Study Guide

Three Cups of Tea Language and Communication

By Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

Language and Communication

The [hymn he sang] was too ingrained for Mortenson to consider the novelty of this moment—an American, lost in Pakistan, singing a German hymn in Swahili. (2.8)

Mortenson is a regular polyglot knowing all these different languages, a skill that will serve him well navigating all the different dialects of rural Pakistan.

"Mr. Gireg, Mr. Gireg," [Mouzafer] shouted, dropping the pack and wrapping Mortenson in a bear hug. (2.16)

We're not sure why the book always reminds us that the Pakistanis have a difficult time saying "Greg," but it does. Often. Why do think this is? How does it affect your reading?

Glacier was gangs-zhing, avalanche rdo-rut. And the Balti had as many names for rock as the Inuit have for snow. (2.30)

The more time you spend around something, the more words you have for it. The Balti know mountains, so they have a huge vocabulary to describe them, just like we have a huge vocabulary for books and trashy reality television.

Greg gave his father a sendoff in Swahili, calling him Baba, kaka, ndugu, "Father, brother, friend." (4.43)

In some ways, Greg is more at home in a foreign language than he is in English. He even eulogizes his father in a foreign language.

Two dozen untamed-looking bearded men in black turbans stood guarding the bridge. Their rocket launders and Kalashnikovs were trained lazily in the direction of a smart company of Pakistani soldiers whose own weapons were judiciously holstered. "No good," Mohammed said quietly, exhausting most of his English vocabulary. (7.35)

Encountering a band of heavily armed men = scary. Encountering a band of heavily armed men when you don't share a common language = you better have packed a spare pair of underpants.

Mortenson pointed to his noise, his hair, his ears and eyes and mouth. At the sound of each unfamiliar term the children exploded in unison, repeating it, before dissolving in laughter. (8.73)

Many of the children in Korphe have never seen an English-speaking man, much less heard the English words for body parts. It's all very foreign and humorous to them, but a little educational, too.

"El Koran?" [Mortenson] said, miming a man of faith paging through a holy book. (13.64)

We're not sure how this would look different than paging through a normal book. How did Mortenson make sure he got a Koran and not, say, The Da Vinci Code?

"Sure," [Mortenson] said. "I played football in col, uh, university," he said, and as he translated from American to British English he realized Khan meant soccer. (13.89)

Who could have guessed that one of the more confusing mistranslations in the book comes from an English to English mistake?

"How can you know what the people need if you don't ask them?" (17.60)

Although Mortenson can speak the language by this point, he hasn't truly learned to communicate with the people he's trying to help. Talking to them isn't enough. He has to ask questions, and he has to listen.

"The smugglers were Pashtun and Kais was a Tajik, so he was going to be suspicious of them no matter what." (23.54)

Traveling through these remote regions is both similar to and different from traveling across the U.S. While people in the South might have different slang terms than people in the North (soda becomes a coke in the South, for instance, no matter what brand you want), people in different regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan can speak such distinct dialects it's like they're speaking a different language.