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The day bad English almost killed two people.

"A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing."

The above quote attributed to Alexander Pope (1688 - 1744) could not prove itself to be more true than it did by the occasion of the visit of Dave Boyer and Crystal Ramsey to Brazil, more exactly to the Maués River region in the Amazon Forest many years ago.

The North American young couple was avid for some adventure in the jungle.

Someone at the youth hostel they were staying in told them that there was a trail which led into the jungle that could be followed without the assistance of a guide seeing that it was marked by white arrows indicating the way. It was supposed to be a two-hour walk which would end at a river from where they would have to return.

The next morning, Tuesday, carrying only six cereal bars, two water bottles, a two-liter water pouch and a bottle of insect repellent, they set out toward an experience that would later prove to be really wild.

With him, Boyer was also taking his Swiss Army knife and a compass.

What on Earth could go wrong? You follow the arrows reach the river turn around on your heels follow the arrows all the way back and return safe and sound to your lodge with a bunch of nice photos in the camera and a good story to tell your friends back home. Right?


It turned out that when the Brazilian clerk who had given them the tip used the word "river" in English, language that he seemingly did not master, he meant something a little different from what a native speaker knows as "a river".

In the mind of a native English speaker, a river is something large and in fact what really marked the end of the beaten path was indeed a water flow which could be easily overcome on foot and even, depending on the case, go unnoticed.

Thus, at the end of the path, they simply waded right through what was supposed to be the river and kept going further into the jungle. It took some time before the couple noticed that the arrows were gone and there was nothing to point out the way back. No footprints or broken branches. Nothing.

In the mind of an English speaker, a river is something large

In a jungle like the Amazon it is enough to walk some meters into the wild to get completely lost.

Desperate, they tried to find the way back but as it usually happens in situations like this, the only thing they could do was to go deeper into the jungle, cause although Boyer had a compass, it is impossible in a dense rain forest, to walk in a straight line.

Sometimes it got so dense that they had to move sideways to pass through the trees, double-back and walk single-filed.

The water was consumed before the end of the first day and they had to risk having a diarrhea drinking water from some water stands which they filtered through the cup of Ramsey's bra and, as they said later, tasted like chalk.

After the sunset, the mosquitoes became a torment which could not be deterred by anything, nor even by the whole bottle of repellent they had in their backpack which only lasted the first few hours of the first night they spent in a tepee built with some tree branches and fronds.

Normally, the use of an inadequate term will not harm anyone or cause great damage, but in this rare case, it turned a pleasant two-hour walk in the forest into a five-day ordeal.

In an attempt to locate them, some local people who knew the region well, organized a search group and their parents, through the phone from the US, hired a small airplane to help to survey the area from the air. All fruitless.

Well, to make a long story short, Boyer and Ramsey were finally rescued by some hunters in a canoe, the following Saturday afternoon, when they were lying by a river bank and were already considering giving up trying.

They were dehydrated, with their skins infected by mosquito and fly bites and with thorns all over their bodies.

Luckily, after being treated in the hospital in Maués and recovering from their wounds and the shock, they could enjoy the last part of their stay in Brazil.

Fortunately, if someone's proficiency in English isn't good enough, it is not likely to represent any physical threat to their lives but it can certainly reduce their chances of survival in the job market.

Think about it.

Leia em português - Clique aqui



quote - citação

youth hostel - albergue da juventude

water pouch - bolsa d'água

heel - calcanhar

seemingly - aparentemente

(to) master vr - dominar

trail - trilha

indeed - de fato

beaten path - caminho de terra batida

water flow - fluxo d'água

(to) overcome vr. - vencer, passar por

unnoticed - despercebido

(to) wade vr. - caminhar através com dificuldade

the wild - região desolada, não habitada e não cultivada

sideways - para os lados

(to) double-back ph.vr - retroceder pelo mesmo caminho

single-filed - em fila indiana

diarrhea - diarréia

water-stand - grande poça d'agua

bra - sutiã

sunset - por do sol

backpack - mochila

tepee - cabana típica dos indígenas norte americanos.

fronds - ramos semelhantes aos de um samambaia

(to) harm - causar danos

damage - dano

ordeal - provação

fruitless - infrutífero, inútil

dire - terrível, calamitoso(a)


safe and sound - são e salvo

a bunch of - um punhado de

it turned out that - acontece que

(to) bump into - dar com, encontrar


The phrase finder -


Prof. Walmir Bastos

Aulas particulares de inglês

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