Too Many Tongues

These Past two days I’ve spoken in English, Chinese, Turkish and Russian.  Yesterday I managed to include all four before nine am.  Needless to say, this is a bit exhausting. There’s some compounded confusion (and mental stress) because I can be using all four languages in the same space – within one building of the university.  Example from this afternoon (approximately 12:45-1:15): Pop into an office to ask (in Turkish) if the department head is back from lunch yet.  Go next door to chat in English with the MA student who helps with department affairs and has asked if I’ll help her with PhD program applications to universities abroad. Find out from her that the other assistant had sent me to the wrong Chinese class last week.  Go down the hall and talk to the Confucius Institute Chinese teachers, informing them (in Chinese) that I will, in fact, be taking a different class.  Go back down the hall to find the department head and confirm (in Turkish) that I do not need to do anything else with my application for full studentship until December.  Go downstairs and order a coffee and some photocopies in Russian, finding that halfway through the conversation I’ve slipped into Turkish.

Turkish and Russian I usually have no problem keeping apart, as I have such different cultural experiences with each.  Sometimes I do jump back and forth between the two when talking to local staff at the university who are fluent in both languages and themselves switch back and forth between Kyrgyz and Russian within a single conversation.  But on the street (outside of the wet market which, as I’ve mentioned before, is a complete medley of Kyrgyz, Turkish, Russian and Dungan Chinese sellers – and thus languages) it’s generally quite easy to compartmentalize the languages.  Even if I’m listening to a Turkish podcast I can respond to someone or a situation in Russian.

Oddly enough I’m having more trouble with Chinese and Turkish.  This morning I was explaining the difference between “a” and “the” to a [Kyrgyz] student in my Turkish class who had asked me to look over her English composition, and I noticed a few times that when explaining (in Turkish) I slipped in a few Chinese phrases like “就是” (it’s just that).  It’s like re-activating my previously dormant Chinese has caused it to but into all of my other language learning. Perhaps this will settle down after I’ve spent a few more weeks reviewing Chinese and my brain begins to better compartmentalize all the languages.

Added to this, I may start taking Kyrgyz lessons again, as it now appears that the time doesn’t conflict with the Chinese class I’m actually enrolled in.  Never mind that I’ve now missed a mere six and a half weeks of class and they are now 1/4 through the entire year’s material.  Apparently I should just go and it will be fine, at least this is what I’m told. So we’ll see how that works out.

Right now my head is still spinning.

Though I would get a lot of Kyrgyz listening practice in my Turkish class for (I feel as if I’m back in the first week of the first year I taught – to middle school students) – some of the students just cannot shut up.  For four hours there is ceaseless background chatter.  Half the class reminds me of one of my first students who, as she was in 7th grade about 5 years ago, must be about the same age as the kids around me now, and who more than once burst out, “Teacher, I don’t know what to do!  I don’t want to talk in class, but I just can’t help myself!“.  She was 12 and had [untreated] ADHD.  These kids are legally adults.  But yet they still keep talking.  The worst is during closed-book practice tests – if they’re not openly sharing answers, looking at dictionaries, checking cellphones and shouting answers across the room while the teacher is present, then they erupt the second the teacher steps out the door.  Because apparently it’s more important to get a high score on a practice test whose score the teacher will never see then to actually figure out what one ought practice before the real test. Uhh…right now I just wish they’d stop chatting, because my former teacher nerves keep twitching.   But they’re not my students, and I can’t just butt in to better organize the students, not in an environment where that would seem to completely undermine (and shake) the existing structure.

So…languages, and morning walks to a class I feel I share with a bunch of middle-schoolers 😀


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