Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Trial and Error: Lessons from Russian Bloopers

Learning a foreign language in the class room is very important, but speaking the language is where you really learn to do it! Trial and error. That is what language acquisition is all about. It’s hard to appreciate the challenge of communicating to people in a different culture and who speak a different language until you have tried it—and failed a few times. As difficult and embarrassing as that can be, it actually has some important lessons:

1) Failure provides some comic moments for our teachers (and for us a few months later). Like the time my classmate was trying to say that he stopped by the store and bought water (vada) but actually said that he stopped by the store and bought hell (vadoo). Or the time another student was trying to say: I am paying (plachoo) but actually said I am crying (plachoo). Same word, different accent. Altogether different meaning. Maybe he was upset about higher inflation and just wanted to get across both ideas at once (When I pay, I cry)! My biggest blooper occurred before language school when I was visiting with a family in Russia. One of the children was showing me a family photo album with Christmas pictures. Of course in Russian folklore, Santa Claus is known as Father Frost. And he does not ride on a sleigh with reindeer, but is often seen with his granddaughter (Vnutchka). When I remarked about the picture of Father Frost and his Vnutchka, I made the mistake of adding one vowel and called her Vonutchka, which unfortunately means skunk, or a lady with a serious odor problem. Fortunately for me, the family was amused. I was glad this happened in March and not December.

2) Failure puts you in the role of being dependent on the kindness and patience of others and thus encourages humility. I have been corrected more than once with a smile and return of money when I misunderstood what the vendor was charging me at the local fruit market. Coming from a culture that values self-reliance makes this humble dependence on others all the more important. Humility is an essential trait for those conveying the Good News of Christ’s merit for undeserving sinners.

3) Finally, while failure can be amusing or humbling, in the end it reminds us of the responsibility to convey truth carefully and accurately. Bloopers in class or mistakes at the local market are one thing, but being an Ambassador for our Savior demands a dedication to represent Him well with our language skills. The medium may not be the message, but it surely is important!

Speaking for our King,

Jerry and Kellie