There are certain moments in every struggling foreigner’s translation experiences that really stand out. Because I think laughing at myself is essential part of any experience (and also lays the requisite groundwork for subsequently laughing at others), here’s today’s tale.

I had lunch with a friend’s cousin today. Mathilde lives in Boulogne, which is a suburb of Paris, and she came to the apartment where I’m staying in the city and picked me up in her car. On the ride back to her place we were talking, all in French, when I remembered my friend having mentioned that Mathilde has a young son. I asked about him, and Mathilde told me his name is Paul. I then asked, How old is Paul, to which she replied, Il a douze ans, which means, He’s twelve years old.

The key word to stay focused on is douze, which, when spoken quickly by a native Parisian in a car with the windows down while traveling at high speeds in a noisy city — and yes, there are additional excuses if these are unconvincing: I’m horribly jet-lagged, I haven’t spoken French with any regularity in over eight years, a firetruck was speeding past, there was an earthquake, a terrible flood, locusts… — anyway, when Mathilde said douze I heard deux, which, in French means two.

So based upon the information I had gathered using my stellar linguistic capabilities I subsequently asked a very reasonable question: Est-ce-qu’il parle encore?, which means, Is your (two year old son Paul) speaking yet?

There was a tremendously long pause. Mathilde cocked her head forward and looked at me sideways. Finally, in a bewildered yet strangely assertive voice, she said, Mais oui! Il a douze ans. Of course he’s talking – he’s twelve years old!

I nodded my head and replied with admiring assent, proud of the young man’s accomplishments. Ah, c’est bon.