Ya gavaryu pa Rooski choot choot (Я говорю по-русски чуть-чуть)

That means, “I speak a little Russian.”  Unfortunately, I am not yet qualified to say that phrase, not in good conscience.  Sigh.

Ah, language learning.  At an upcoming conference for our English Language Fellows group, I am going to facilitate a discussion on how our challenges here are informing and improving our teaching — a positive spin I try to employ when the going gets tough.  The Fellow who will co-facilitate with me was reflecting recently on the experience of living in a country where she doesn’t know the language, and how it will give her more compassion for her students once she returns home.  There’s practically no better way to improve as a teacher than to be a student again.  I know this well, but am refreshing my memory by the bucketful.

So as you’ve gathered, I’m trying to learn some Russian (since I didn’t learn it on the flight over as I had hoped).  Why Russian instead of Ukrainian?  Well, Russian is spoken and understood by everyone here, and I would like to invest my time in a language that I can use both while traveling and with students back at home. Of course, I’m learning some useful words and phrases in Ukrainian as well.  It’s a bit overwhelming having not one but two languages to contend with here, so I decided to try to buckle down and learn a bit more of just one.  I have hired a nice tutor named Larisa who has been teaching Russian to Peace Corps volunteers for many years, and we are meeting twice a week, which is all I can handle.

Those of you who know me know that I love languages, so you would think that I am thrilled with this.  In theory, yes.  But the theory hasn’t been applying itself quite so well to the practice, so I’ve had to come up with a corollary: language learning is not quite so much fun when I can’t remember the words.  I hate to say it, but it seems to me that the language-learning capacity of my brain has, well, diminished. Not that I used to remember new words without effort, but seriously, this is ridiculous.  I spent all morning this morning clicking on little audio symbols to master my nemesis, the Russian numbers.  This is key for me to learn, as much of my interaction with others involves numbers, and usually people have to write down costs for me.  So there I was, click, click, click, listening over and over again.  Then when I went to review them, the pronunciation had run and hidden somewhere in my memory like a child who doesn’t want to take a bath.  Hellooo!  Where are you?

Play11 – одиннадцать

Play12 – двенадцать

Play13 – тринадцать

Play14 – четырнадцать

Play15 – пятнадцать

Play16 – шестнадцать

Play17 – семнадцать

Play18 – восемнадцать

Play19 – девятнадцать

Larisa came this afternoon to work with me, and when she would point to a number, I would sit there looking at it with the response time of my computer — you know, when the swirly symbol just keeps going round and round and round — until it seemed I had frozen and needed to be rebooted, or had perhaps forgotten that I was in a language lesson, and then just when all hope seemed lost –surprise!- the word would finally come out.

In Russian, some of the vowels and even some consonants can sound one way here and another way there.  I realize that the other languages I’ve learned have gone easy on me with their gracious sound-symbol correspondence.  I’ve always nodded sympathetically with my students when they complain about the ruthless sound-spelling correlation in English, but now I know some of this linguistic cruelty first-hand.  Does that letter “o” sound like o, or a, or uh?  In Russian, it depends on the stress in the word, which is unfortunately completely “free” (i.e., random).  I seem to have a knack for choosing poorly.

In truth, I know that my complaints pale in comparison to what learners of English experience.  More compassion to them.



5 thoughts on “Ya gavaryu pa Rooski choot choot (Я говорю по-русски чуть-чуть)

  1. DEAR dear Jeanie! How thankful I am that “I speak a little English” and that most of the time people understand me. Understand this: Happy Thanksgiving! We will miss your sweet potatoes and YOU!
    With love, Aunt Lois Koehn


  2. Hi, Jeanie! Aren’t you a smart cookie to learn a language that will gain you more purchase?! You are already such an effective teacher; this experience can only enrich you and your students. 🙂

    I went to CATESOL in Anaheim last week. I wanted to go to the same workshop that introduced you to the program you’re in, but I couldn’t. It was a busy conference, and it’s been a go, go, go kind of couple of weeks!

    I’m so proud of you for going on this adventure, for your perseverance, and for maximizing your time – as always- and studying another language! You really are intrepid!

    We also had the Fall staff potluck recently (I can’t remember if I already told you that), and we missed you!

    Hugs and Happy Thanksgiving!!


    1. So Jeanie, just wondering if you are competing to be the next Erma Bombeck? Loved this story – hysterical, clever, creative and made me laugh out loud! When you get back I’m going to wait patiently for you to write a book so I can giggle my way through it. I’m still seeing those naked toddlers running down a long hallway in your brain carrying the word in their little hands that you were straining to find. I won’t forget that image for a while and I’m still giggling when it slides back into view. I’ve been wanting to learn Spanish for years now but I can’t even keep the “learn Spanish” goal in my memory long enough to go buy a book – let alone the actual language. Like I said – you are one brave woman ! Love you, G


  3. I wondered about speaking Russian in Ukraine. Maybe Kate could travel in Ukraine (and see DakhaBrakha!!) with her Russian without offending people. She hopes to return to Moscow next summer and has even mentioned (gulp) going for a year after she graduates in 2017.


    1. I have been told that in the east, most people speak Russian, while in the west people speak mostly Ukrainian. My estimation is that she would have no trouble whatsoever. Do you want to come do a site visit this spring? 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s