? No, that's not it.
"I need something to cover the... the, um..." I fished for words and came up empty. Suddenly, a revelation. I remembered part of the word!
It was not called a skyhole.” —Duo (yes, we have a human named Duo!), Content Program Manager