Ep. 28 | Litsa’s Language Mishap – Bahasa Melayu it’s all Greek to me

When trying to build friendships and sharing the gospel with people from another country one of the biggest hurdles can be language. How do you make yourself understood? Even with hours of practice it can sometimes feel impossible. In this episode we hear from Litsa about an occasion when she unfortunately got her words muddled up when trying to befriend her Malaysian neighbours.

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This transcript has been lightly edited to make it easier to read.

Chris Watts

Hello and welcome to the Serve Asia Podcast where we have conversations about sharing the good news of Jesus with East Asians across the street and across the world. When it comes to telling others about Jesus, it’s a good idea to connect with them in a way they understand. If you’re living and working overseas, this can often involve learning a whole new language and culture. OMF workers often spend a year or more in full time language and culture learning when they head to East Asia to share the gospel with others. In this language mishaps series of the Serve Asia Podcast, we want to tell stories revealing that even with this dedication, missionaries are ordinary people, and at times they make mistakes with often funny or embarrassing consequences. I’m pleased to say that joining me today on the podcast is Litsa McClymont. So Litsa, welcome to the podcast.

 

Litsa McClymont

Thank you.

 

Chris Watts

And thanks for joining us today. By way of introduction, could you tell us a little bit about where you are currently living, and perhaps a little bit about where you grew up? And also what your role in OMF is today?

 

Litsa McClymont

Okay, so my name is Litsa mcclymont. My proper name is Evangelia Georgiadou-McClymont. I come from Greece originally. So I was born and raised in Greece, and I moved to the UK in 95, after I got married to Allen, my husband. I’m currently living in London, I am one of the OMF representatives for London and the southeast. I’m married to Allen, we’ve got three lovely daughters. And before we were doing this role for OMF in London, we were actually based in Malaysia, working with OMF in Malaysia.

 

Chris Watts

That’s a great introduction, gives us a little insight into who you are. And yeah, I just wonder, it’s a story that you have shared with me briefly already that I’d like to share with our listeners today. And it takes place whilst you were serving in Malaysia. So maybe just by way of introduction, a little bit more about sort of where you were living what you were up to in Malaysia, and then feel free to tell us this story of a mix up of words, I believe.

 

Litsa McClymont

Yes, it is. So we were living in Malaysia it was our first year in Malaysia, it was 2003, when we actually started working in Malaysia. And the first thing we had to do as OMF workers was learn the language. So we did this lovely intensive course at one of the universities in Malaysia, and I was so happy because I love communicating with people, I love languages, and I love to know what other people are talking about when I’m when I’m around them. I must say it was a bit hard to practice because most people when they see that you’re European they try to speak to you in English, but the Malay people in particular will learn the Malay language learn Bahasa Malay. And they’re very very excited whenever we try and say something in the language, even if it’s not perfectly correct, or, you know, comprehensible. They’re really excited to, to hear foreigners speak their own language. So it was all exciting. We’d finished with university language studies. We had moved into our second home in Malaysia, and Allen had started working as a lecturer in a theological college. And I had one little girl and we were expecting our second child. So I started getting to know our neighbours. So on one side, there were Malay people and the other side were they were Indian people in this case, and they were very lovely. They’re just such a lovely lot of people. Very polite, very gentle. And one of the funny things in the Malaysian language is they don’t really have negative words. So I mean, they do but they don’t use them. So if something is ugly, they would say it’s less beautiful than that. Or if somebody is not polite, they would say, it’s not educated well enough. So they’re always trying to find something positive to say. So this lady, my next door neighbour, she was lovely. She had two boys. And they were always like peeking over the fence because I had this one little girl and we’re expecting another one. So and it was the you know, this strange european. And I was friends with her mom. But they were very shy. Obviously. They were very shy and their mom was very, very excited to to speak with me every day and practice in Bahasa and I was very happy to have somebody who would. So one day the little boys were there like, clutching on to her dress, and I was talking to her and she was saying “Oh the boys are a bit shy.” So I said to her, I want to practice my language. I said to her, okay, I know what I’m gonna say. I’m gonna say “It’s okay. I know they’re shy it’s because they’re not used to me yet.” But the word I should use was ‘Dia Belum Biasa’. ‘Belum’ means not yet, and ‘Biasa’ means used to or normal. So it Instead of saying, ‘it’s okay Dia Belum Biasa’ I said, ‘it’s okay. Dia Bukan Biasa.’ The problem with ‘Bukan’ means ‘It’s not.’ And the words together make the sentence “He’s okay. He’s shy, he’s not normal.” So instead of saying he’s not used to me, I just told her that that her son is not normal. And that was a little bit funny. She laughed, she was very polite, she didn’t like get offended, she corrected me very politely. And yes, we kind of went on with the rest of our conversation.

 

Chris Watts

Great. What, what did this experience teach you Litsa? Can you kind of reflect on those those moments afterwards, I suppose you’ve just told your neighbour that, that her child isn’t, isn’t normal.

 

Litsa McClymont

I was a little bit embarrassed to have said that, but I never made that mistake again. And the other thing is, I think people really enjoy when we try to speak their language because it speaks to their heart and it builds up trust. That’s what I found that even if you don’t say everything perfectly correctly, even if half your vocabulary is in their language, and the other half is in English, they’re still very excited to hear you speak. And I found that that’s really important if you want to create relationships that are like deeper than, than the everyday “Hello, how are you?” You need to kind of make the effort and they appreciate that they do appreciate that. And it happened not just with my neighbour, but like, you know, out in the market when you started bartering for things and meeting people, they get really excited, you know that you can actually try and do it in their own language. And it works well, I think it’s a very good thing. I think the important thing is not to be shy to make a mistake, because they know you’re a foreigner. And they’ll understand and they’re more gracious than sometimes we would give them credit for particularly the Malay people, they were just really really generous with their understanding of our failings. Yeah, they will not try to embarrass, they will try actually to get you out of embarrassment, which was a really, really nice thing. Yeah.

 

Chris Watts

Well that’s really helpful, it’s good to hear from you Litsa. Great to hear this little insight into what it’s like to live somewhere else to try and learn another language and culture. And great to hear that simply being willing to try can be an opening to deeper friendship, meaningful relationships, hopefully chances to make the good news of Jesus known with those who do not know it. So thanks so much for joining us today. If you happen to find out any similar stories from anybody else, then do let us know and perhaps we’ll get them on the show soon. So thanks so much for today.

 

Litsa McClymont

Thank you, pleasure.

 

Chris Watts

We hope you’ve enjoyed this episode of The Serve Asia Podcast. If you’ve got an amusing story of miscommunication, we’d love to hear it. So why not get in touch? We’re on Instagram @ServeAsiaPodcast, or send us an email to uk.podcast@omfmail.com. Check out the show notes for more details. And we hope you join us for the next episode. Goodbye.

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