After a day in Tian An Men Square with a trip to the mausoleum to see Mao Tse Tung, I stayed in a hotel nearby with many other tourists. I went down to the lobby to write for my first NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) because my mother was sleeping in our hotel room. I was surprised to hear Russian from the group sitting crowded together on the couch across from me.
After so many days and months of struggling to pull out words from Mandarin, the Slavic sounds felt comforting and reminded me so much of my life before that they made me homesick. I even felt slightly capable again because I could pick out the different words so much more easily. Slightly capable.
Russian has crazy verb changes, more consonants than I can often wrap my tongue around, and enough challenges to keep me occupied even when it makes me nostalgic to hear it in Beijing.
- Russian uses the Cyrillic alphabet with two letters that don’t make a sound in themselves but change the sounds of the letters written before them. My Russian speaking friends have enjoyed watching me try (unsuccessfully) to get these sound changes right.
- Russian changes words. A lot. Women put different endings on adjectives to describe their feelings than men do. An English equivalent would be something like: He is happy and she is happiette.
- Probably because it has so many changes in the words to indicate the use of the words, the order is very free. A Russian speaker often uses Subject Verb Object order but can switch things up and still easily be understood.
- The basketball star Sue Bird for the Seattle Storm has a father of Russian ancestry. Their name was originally spelled ‘Boorda.’
It feels somehow wrong because so many of my students would object to the lack of dignity, but here is one way I like to work on my Russian: My son watches kid videos on YouTube and doesn’t mind if they are in other languages. It gives me a little language challenge and keeps me from getting bored like I do in English with trains that have a very limited plot line.