Thursday, August 16, 2012

What Language Learning Has Done to Us

For almost a year now, Viola and I have been working on learning our second language.  As with anything in life, we have experienced difficult times and encouraging times.  One thing we did not really anticipate was the unusual effects our study would have on us.  Here are some things we have experienced:

1. Agreeing to everything
- We may be understanding all/most/some/none of what someone is saying, but we can't think of how to respond.  Instead, we just continue to nod and say, "Yes" to everything.

2. Concentrating poorly
- With English, we can be doing one action and still follow what someone is saying.  Unless we are specifically thinking about paying attention in Russian, we have no idea what someone is saying.  I personally can go from concentrating and following a sermon to being distracted and lost in about five seconds.  It takes so much more work to simply listen!

3. Forgetting English words
- Our teacher will be explaining to us a new Russian word.  We both understand exactly what it means, but we cannot think of how we say it in English.  This also happens when we are just talking with each other.

4. Crumbling competency in spelling
- Before language learning, we were decent English spellers.  My wife is an avid reader, and spelling wasn't too difficult for me.  Now, we misspell (yes, I had to check it) things all the time.  The worst part is when something looks wrong, but we cannot recall whether it is correct or not.

5. Losing familiarity with other languages
- I took two years of Spanish in high school and spent my internship in Peru (a Spanish-speaking country).  When I arrived in Moldova and tried to use Russian, only Spanish words came to mind.  Now, when I try to recall a Spanish word, only Russian words appear.

6. Recalling random memories
- Memories that Viola has not thought about in years have come back very vividly.  They often come to mind when studying or interacting in Russian.  We cannot say for sure that it is a result of the language study, but we also can't think of another plausible reason.

7. Relearning to type
- Since Russian uses a different alphabet, it also has a different keyboard layout.  We have had to learn to type all over again.  Of course, as we have improved in that, we have declined in our English typing.

8. Pronouncing English incorrectly
- Some Russian characters look like English ones but have a different sound.  We have caught ourselves trying to pronounce an English word with the pronunciation of the corresponding Russian letters.

If you have studied another langauge, what effects have you noticed it having on you?


  1. Word recall is the biggest effect I've noticed. I grew up in Japan, I took French in high school, and I recently went to Panama (Spanish speaking country) on a mission's trip. Something as simple as telling someone yes--"Oui, uh, hai, uh, yes, uh, SI!" My brain had to run through all the languages in my head before I could find the right word.

    1. When we visited here in 2008, someone in a marketplace was talking to me in Russian or Romanian. I tried to say "Da" (yes in either language) but of course, "si" came out. My wife still picks on me about it.

  2. A little different, but when I was learning Sign Language, I would often be signing someone's (or my own) words in my mind while they were speaking to me. Or sometimes I would answer questions with speech and signs.

    1. Sometimes when Viola is thinking of a Russian word, she will unintentionally be signing it as well. Guess you two are related, huh? :-)

  3. As I teach ESL, I find that I must concentrate ALOT to understand their poorly pronounced English. Sometimes it gives me headaches...I don't understand all you are going through, but I do understand number 2!