Lost in translation in Morocco

Last updated 13:18 05/06/2014

EATING OUT: A cafe pops up under the ramparts of the city walls of Essaouira in Morocco.

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When attempting a language in another country, it's important your message is not lost in translation.

Our tour group travelled about an hour from Morocco's former imperial capital of Fez to stroll through the little town of Sefrou.

Lunch was arranged at the house of a local family, but I was a less than perfect guest.

My stomach and the long flight to Morocco were catching up with me so, instead of enjoying the meal of chicken, vegetables and couscous, followed by fruit, I strolled in the lane outside the house, catching my breath.

The family's pretty six-year-old daughter skipped beside me, chattering in French.

Later, as the father and his daughter stood beside our bus to bid us farewell, I used my broken French to apologise.

"J'ai suis desole, mais j'ai suis pur mal," I told them.

"I'm sorry but I'm a little unwell.

"Merci, au revoir."

The father kept his stony smile, but the daughter's slipped into a blank, slightly worried expression.

Back at the hotel in Fez, I plugged the sentence I said to them into my trusty Google translator.

This is what it said: "I'm sorry, but I am pure evil."

The Arabic dialect of Darija is the primary language in Morocco, but up to half of its 33 million population speak native Berber in one or another dialect.

However, French is the country's third language, taught throughout the nation's schools and considered the language of education, commerce and government.

Morocco became a French protectorate under the 1912 Treaty of Fez until its independence in 1955-56.

Signage throughout the country is generally written in Arabic then French.

About a third of tourists to Morocco are from France.

Berber is most prominent in rural areas, and is considered the informal language of the home and of the street.

Only about five per cent of Berbers can read and write their language, but it is now being taught in schools as part of a promise by the late King Hussain in the early 1990s.

But while the Berber lessons are progressing, and the number of schools teaching them is growing, there's been difficulty finding teachers.

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