12 November 2009

An Expatriate Learns Russian in St Petersburg

The second in a series 
Click here to read
"Learn Russian in Only Nine Years" posted on    
23 March 2009.
Learning a language is a good template for learning almost anything, as the basic rules and tips apply.

My best recommendation for you!

LiveMocha will give you free interactive learning for 30 languages! 

A Marinsky Mistake... a true story.

Shortly after our arrival in St Petersburg Larissa got inexpensive tickets for the Marinsky Theatre.  I was an official resident of St Petersburg, but we knew that the ladies who staffed the lines liked to spot foreigners, and then insist they pay much higher ticket prices. 

Larissa told me to keep quiet and follow her quickly through the admittance checkpoint.  I have learned since then that Russian clothes and a serious face do not hide my pre-Baltic, actually
Scottish, looks.  One of the women triumphantly yelled across to stop, and she accused me of being a tourist!

Well, I wasn't... So I answered loudly (meaning to say in Russian, I am not a tourist)... Я терорист! (I am a terrorist!)

That mistake caused a small commotion, all because I was flustered and angry.  So, be careful to say what you think, speak slowly, and enunciate syllable by syllable.

The Total Immersion Method of Language Learning...

Splish Splash, I was takin' a bath, Long about a Saturday night...            Lyrics by Bobby Darin and Murray the K Kaufman

After nine years of the Russian bath, it's just starting to work.  Why so slow? 

My excellent wife in the first years spoke a lot of English so I wouldn't feel isolated.  Now she speaks more Russian.  I understand, but answer in English.  We talk Russian when on the bus.

If your wife and friends here only speak Russian, this immersion method of learning will work  more quickly.  But we all have interests besides learning a language.  I feel the need to use English part of every day reading novels, chatting, and on the Internet.

Language learning CV

I began studying Russian a few months before we left America.  I was 57... old to learn new tricks,  and had a histor
y of  trouble learning languages... French with Mr. Hamlin in 8th grade at Maplewood Junior High School, NJ,, two years of Spanish with Mrs. Ahearn at Columbia Senior High School, three years of Spanish with Senor Torres and another professor who had a much better figure than Senor Torres, and one semester of French with Dr. Cordell, all at Duke University.  The result of all this erudition was  a good understanding of grammar, which I applied to English, and the confidence to speak Spanish with immigrants in the years before we left.

Disabilities slow language learning down...

My hearing isn't acute ... perhaps as a result of a diving accident and just getting older, and my memory is weaker...maybe from the pump dump of open heart surgery and again just getting older.  Well, I make the best of what remains and enjoy life.

The Russian attitude towards learning is different from that of Americans...

I have a typical can-do American attitude that with enthusiasm I can accomplish whatever is necessary, maybe not so well, but good enough.  Russians view this attitude as vexatious, as they
don't believe you should set out to do something unless you can achieve something close to perfection in the field.  To learn something so-so just because it is useful or fun sounds strange to of them.

Learning how to Yolki-Palki!

Every language learner is comfortable using his new language only to the level he has attained. But if you want to sound like you know more, or want to get a laugh from your Russian friends, my advice is to add a few unexpected phrases to your conversation.  Here are the famous Yolki-Palki Tips!

When something goes wrong and people are upset... say ёлки-лалки yolki-palki, with surprise and aggravation.

Another good phrase is кошмар kash mar... Yeh, it's awful.

When you are talking with your wife's friends, it makes them happy if you look at one and say, какая женщина ka-ki-a jen-sin-a... What a woman!

Any use of пива peeva beer... will often get a smile.

If you want the protection or help of God, say дай бог di bogg... Give me, God.

If someone complains about the aches and pains of getting older, or you show signs of aging, say старость не радость starost knee radoct... Being old isn't so happy.

Say пока пока pa-ka, pa-ka, goodbye, goodbye... which will remind people of the song sung by Alla Pugachova, the Estrada singing great.

вот это да! vut eta da... This is yes!  What Russians say when something long searched for is found, or something broken is finally fixed.  People are just naturally happy to hear this phrase.

If you shoot a jigger of vodka and place the glass with force on the table, it's comical to hear an American or Brit exclaim... Я Русский! Ya Russki... I am Russian!
Once we were riding in a trolley that was hit by a car with a few people apparently filled  with  alcohol.  The passenger got out and look at the damage and said интересно! in ter es na... Interesting.  Said the right way it can say a lot.

Я сильный американец Ya ceelnee amereekanits, I am a strong American... Russians think they can withstand pain better than other people, so in Russia I have learned it is most satisfying to show no effects of pain, but rather say this phrase.  It brings a smile to serious people and helps you bear the pain of a blood draw or shot.

On the tram it's crowded and too hot.  You see several schoolniks seated while some babulas are standing.  Gesture with open hand facing up and wave towards the schoolniki and back to the old ladies.  One student stands up and gives his seat.  You can say to him, молодец! molodetz  Good guy!

When there is something surprising, or distressing, you can exclaim ой ёй ёй, ooe, yoe yoe.
Notice the pronuniciation change in the second and third parts.
A few phrases such as these can add fun to whatever language you are learning and will spread some positive emotion.  Give some a try and let us know if they worked for you!

Powered by ScribeFire.