Yesterday Tatiana announced the official launch of Tatiana-pravda.com, with a caveat that all the articles will be in English. She’ll probably post most of her articles concurrently on HE, or at least those about movies, books and travel. This one is about her struggle to learn English in her youth.
Tatiana excerpt: It’s almost certain I will never ever speak English as well as Russian. 70% at best, and only after years and years of hard work.
As I began this article there were two competing voices within.
One said, “Nobody will be really interested in your writing. Even a super exciting story sounds dull and trivial if it’s told clumsily or without spirit.”
Another voice replied, “Yes, you’re absolutely right. You will sound dreary and your readers will be bored. But you know how a person achieves great heights? When he/she finds himself in an uncomfortable situation and needs to climb out of it. Or if a person creates a challenge for himself. But the heart beats faster and faster and the blood craves adrenalin. It’s like jumping with a parachute for the first time in your life.”
I fell in love with English at first sight, or more precisely at first sound :-). I was six or seven years old when I first heard it spoken. In the Soviet Union era all students were required to study a foreign language after graduating from elementary school (three years). We all went to school when we were seven years old. After elementary school we transferred to middle school (five years). And then high school (two years).
Exceptions were the language schools where you studied a foreign language from the very beginning.
I was very excited about studying English. But guess what? We were instructed in English but not encouraged to speak it conversationally. Anti-capitalist propaganda, the Cold War, full isolation of the USSR from the world…we all were very busy with building communism.
We were reading texts about London (“London is the capital of Great Britain”), Washington and New York, but were absolutely unable to speak the language of an imperialist nation that we taught to regard as our enemy.
The most serious phase of English study began when I entered the State Linguistic University in Nizhny Novgorod. The first year we were obliged to work hard on our pronunciation in special labs. It was our homework. I remember how my jaw literally ached after three or four days of spending in the lab. Because of the position of the tongue and jaws to articulate some English vowels and consonants.
What happened then? By the end of the first year I discovered one very unpleasant thing: I absolutely didn’t have any gift for English. It was very, very hard. Make that really hard.
After two years at this linguistic university every student was required to choose a second foreign language: German, French, Spanish or Japanese.
I wanted to study French, but I was pregnant by the end of the second year with my son Gleb, and one of my professors advised me to choose German. Along with English, Swedish and Danish, German belongs to the Germanic group of languages. In order to make my life easier and be a good mother I took my professor’s advice.
And then another surprise happened. A pleasant one, as it turned out. I had a natural facility for German. I found it super-easy to learn, and proved myself as the best student in my group. It was a nice feeling. I was more than happy.
Sadly, I didn’t have any practice with German after I graduated from the university, so my facility with it has gone to sleep. I am sure if I go to Berlin or Munich, I will need a month or two before being able to speak it again.
All to say that writing in English is a big challenge for me. I am ready to feel uncomfortable and do my best to overcome this obstacle so that in a year or two I may see better results.
What are your experiences with speaking foreign languages?
Are there any people in your personal orbit (friends, family, workplace) who can easily speak more than two languages?