The Immersion at Work – 4

After four weeks in Moscow, I experienced my greatest language-related success when someone in the Metro station assumed I was a local and asked for directions. Not only was I able to direct him to the appropriate location to transfer lines, he did not question my use of Russian and we were able to have a casual exchange of small talk afterwards.

A second language triumph was a conversation I had with some friends about movies. We were able to communicate various film recommendations and feelings about cinematography in our respective languages. Since both parties had some knowledge of the other language, we were able to speak primarily in Russian, reverting to English occasionally in order to teach me new words. Google translate only had to be employed three times in the duration of the conversation.

Living in such a large city, I have noticed that it is far too simple to fall back on English in uncomfortable situations because so many people in Moscow learn English and are very eager to practice it with foreigners. In restaurants especially, much of the wait staff is keen to use their English and sometimes even give out English menus. It is a proud moment when the waitress at a restaurant doesn’t switch from Russian to English after hearing me utter a single sentence. Very rarely, we encounter people with minimal or no knowledge of English. I am truly able to practice my Russian in those situations because I have had more language instruction than most of our language group and need to act as interpreter. Sometimes this is more successful than others, especially depending on the clarity and speed at which the Russian is speaking. I have gained a much better grasp of vowel reductions and consonant cluster reductions, which was one of my goals for the summer. Native speakers do this unconsciously, but it is tough for someone learning the language to understand let alone mimic. A simple example of this is the common greeting, здравствуйте, meaning “hello”. It can be used with anybody in any situation, but is usually reduced to “здрасте” in colloquial speech. Catching these differences is an accomplishment that makes me realize the degree to which language immersion makes a difference in lexical acquisition.

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