Maybe you’re studying a new language and need some relatable content, or maybe you’ve got culture shock stories of your own and you’re curious to hear someone else’s. These are both great reasons to dive into the evocative, poignant stories regularly spotlighted by The Moth, a live storytelling show that hosts events all over the world.
We perused their archives to find the very best stories involving language barriers, culture shock, and the ordeals of language learners. Enjoy!
Lost in Translation: Michael Rips
If you’ve ever lied about how fluent you are in another language, Michael Rips has probably bested you. Not that his entire web of fibs was crafted intentionally. In the process of trying to disprove the Nebraskan stereotype of being “the worst at learning a second language” (but mostly trying to pass high school French so he could leave Nebraska), Rips “rips off” a French writer and gets admitted to a statewide foreign language competition on the merit of his “work.” No pressure or anything.
No Puedo Vivir Sin Ti: Leah Benson
At the start of a relationship, love can blind you. They don’t call them rose-colored glasses for nothing. Love makes you say, do and hear crazy things — like a supposed confession of reciprocal love (in Spanish). Language barriers aside, we’ve all been guilty of hearing what we want to hear when we’re under cupid’s spell, and that definitely doesn’t go away when you’re speaking another language (or when Gloria Gaynor gets involved).
Japanese Mosh Pit: Sam Thurman
Anyone who’s ever had to trash their former notions about other cultures can probably relate to the very apt metaphor set up by Sam Thurman. Well it’s not just a metaphor, but a real thing that happened to Thurman at a Bad Brains show in Japan. He loses his glasses in a mosh pit momentarily, and by the time he finds them again, he has an entirely new perspective on his environment.
English Lessons: Ivan Kuraev
It was young Ivan Kuraev’s first time in America, and he had to navigate a second-grade crush with only his broken English to lean on. Determined, he learned to express himself — both in English and, oddly, through forced tears before a violinist to demonstrate his sensitivity. His ultimate message to Abby may have ended up in the wrong hands, but on the plus side, his English was really good.
Millie Jackson in Nairobi: Muthoni Garland
Sixteen-year-old Muthoni Garland and her friends were obsessed with American icon Millie Jackson, and so she needed a plan. The year was 1977, and Jackson was visiting her home country of Nairobi. Unfortunately, her parents “were not the type to say ‘yes’ to this kind of foreign disruption of our culture.” Find out just how close they came to getting caught for going regardless.
Lucky in Lyon: Kevin McAuliffe
Ever had a language teacher put you on the spot in front of the entire class? Perhaps this is the story for you. Remembering his linguistically challenged days studying abroad in Lyon, Kevin McAuliffe describes mumbling his way through “30 minutes of nothing,” and even throwing in a couple “errhh”s, “because that’s what French people do when they’re thinking about stuff.”