Learning Russian is the one thing I covet most – every year I swear I am going to teach myself the language – and the single inspiration where I’ve experienced the most failure.
Sure, when I’m traveling in Russia I pick up a bit of the lingo. Although, I confess to having a tendency to mix in a little Spanish or French when stressed. I’ve answered ‘si’ rather than ‘dah’ when asked about citizenship by Russian customs agents and ‘oui’ when confirming to the babushka I wished to have two of her lovely meat-filled piroshki. It’s not that I am proficient at Spanish or French, it is that when anxious, my muddled brain reverts back to the two languages I studied in my teens.
I can say “сколько” (skol-kuh), Russian for ‘how much?,’ but am completely unprepared for any answer. As Russian words spill forth from a shopkeeper, I listen intently, stand in silence with no sense of what was said and still in dire need to know how much. After a moment, I’ll respond with gestures from a made-up sign language. A style of communication that requires the use of huge, overly expressive movements as if to say, “whoa, slow down, in English please.” I’m much better at voicing simple concepts that don’t require a response, like “Доброе утро” (dobraye utra – good morning) or ‘ Baltikas два пожалуйста’ (two Baltika-brand beers please).
And as I begin to plan a return to Kamchatka in the midst of getting ready for a quick jaunt to Ireland I’m worried that yet another tongue will further conspire against my ability to learn a single language well. In Ireland will I utter some confused expression like ‘Como atá vous?’ or ‘Kakh dee-lah’ (phonetic Russian for ‘how are you?’).
I’ll let you know how I do.