Mistranslations, Uni

Lessons from Class

I’ve survived my first two weeks of studying electrical engineering in Spanish! I don’t actually know what my lecturers are saying, but the numbers here look the same and do the same things as back home, so I can usually guess what’s happening in class.

During my first two weeks, I’ve learnt some important lessons:

–          The word “prueba” means pop-quiz. That one was a surprise.

–          When all the students scramble for a piece of paper and scribble something down after the teacher just finished saying something, it was probably something important. Like the fact we have a “prueba” next week.

–          The word “tensión” is voltage. It is different to “atención”, which means “watch out”, and the lecturer did not just spend a whole hour warning the class about his equations.

Despite these small hiccups, I thought I was doing alright. That was, until my worst nightmare came true…

I was in class, politely nodding and smiling and not understanding anything. The lecturer was writing equations on the board, then randomly picking students from the audience and asking them for the answer. I knew she would never pick me, as I had told her previously that I don’t actually speak Spanish. She had just finished writing an equation on the blackboard that was so long she physically had to side step a few times to her right to finish it off. I thought, “Glad I won’t have to answer that one!”

All of a sudden I saw her eyes look at me. Time stood still. Surely not! She raised her finger and pointed at me… and then…

“¡Chico en la camisa negra! ¿Que alkdf lkjadsfj  alskdfk lasdfjjlkalsd?”

Which literally translates to,

“Boy in the black shirt! What is the alskdjf aldsfjaksl fjalksf jasdjf?”

I checked the colour of my shirt – yep, black. Dammit. I bought some time by asking, “Yo?” (me?), while my eyes were actually saying to her, “I thought we had a deal!” My eyes jolted all over the board looking for numbers she had previously written.



“2 square root 2? ”




I thought I would have thrown her off by now but she still persisted. Then it occurred to me…  After years of writing ridiculously long engineering equations, I had learnt something that every frustrated engineering student eventually comes to learn: most times, in complicated equations, everything cancels out, and the answer is zero. I gave it a go.


“Sí, perfecto!”

I DID IT! I still don’t understand Spanish, but my class and my lecturer think I solved the problem, and all is well.

Spanish classroom. The scene of my incident.

Spanish classroom. The scene of my incident.


4 thoughts on “Lessons from Class

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