Journal Entry #3: Learning the Russian Language
St. Petersburg, Russia
Abstract: I can’t believe just how many Russian people I’ve been able to meet and speak with these past few months! It’s been a very tough journey so far because of the language barrier but I haven’t given up. I have been working very hard! Come read my story about just how tough it was for me in the beginning, but how I’ve been able to learn some Russian!
In the beginning, living in Russia was very difficult for me. When I first arrived to St. Petersburg, I knew nothing at all about the Russian language. I never took any classes or lessons before traveling here! I came here with the hopes and determination to change that.
Not only was speaking Russian new to me but so was their alphabet. Their alphabet is nothing like ours! Their letters don’t look like ours and the ones that do resemble a letter from our own alphabet have totally different sounds. It was a major challenge for me to learn how to read the alphabet and pronounce the letters correctly. Even after eight months of living and studying here, there are still some letters that I can’t pronounce the way a native Russian speaker would. This is because some of their letter sounds use different parts of our mouth, lips, tongue and throat that we’re not accustomed to using while speaking English.
It may sound a little silly to you, but I was scared. I might be 24 years old but moving to a totally different country where I can’t understand the language was scary. I felt like a newborn baby! I could not speak and I could only listen. What I heard I could not understand. When Russians spoke to me, I couldn’t tell if they were asking me something or if they were angry with me. When I needed something, I could not communicate with them and they could not understand me either. It felt terrible not being able to understand or communicate with the world around me. This also made me feel lonely.
Thankfully, I started Russian language classes very soon after my arrival. I had three hours of Russian class every day from Monday to Thursday. I had a lot of homework. In the beginning, I studied about five hours every day outside of class! All of my hard work and dedication helped me immensely. It paid off when I began to understand the world around me a little more each day.
Even though I understand a lot more now, I still get nervous sometimes. Being able to communicate better with Russian people around me helped me make friends. There are a few individuals who went out of their way to befriend me. These people have slowly become very good friends. They went out of their way and their own comfort zone in order to make sure I felt welcome in Russia.
These true Russian friends have shown great generosity and kindness! Some have invited me to go places with them whether it’s a cafe, a museum or a movie. Some of them have opened their homes to me. Others have even introduced me to their families and their own group of friends. Without a doubt, all of them have been patient with me.
Even with the language barrier between us, they have taken the time to communicate with me and understand me. Do you know what a language barrier is? It is the challenge in communication between two people who don’t speak the same language. Sometimes we communicate with our hands and make different motions. Sometimes we get our message across through little drawings or sketches which we doodle out on a scrap piece of paper we find. Sometimes we even get our Russian-English dictionary out and take the time to look up different words. Either way, these wonderful people have definitely made my stay in Russia a much warmer and happier one!
I bet you could be one of those wonderful people, too! If you know someone who’s new to your school or your neighborhood who doesn’t seem to know English well, reach out to them. Say “hello” and don’t be shy. Give them a warm smile! If you’re feeling nervous about introducing yourself to them, just remember how scared and lonely they might be feeling. Think of how frightening your home and American world might seem to them because they can’t understand the language or communicate.
By stepping out of your own comfort zone and reaching out to them, you could make a huge difference! Be brave and courageous! Who knows? That newcomer you befriend may end up being a lifelong friend! Even so, as a friend you can show them how you view your home through your own eyes. Be patient, too. Not only with them but yourself. It will be difficult at times but it’s truly worth it in the end!
I think that being able to speak another language is very important. Being bilingual or multilingual is a very valuable skill to have! Being able to speak many languages can help bring people from entirely different places together. Language is the key to communication and understanding. Language can help us better understand different cultures and where people come from.
Today, there are many jobs that require a person to speak more than one language. This skill can be very useful even for the jobs that don’t require it. Do any of your parents speak more than one language? Whether or not they do, ask them if there has ever been a time when being able to speak another language would have been useful for them. Maybe this experience was while they were at work? Maybe this moment occurred while they were just walking down the street or at a supermarket? Or maybe this happened while they were traveling somewhere? You can also ask whether they think being able to speak another language is valuable.
If you want to learn another language, ask your parents and teachers if they know anyone who is giving lessons in that new language. If you don’t want to take a class, there are other ways to learn! I recommend listening to music and watching films in that new language as much as possible. You’ll soon start picking up words and accents. You can look for people who speak that new language and become friends with them. Start speaking to them and have them teach you a little as you talk. Can you think of any other ways?