Learning Curve

  While I used to think of myself as somewhat intelligent, I now question that assumption.  I mean they say people who learn other languages quickly are smart, really smart!  So what's wrong with me???

  I've been in this country for 2 years now, and can only understand and communicate verbally on a small scale.  However I can read and write it dang near perfectly!!!  What's up with that, it's normally the other way around.  Most people learn to speak it first, and later they master the written part!!

  I always knew I was a little different, but c'mon!  Okay, enough squawking from me.  One thing I have noticed of myself though is that it depends on who you are conversing with when trying to understand and speak a second language.  For example, my mother in law, who I thought would be the very LAST person I would be able to communicate with, has been the first.

  Let me paint you a mental picture of my mother in law.  She's 58 years old, at least 6 feet tall, or just under it.  Set in her ways.  Never been outside this country.  She grew up under communistic rule.  She's got have things her way.  When she speaks with Marius or his siblings, etc.  It's not "harsh", but it's not "sweet" either, it is just matter of fact.  When asking why they did such and such, it's not in the the tone of "well, baby, why did you do that?"  It's more like "WHY?  Why did you do that?"  (conveying tone of voice is not easy).  I hope you know what I mean.....

...so you can see why I was thinking I would never be able to communicate with her.  I was scared, but it does make a person nervous.  However, with my mother in law, she is patient with me (something I wasn't expecting, as she is NOT the most patient of persons).  Another example, the woman who owns the little store in front of our bloc - I don't speak grammatically correct, and I mis-pronounce the words, but she is patient with me, helps me when I need help in saying a word.  She talks to me as if I understand her, and believe it or not, most of the time I understand about half of what she is saying.

  Then there are people who when I try to talk look at me like I'm a retarded alien from the planet Xenon!  So what I've learned to do is when I go to the market, or a banc, or somewhere new, where the people don't know me (like the people at the store by my bloc), I start off with saying "Scuze, nu vorbesti Romaneste foarte bine....." then go on to say what I want/need.  That usually softens them up and they know that I dont' speak well.  And they try to help.  Most of them do, I still get some cranky women from time to time who think the sun and earth revolve around them, and they start chastizing me for NOT speaking the language fluently!  Grrrrr.....I would like to rip them up out of their comfort zone and drop them in middle of Kansas where there isn't anyone around who speaks Romanian, and tell them, "OKAY!!  Your Turn.  You have 1 year to be fluent in English, now, let's see you do it!  And oh yeah, here are 3 small kids to deal with on top of it all!"

  Yeah, I know, wrong attitude, but I'm human, and well, that's just me.  But for all of you out there who run into emigrants, who don't fully speak the native language fluently, or even partially.  Be patient with them, especially if you see them trying.  For myself, when people look at me funny, cause they don't get what I'm trying to say, it makes me want to shut up and not even bother.  But when I see them trying to understand me through my butchery of their language, and then try to help me, it gives me a little more confidence, like, "Hey!  I can do this!"

  And I can, I mean I look at my husband, he speaks 5 languages, well 4 now really, as he hasn't used one of them in so long, it's kinda touchy with that one.

  So next time you run into a Mexican, German, French-man/woman, etc., and you see them trying to speak English, don't look at them like "YOU SHOULD BE FLUENT", don't give them attitude, help them out!  Encourage them.  And a lot of them probably know more English than they think they do, but are so self-conscious about their pronunciation and bad grammar that they are embarrassed to try to speak!  Encourage them!


Gabrielle said...

I can see how your mother-in-law would be the one with patience though... :) Here it turns out my Primary care doc is from Romania and pretty old school, so unless I am sick or need blood work, he is the only person I have to speak with...I know I am not stupid, but learning Romanian for some reason is soooo hard, its like I have some kind of mental block going on... I have improved and my accent has gotten much better, however, by now I should be having conversations.. ughhh very frustrating.

Odessa said...

Gabi, I'm in the same boat. I so want to have a friend here, but alas, language barriers suck!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Hi Odessa, I love your blog, I think I commented on one of your entries already. Anyway, I totally understand where u're coming from. I've been living abroad for 15 years so my English is pretty fluent but yes, I do have an accent! It's not that strong but it's there! And when I try to speak to some people, they sometimes pull a funny face, I take it personally, I know I shouldnt but it bugs me, it really does! So it doesnt matter with some people I guess, even if you speak their language perfectly, they still look down on you.
Oh, and it's interesting that u can write in a language but u think u cant talk? My husband is the same, he can read cyrillic and write in cyrillic but his spoken Russian is ok but not as good. Actually, it's better than he thinks! So, give yourself a couple of years and you will be as good as natives!
Violetta x

Odessa said...

Thanks Violetta!

Cryllic, eh? Jeez, I don't think I could ever read Cryllic. There is a TV station here that is Russian, and I swear some of the Russian language sounds similar to Romanian.

Yeah, I know it takes time. My husband has the same problem you have when he speaks English! He speaks it perfectly, but still has a fairly thick accent. When in the U.S. if we were in a large group of people, he generally wouldn't talk, cause when he did speak people kept asking him to repeat himself, and I would step in as a "Translator". Annoying for him, cause it made him think his English was bad. It annoyed me cause I just wanted to wring people's heads and yell "OPEN YOUR EARS"!!!!!