Re-Learning Russian

Re-learning Russian
The past month and a half has been Turkish: listening to Turkish in the streets, trying to pick up bits from E’s Turkish conversations, struggling to express myself like a broken five year old in Turkish, reading signs in Turkish, ordering off menus in Turkish, trying to catch strands of meaning from Turkish news channels and Turkish TV programs. Turkish, Turkish, Turkish. Nowhere has their been room for Russian (or Bishkek for that matter – aside from one friend who was thinking of working at the university here, the only bit I heard about Kyrgyzstan the entire time we were in the Turkey was overhearing one world traveler boast-sharing with another that he got a huge stack of Kyrgyz som he got for exchanging just $50. It’s like the country doesn’t exist outside of itself).
When I tried, I couldn’t think in Russian. Even though my Russian was stronger than my Turkish – I’ve put in more hours, know more grammar and vocabulary, memorized more passages from esteemed classical poets – every time my thought inevitably meandered into Turkish, or just started in Turkish and refused to budge into Russian at all. Turkish was far fresher, and I found it impossible to plan conversations in Russian without prompts. It’s not a matter of ease – in Turkish it’s just as easy to bungle the grammar as it is in Russian. Russian has ridiculous prepositions and extremely staunch ways of specifying direction; Turkish is agglutinative, meaning that all meaning to an action (question or statement, tense, person, positive or negative) has to be added on to the verb stem.
I found my misgivings unfounded however; Russian is still here, albeit a little latent. When I walked into the grocery store on our first day back something about the packages in Russian, the familiar faces of the grocery store workers with whom I’ve had all previous exchanges in Russian, the actual being in Bishkek – just clicked, and out came Russian. I still slip into Turkish sometimes (especially when saying “thank you”; perhaps because the Turkish word just seems so much more warm and natural), but it seems like all I needed to revive a dormant set of foreign language skills was a situational kick.


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