Polyglot: Some things need no translation

I had been sitting alone and bored for hours when a pretty, smiling little Mongolian woman stepped inside my compartment. Unfortunately, it soon turned out that she didn’t speak a word in any other language apart from her mother tongue. My knowledge of Mongolian was restricted to only bayartai (goodbye), which I didn’t consider suitable to start a conversation.

So we looked sadly at each other for a while. Then my companion took out some provisions from her wicker basket and offered me some. The delicious cookies established my good opinion of Mongolian cuisine more eloquently than any speech. She must have surmised as I turned the pastry in my hand—it resembled our cottage-cheese turnover—that I was racking my brains about how to make it. And that was when the pantomime began. Until the train reached  its  destination,  we  exchanged  recipes  for  hours, without exchanging—or being able to exchange—a word. I seem to have correctly “translated” the cooking techniques expressing slicing, breading, thickening, folding, filling, stirring, kneading, cutting, and tenderizing because the meals I learned from this Mongolian woman have since become frequent dishes of my cooking repertoire. And I sometimes imagine with a pleasant feeling that somewhere in Ulanbator a bunch of Mongolian children might be devouring their plates of fried chicken to my health.

—Kató Lomb, Polyglot: How I Learn Languages [Download PDF]

This reminds me of when my great-aunt came to visit. She didn’t understand any English but greatly enjoyed watching Wok with Yan every day. I never did ask if she prepared any Chinese stir-fries after she returned home…


2 comments on “Polyglot: Some things need no translation

  1. Stefanie says:

    food is a great universal, isn't it? What a wonderful story, both from the book and of you great aunt!

  2. Sylvia says:

    It is indeed. The other day I ran across a cooking show in Italian that was dubbed into English (or perhaps it was the other way around). It seemed completely unnecessary since you can see everything perfectly clearly!

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