'I said, "do you speaka my language?"...

>> Friday, 28 May 2010

... and he just smiled, and gave me a vegemite sandwich.'*

Sometimes that's how I feel here in Russia; totally clueless when it comes to the language. Unlike my polyglot husband who annoyingly speaks 6 languages - including Russian - well, I'm not gifted in this area, but I do like to at least make the effort in whatever country I'm visiting. So I am trying with the Russian. At least, I'm trying very hard during my two one-on-one lessons of one and half hours every week, but for the life of me, I just can't seem to find the time in between to do my homework.

It's shocking really; here I am, 43 years old, and still not getting round to learning my vocabulary. The next thing I'll be confessing to is a liking for beans on toast at midnight and that every 3 years I re-read Jilly Cooper's finest novels. (Actually, no, that's not me. Although a certain blogger related to me by blood did confess to that very thing this evening.)

I know I have improved since arriving here; I can now listen to the radio and understand, oh, one word in 30 rather than none at all, which I suppose is something. And I even had a conversation yesterday with a purely Russian-speaking nanny where I made the sort of 'la plume de ma tante' statement you read in a text book and assume is nonsense and never relevant in real life. Until, that is you actually find yourself needing to say 'the dog is watching television through the window.' (Don't ask). Being able to do that is nice of course, but is hardly going to help if I need to explain to the traffic police why I crossed the white line in the middle of the road or to ask the security guards on the compound gate to let a particular car in to deliver my British style sausages... (Watch this space for how that goes. The possibilities for confusion are endless...)

This helplessness in reading and speaking Russian is having one beneficial side-effect, however. It means that I have been an awful lot more sympathetic to my older son's initial struggles with reading. Where previously I might have become frustrated at his inability to sound out words that seem so obvious to me, now - as someone who is struggling to read cyrillic at anything more than a slow crawl - I find myself much more understanding than I might otherwise have been. For example. This:

поттй муммй

reads 'Potty Mummy'. Not as a direct translation, you understand, just as the transposition of letters from one alphabet to another. Of course I have moved on from that point, but it's very confusing when you pronounce a 'B' as a 'V', a 'P' as an 'R', an 'X' as 'CH' (as in the end of 'loch'), and 'H' as 'N'. And those are just some of the letters that look similar; I won't bore you with the list of those that look like nursery school doodles (or is that just my handwriting?). And honestly; 33 letters in an alphabet? Is that really necessary?

So I'm a bit crap at Russian, to be honest. This is of course not helped by the fact that I am fast discovering - as we move further into the study of this language - that my school education was sorely lacking in the basics. Either that, or I've lost everything I ever knew on how to parse a sentence. (I prefer to blame my O-level English teacher for failing to give me the knowledge in the first place than to admit the latter). And when my teacher Ludmilla starts to explain how to use words correctly based on genetive, accusitive and dative cases, well, I'm afraid that my brain starts - ever so quietly - to steam. 'Can-not-compute' it tells me. 'Too-much-information. Need-diet-coke-now...'

This leaves me in an interesting position. Do I admit to her that not only does she need to teach me the fundamentals of Russian, but she needs to give me a refresher course in the English language too? Or do I just quietly go on line, order myself a text book, and add to the list of things that I never get round to doing as 'Basic English Grammar for Idiots and Women with Post Baby-Brain' sits next to my Russian notes, gathering dust reproachfully until I take it back to England with me and give it the church bazaar, still in it's wrapper?

Vegemite sandwich, anyone?

*Men at Work - in case you were wondering.


London City Mum 28 May 2010 at 21:58  

Think the best answer is simply "Computer says no..." a la Little Britain.

Worked for BA when we were stranded in Brazil.


mothership 29 May 2010 at 00:06  

Um, I think you're actually MUCH too clever for this sort of thing and your time would be better spent writing that book on your escapades (in English, you don't need to know what the generative is if you know how to use it.)
We are BRITISH and as such, it's generally considered much more sensible all around if you just shout a bit louder. Then everyone understands, surely?
As a bonus, your Ludmilla money could be spent on extra sausages and cocktails for your London trip (not that I am trying to egg you on or anything..)

mothership 29 May 2010 at 00:07  

PS Where women hurl and men chunder..

Mummy Mishaps 29 May 2010 at 09:18  

Even the spelling looks hard to master so the fact that you can speak one word I think is ruddy marvellous :-) I don't envy you having to almost school yourself again. Are you in Russia for good now or is just a temporary thing? How do your children get on with the language?

Belgravia wife - sort of 29 May 2010 at 09:28  

Solider on PM - in no time you'll be devouring Biff & Chip in Russian - how's that for a motivator ! Please, not that song... xx

PantsWithNames 29 May 2010 at 10:48  

Oh I feel for you. I know that brain fry moment so well. I never used cases - way beyond my ability.But lots of people didn't seem to notice that much.

Cryllic also did my head in. We used to play 'hangman map reading' whenever we got lost totally based on pectopar being restauran and then capajebo being sarajevo. Any letters outside of these and we were done for.

Potty Mummy 29 May 2010 at 11:09  

LCM, of course, I would imagine that there are worse places to be stranded?

Mothership, you may well be right. But the book is not pencilled in until September when Boy #2 has started school in September and I'm panicking over what to do with my time... In the meantime, Russian it is. Although the possibility of spending the money for the lessons on something more frivolous and less worthy is - I must say - VERY attractive.

Hi MM, well, we're here for 'a while' but not for good. Really until we reach the stage where we feel any longer would seriously imperil the Boys' educational possibilities. As for their ability in Russian? Not - outstanding...

BW, NOOOOOOO! Biff and Chip in Russian? Help me someone, please! (We're still soldiering on with the English version though - and thank god for it - you should see the American alternatives).

PWN, so should I assume you won't be continuing your studies on that front now you're back home...?

Nora 29 May 2010 at 12:50  

I ha a hard enough timing dealing with Dutch after a 22 year absence. I imagine that for you, it is like being in another dimension all together. It must be awfully frustrating. Don't you know enough Russians who speak English to take places with you? Or English speaking people who speak Russian? Socialize a lot with all the right people, PM.

Beta Dad 29 May 2010 at 18:48  

My dad is one of those annoying polyglots too. My parents were visiting here in California and we went to a Russian restaurant for old time's sake (we lived in Moscow from '78-'80), and the waitress thought Dad was a native speaker. He can also carry on conversations in the Vietnamese he learned 40 years ago. Jerk. Meanwhile all I can remember in Russian is "ice cream," "beer," and cuss words. And even though my wife is Vietnamese, I can barely order spring rolls in that language.

Don't worry--most people don't learn grammar until they study a foreign language.

Dividing My Time 29 May 2010 at 19:10  

What's wrong with Jilly Cooper....;)

Iota 29 May 2010 at 22:22  

Oh Potski, I think you're brave even to try.

My O' level French teacher used to complain to us that she had to teach us English grammar before she could teach us French grammar.

I'm picturing you, with your Russian failing you, trying to gesture 'British-style sausage delivery' to the compound security men.

Lisa @ Boondock Ramblings 30 May 2010 at 04:05  

I got very low grades in Spanish in high school and semi-OK grades in German. Learning Russian? It makes my head hurt. Hang in there and do the best you can, but i say buy the book, not tell the woman you need the basics of the English language too.

Working Mum 30 May 2010 at 14:14  

You are so good to try and learn a new language, in your forties and in a different alphabet!

I had enough trouble yesterday singing Tchaikovsky in Russian which had been transcribed into English script! "Blogoslavim" and "Gospodi" were okay, but the rest.....

vegemitevix 30 May 2010 at 16:00  

pick me, I'd love a vegemite sandwich! :-) I know exactly what you mean. I find smiling and nodding pretty much answers everything except maybe - 'May I stand on you?'

nappy valley girl 30 May 2010 at 16:04  

I think you're allowed to be crap at Russian.

I like learning languages, but life really is too short to be learning a whole different alphabet. I agree with mothership -write your book isntead!

The Expatresse 30 May 2010 at 16:16  

Do we share a husband? Mine speaks French, Spanish, Russian all very well. His native tongue is English. He can read a newspaper and get by as a tourist in German (useful in Hungary). Can go to a business meeting in Slovak. Is reading Dan Brown novels in ROMANIAN now just for fun. Oh, and he also speaks some basic Mandarin, but it has been more than 20 years since he studied it, so all he can do is flirt with the waitresses in a Chinese restaurant now.

I tried to get my Russian teacher to NOT give me homework. I had four hours of Russian class a week: let's do all the drills during class, I begged. But nyet.

What made me nuts about Cyrillic was anything written in italic script. So the Ts looked like Ms, etc. I could do basic, block print okay. But hand me a menu in script and watch me weep. . .

Potty Mummy 30 May 2010 at 17:30  

Hi Nora, yes I do know plenty of English speakers here, it's not the conversation I'm missing - more the fact that I would like to be able to engage with the locals, many of whom don't speak English.

BD, really? They really don't learn grammar until then? I feel so much better. (Though am still screwed...)

Jennifer, there's nothing wrong with Jilly Cooper - the first time around...

Iota, yes, that one's going to be fun.

Lisa, I know you're right. Good think I'm in London shortly and can buy it in a brown paper bag and smuggle it back in to the country.

WM, Tchaikovsky wrote about blogging and god? In the same sentence? (Sorry, just how it sounded...)

VV - and where did that happen, exactly? Would love to know...

NVG, you're both right of course. It's just that I hate to give up on anything... (possibly this stubborness may be one of the reasons I'm here in the first place!)

Expatresse, yes, YES! The script! Why???? Is it just to freak us non-Russian speakers out?

Mwa 31 May 2010 at 09:57  

Well, I think it's great you're trying at least. And if you keep it up, cases are really quite intuitive after a while.

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