Monday, March 11, 2013

Overcoming the language barrier

Some people feel satisfied with their knowledge when they solve a particularly difficult math problem, and others when they write a good paper. For me, there is no feeling quite as rewarding academic-wise as overcoming a language barrier. My passion for languages and specifically for Russian serves me well in this country, especially in the heartland because hardly anyone here speaks good English. Volunteering in the local museum in Vytegra has been an incredibly rewarding experience because of how challenging it has been. On our second day of volunteering, we were sent to the museum without a translator and had to figure it out ourselves, otherwise we would not have been able to do what was needed. This pushed me to come out of my comfort zone of only using simple phrases that I knew were correct in order to communicate with the woman for whom I was working. Even though I was self-conscious of making mistakes when speaking, I had no choice but to try. This type of challenge is the only way to really learn a foreign language, and I’m glad that I got the opportunity to have to push myself by being forced to figure it out.

Hanging out with some of the local high school-age kids is also helping to improve my Russian skills and learn more about Russian culture at the same time. While they do all study English in school, they prefer to speak Russian with us when not in class, and are always willing and eager to help us get our point across. The most rewarding part of overcoming our difficulties with communication was that even though our conversations consisted of cobbling together my limited Russian with a few English words and certainly not a whole lot of grammatically correct speaking, we still became friends.

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