Saturday, October 17, 2009

Tours... po russkii!!!

Yesterday I had the opportunity to give a tour to some Russian guests. It was a group of Russians visiting my workplace, and they had a professional translator with them. I took that opportunity to try some Russian on the visitors.

I took four semesters of Russian in college. I really loved learning the language -- it's sufficiently different from English so as to be challenging, but not completely alien. I had to learn a new way of writing, for example, but it was simply a different alphabet and you could still sound out words.

The thing that totally blew my mind about Russian was the way that verb tenses and meanings were formed. You could just add this "particle" (sounds weird, but that's the linguistics terminology) and it would change the meaning of the verb. Like you'd have a verb, let's say "to speak" -- and then you'd add one particle and it would mean "to have a conversation." Or you'd add a different particle and then it would mean "to be talking." It was just such a cool way of slightly altering the meaning of verbs, without having to learn additional words like if you were learning English.

Anyhow, I never really got a chance to use Russian outside the classroom. But yesterday, I decided to dust off the cobwebs from that part of my brain, and speak some Russian. I figured I could use the help of the translator if I came across something I didn't know how to say.

When I started speaking Russian to the visitors, I could see their faces light up with smiles. I welcomed them and told them a little about my background. I told them I was going to try to speak some Russian and some English. I was able to explain some basic stuff in Russian, but I did get a little hung up on the more technical terms -- we never learned "floating point operation" in class, for example. Listening to the translator, I'm not sure that he knew that term either, but when I explained what it was he was able to give them an explanation in Russian.

As it turned out, I'd say the tour was probably one-third my crude Russian, two-thirds English translated into Russian. But I know the visitors appreciated my valiant effort to speak their language -- I got a lot of spasibo's as they filed out.


rachel said...

You know the Cold War is really over when Russians are (officially) allowed to know Oak Ridge EXISTS, let alone are given a tour! ;)

ScienceGirl said...

I am not entirely convinced that one can actually "sound out" words in English ;)