So one day I decided to realise my dream and learn Russian. Already as a teenager the strange alphabet fascinated me. I always had a thing for other languages, the more exotic the better. In the meanwhile school days were over, the adventurous years had arrived and becoming a family lady put an end to all my intentions of becoming an expert in the Russian language or any language..
One day I was a working woman, left with a family of more or less independent people and so I embarked on a life of enrollment realising my dreams. My first evening in the class to learn Russian was full of enthusiasts as myself. We all had visions of understanding Mr. Gorbatschov on the TV news. He was then the chief in Russia, allowing his people to again have bananas in their stores, after years of cucumbers and tomatoes. There were 12 of us, in the second evening it was allready just 10 and so it dwindled over the months. When the first course of 8 weeks was finished we were six. The men were the first to go. Many thought it would be a quick dive through the cyrillic alphabet and with a little practice we would all be talking the basics of Russian to each other.
Unfortunately Russian is not an European language. You can always find someone to help out in French, German or Italian conversation, but Russian? Perhaps there was a person in the village that had a bartered bride somewhere that they got in a mail order catalogue. Strange things happened in the eighties. The world was getting smaller and all those strange Soviet socialist republics now had names like Moldavia, Ukraine, Lettland etc. etc. The wanted to breathe the air of Europe with their new mail order partners.
So this would be the only opportunity to practice your newly acquired language, forget it. Most of the newly arrived Russian speakers were more interested in learning the local language to melt in and be accepted. I persevered, I learnt Russian for 10-12 years. Gorbatschov was long gone, and via Jeltzin and a couple of others a guy called Putin was slowly edging in on it all. What difference did it make? They all spoke Russian, although Putin was a sly one. He spoke english as well a German, so the TV interviews were no longer so much in Russian.
Was it worth the hours spent at home practicing Как поживаешь in speech and writing? For me it was. At the age of 71 I can still do it, not perfectly. We all get older, even my russian teacher, who was actually a czech, is now 71 years old. We were all middle aged ladies with a longing to do it. The bartered brides have long got their Swiss passports and might go home to the old country for a holiday, although it is mostly their old country relatives that visit here.
I no longer enroll so much. I tried Arabic but discovered that the language as such has so many variations the Algerians do not understand the Moroccans who do not understand the Egyptians. Everyone understands the gulf states, but that would be like speaking Oxford english daily. Chinese? no interest in a language with a word “sher” which has approximately 200 meanings according to how you pronounce it.
My mum always said I should learn to speak “proper” english before learning all that foreign stuff and she knew what she was talking about. She was a cockney, 200%.
Photo: visit Leningrad in 1964 – a school cruise. The Russians watched our ship as we walked down to the dock. In the good old communist days they trusted no-one.