We know there is a difference between “puppy” and “poppy” and “ship” and “sheep.” As native speakers of English these differences are noticeable but to non-native speakers there is little difference. Well the door swings both ways. While learning a new language, we’d like to think that a mistake here and a mistake there will be okay. Listeners will get the picture, eventually, so we slack on pronouncing things correctly. A few months ago while our team was getting ready to leave Bishkek our teammates were talking with their landlord, telling him that we were all moving to another town. Their landlord looked at them and with great confusion in his voice asked, “Why would you want to move there?” They explained that the plan is to teach English because there is great need there. He responded, “Why can’t you teach here? I know many people who want to learn English. There are many places to work here.” After seeing their commitment to move he added that his family also owns an apartment there and they were finishing some remodeling. He didn’t know details but if the apartment was ready our teammates could possibly move in. Score!
A few weeks later we were in the town trying to line up apartments. Remembering the words of their landlord, we decided to give them a call and see if the apartment was available. I had met their landlady before so I called her. I told her that we were in town and were wondering if the apartment was okay to look at. She said that the keys were in Bishkek but would find out if someone had keys in the town and would call us back soon. We anxiously waited…waited…and waited. Finally, I decided to give her a call.
“Where in town are you?” She asked.
“Stalingradskaya,” I answered.
“Stalingradskaya,” I answered louder. Everyone’s interest was now fully piqued. Would the apartment be ready?
“Where are you? Are, are you in Issik-kyl?” She asked puzzled.
“Yes we are. Why?”
“Oh, the apartment is in KaraKYL, not KaraKOL. Karakyl is in the southern part of the country.” She explained.
“What? In another town?” Our jaws dropped. “Oh no. So sorry for bothering you. I hope you have a great day.” I stammered, hanging up the phone. We quickly grabbed a map and sure enough, there is a town in the south called Karakyl. We laughed hard because sometimes that’s all you can do. After that we all committed to make sure we would pronounce things correctly so that we could avoid another situation like that again.