Foreign Language ExpereineceI have always been interested in the former u.s.
. It might be because when I was young the US and the u.s.
were right at the height of the cold war. In school I enjoyed geography very much and was fascinated to read about the many different places and people around the world. The u.s.
was a great unknown and was to remain that way for some time. However, with the break-up of the u.s.
in the 90’s a new door was opened to me.
One evening, while watching the History Channel, I saw a program on the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg Russia. The next day I found a tour company and scheduled a tour to Moscow and St. Petersburg. I decided I needed to learn to speak Russian so I bought some audio cassette tapes and started to learn. It was a whole new experience for sure. I listened every day for two hours and felt I was learning well. However I knew that I was having trouble understanding the native speakers on the tape but felt it would all come together in time. In no time at all that wonderful day came and off I went to Russia. One evening I decided to go to Red Square all by myself. After walking around and seeing the sights I was ready to come home but couldn’t find the subway station. No problem, or so I thought. One of the lessons on the tapes had been how to ask where the subway station was. I found a group of young Russians just hanging out and in my best Russian I said “Excuse me, please tell me where is the subway station?” A young Russian in the group looked at me and said “You American?” I replied “Yes.” He looked at me for a moment then pointed down the street and proceeded to rattle off in Russian. I have no idea what he said. Not a single word. Not wanting to feel any more stupid than I already did I just looked in the direction he was pointing, smiled and said thank you. I did find the subway but it wasn’t because I understood what the young man had said.
On my next trip to Russia I arranged a home stay with some of the locals in Moscow. One evening the kind hostess asked me, in Russian of course, “Do you want to douche?” I already knew that she was asking me if I wanted to take a shower but to hear her say this still caused me to bite my lip to keep from smiling.
Over the years I have gotten better at speaking Russian by using various programs on cd’s. However, I still have a long way to go. On a recent trip to Ukraine I met two young women. One speaks english
fairly well and the other none at all. We all three spent several days and evenings walking around Odessa. I was able to speak Russian well enough that the one women who spoke no english
was able to understand me and I her. This was an extremely fun time and wetted my appetite to learn more.
Over the years I have learned several things concerning learning another language. It is more difficult than I originally imagined. I could learn vocabulary but without grammar it was almost useless. Just as we have words in english
that sound the same but mean different things, there are words in different languages that sound the same, because they may have the same root word from Latin or greek
, but have a slightly different meaning (douche as an example). There is no substitute to having a native speaker teach you how to speak. A week in total immersion is better than 6 months of self-study at home. And probably the most important thing of all is I have a better understanding of the complexities and difficulties of learning a new language and will be sensitive to these issues in the future when I try to pass on my knowledge of the english