Learning How to Cuss in A Foreign Language :: Raising A Traveling Tribe

by Tina on June 22, 2015

in family, Raising a Traveling Tribe


We used to say that if our children learn how to cuss in English we won’t have anyone to blame but ourselves since we are their main source of the English language.  We have discovered, though, that if you want to learn how to cuss in a foreign language, you need not look any further than your own English vocabulary.

While having a casual conversation with my son’s kindergarten teacher last week about his energy and adventurous spirit, she nonchalantly mentioned that our six year old, apparently, told someone at school to “F***” off recently.  Let’s just say that it was a good thing I was sitting down.  While feeling like I was going to die of embarrassment and wishing that the floor would swallow me whole, I looked over at my son who was laughing and playing chase with his friends and had a little internal laugh.

That kid!!  He has been repeating EVERYTHING he hears lately, asking us constantly what things mean that a kid said at school, and speaking in Danish even when he gets home.  While I realize that my language may at times need a little cleaning up, I am certain that we do not tell people to “F***” off at home, so then the natural next place to look is the playground.

Kids (and adults) tend to use foreign cuss words in an infinitely more innocent way.  Most often when movies are subtitled, the cuss words are usually left in and translated with a less offensive native alternative, which oftentimes leaves non-natives clueless about the intensity of their own words.  We had gotten a little taste of this when we lived in Morocco, one of the most religiously conservative places a person can live, where people could be found walking around with cuss words written on their shirts and saying words in English that if said in their own language would require a lot of fasting/praying afterwards!

Our first glimpse of it here in Denmark was when we attended our middle child, Parker’s, first school party.  A kid tripped and yelled out “Sh*t!” and the parents all around laughed out loud.  (Meanwhile, my husband and I looked at each other like, “What on earth?!”)

We hear kids using English cuss words constantly and these are not naughty, wayward children, but ones we know are super studious and sweet.  They just don’t know that what they are saying, to English speakers, is/can be super offensive.

So, what do you do if you are raising your children in a foreign country where it’s going to be pretty hard to bleep out every other word coming out of a kid’s mouth on the playground?  We have had lengthy discussions with our kids, the littlest most especially after last week, about how the other kids will likely continue to use those words, but they are not… Because if they said those words next time with their grandparents or Auntie around, they might just get their mouths washed out with soap!


Have any of you had any experience with cussing in foreign countries or foreign languages?

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Papou June 22, 2015 at 3:20 pm

I had a very hearty laugh at this post. I also thought of that scene in the movie A Christmas Story when Ralphie uses the F+++ word and imagines he was blinded by the soap punishment. (“I told you not to use the Lifebuoy!”)

Unfortunately, children these days are nearly immune to curse words being naughty. They can be found everywhere. Too bad, when I heard my father use that word for the first time, I was 25 and completely stunned; I actually believed he’d never heard that word before, to which he told me, “You know, I was in the Army!”


Tina June 23, 2015 at 12:48 pm

Yes, I don’t remember him ever swearing. Such a gentleman!


JODI June 23, 2015 at 1:28 am

Love that boy!!! 🙂 You all are great parents, and it is SO hard, when the kids around you say it because they don’t think of it has a bad word. We had a great laugh!!! Hugs


Tina June 23, 2015 at 12:46 pm

Yeah, it’s hard not to laugh a little at his innocence. When we told him he shouldn’t use the “F” word he had no idea what we were talking about!


Jessica Patton June 23, 2015 at 2:10 am

HahHahahah oh goodness! I had it explained to me that it really isn’t cussing if it’s not in your native language… So saying sh*# in English is the equivalent of saying “shoot” in your native language – much less offensive! Good luck discussing this with your children though!

Also – I thoroughly enjoy your blog and have been reading for awhile but never gotten around to commenting. Thanks for all of your beautiful, entertaining and thought-provoking content!


Tina June 23, 2015 at 12:45 pm

Thanks so much for the note and for following along! And yes, it’s not the same if it’s not your own language… but I’m glad my six year old hasn’t figured out that argument yet! LOL!!


Rose June 26, 2015 at 12:02 pm

I still can’t get used to the Swiss kids saying “sh*t”, it sounds so wrong! I think my kids say some bad words in German (although I don’t know the language well enough to be sure), maybe swear words in English are stronger than in other languages!


Tina June 26, 2015 at 12:27 pm

I was just talking about this with my daughter. Are there words in the local language that AREN’T acceptable when using their English counterparts is? Hailey said that one of the kids called her a nasty word in Danish and while she just shrugged, the other kids in the class audibly gasped and the kid was sent to the principle’s office. She still can’t remember what he said, but even now she kind of laughed because the word was just sounds to her and she didn’t care. (though at the time she was a little hurt to be the target of someone’s meanness, but encouraged that her class rallied around her and her teacher took it seriously.)


Rochelle July 8, 2015 at 10:49 am

Tina, this made me giggle. Even though it is not funny I can just see the scene, and yes he had NO idea what he was saying. When we fist arrived and was still learning Danish my eldest had a playdate at our house. One of the boys was swearing in Danish and I had no idea until one of the mother’s arrived horrified telling the said child off. That kinda made me giggle too, because I just had no idea what he was saying. Now I know most Danish swear words I think and wouldn’t make that mistake again. Hee hee.


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