>> 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:
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.