When a language is just so different from your native tongue, the best thing you can do is to forget about any preconceived notions you have about language structure and just attempt to learn it like a child.
I learned my lesson the hard way – by spending countless portions of class time hounding my poor teachers as to why things were said one way in English, but another in crazy – and irregular – Russian. How was I ever to learn this difficult language if I couldn’t put my own thoughts into Russian words?
I was getting frustrated. I spent 5 hours a day, 4 days a week, sitting in a classroom at the London School in Bishkek getting bombarded with sounds and characters all too foreign to me; still, I felt like I was unable to portray my thoughts to my host family back home who were seriously beginning to question whether I was even going to my lessons in the first place. It was a struggle.
Before heading to Kyrgyzstan, I was totally against the idea of living with a host family since I know I am the type of person that needs a bit of personal space. However, my decision changed after arriving at my first lesson to see just how overwhelming this new language was going to be. The truth was I didn’t see myself getting anywhere in the coming months unless I took drastic measures, which at the time involved sucking up my personal preferences and trading them in for a cute little Kyrgyz family.
Even though I was just a handful in years younger than my host parents, I quickly became closer to the 4 year old and 7 year old children because of our language capabilities. Whenever the parents spoke, I just took on that deer in the headlights expression and wanted to run away to my room to scavenge a dictionary or pretend I was asleep. The children… they were perfect. I started watching them, and looking to them for my queue.
Honestly, they were just what I needed. Since they were so basic, I was able to associate the words I was learning in class to when they should be used in real-life. Even though I wasn’t making huge strides those first couple of weeks, I finally realized that looking at the language from a child’s perspective truly helped me gain my footing in Russian. I had to drop what I thought about my own language, and just start anew.
In the process, I somehow managed to strike up a bond with Mira, the 4 year old. At least that’s what I think it was. She would follow me around, crawl across my lap and even lick my arms (she had an unhealthy obsession with licking stuff… the table, the bag of mayonnaise, people). We would play together a bit with her dolls, or watch Ninja Turtles dubbed into Russian. I don’t think we said much ever, but there was never a need to get too detailed. The joys of being 4, right?
And then one day I was given the lovely duty of babysitting. Perfect. My absolute favorite thing to do (not really), especially when the children speak another language. Wasn’t their mother afraid something might happen and I wouldn’t be able to effectively communicate in order to get help?
Luckily, the time passed without a hitch. The only thing I wish I had done beforehand was go through my vocabulary and figure out how to say, “Oops, I’m sorry I barged in on you in the bathroom with your pants down. My bad,” in Russian.
I will never forget the little girl’s face as I opened the unlocked bathroom door. She stood there with the widest eyes, both jaw and pants touching the ground. Not a word was said; I quickly shut the door in a panic and stood there until I could remember how to say I was sorry. It definitely wouldn’t be the last time I wished I could remember how to quickly respond in Russian while living in that house…
…but that’s another story, and it will have to wait until next time.
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