In a classroom somewhere in Central America, a young boy is celebrating his birthday at school – a huge chocolate cake, plastic cups of soda, little gift bags for all the students, the works. His teacher asks him, “How old are you today, Diego?”
He smiles brightly and says, “I have six years.”
The teacher returns the smile, trying not to grimace at his error. “I have six years” makes absolutely no sense in English.
“You are six years old, Diego” she says, gently correcting his mistake.
“Yes, Miss. I am six years old,” he replies, then dashes off for another piece of cake.
Diego’s sentence was obviously incorrect, but why exactly? All of the words in “I have six years” are in English. It wasn’t Spanglish, which would be something like “I am seis years old.” So what is that hodgepodge of words he used as an answer, and more importantly, why in the world would he say it like that?
Diego, a native Spanish speaker learning English, responded in what’s called the “third language.” It’s not Spanish, but it’s not exactly English either. The words are in English, but he used the Spanish structure to answer. If he had been asked in Spanish, he would have said (correctly), “Tengo seis años” – which translated literally is “I have six years.” That’s just how it’s said in Spanish, so in his mind, his response made perfect sense.
Have you ever read an instruction manual and the words are in English, but it’s all just a little “off?” It’ll say something like, “Step 4: You are using the screwdriver to adhere the screw in the opening A.” Maybe you can decode it, maybe the credenza you’re putting together collapses completely. That’s the third language you’re battling.
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Mistakes like this can be harmless like Diego’s answer, or they can make a translated project proposal or sales pitch sound odd and off-putting. To make sure your translation project is not in the third language, turn to APlus Translations for high quality translation services.