Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Practicing your languages--and letting others practice theirs...

Another day in Romania. I rise as soon as I hear soacra mea (mother-in-law) get up. Soția mea (My wife) will sleep at least another hour. I prepare the coffee machine to run. Soacra mea and I chat in the kitchen while it makes. Soacra mea speaks not a word of English, so this conversation is entirely in the Romanian I have labored for ten years to master. And I'm pretty good by now. In fact, I'm a certified Coast Guard Auxiliary Interpreter for Romanian and Arabic.

Blocul nostru (Our Bloc)
She takes a half coffee/half milk mixture and likes to sit alone in the kitchen to drink it. That's her stuff. I head into the main room of our apartment with my first magical cup and read the news on the internet.

Soția mea rises and all three of us eat a breakfast of sliced cucumbers, tomatoes, and cheese. That's also not an unusual Romanian lunch.

This evening was supposed to be an annual get-together with soția mea's friend and her husband. I've enjoyed this get together in the past. It's always a valuable experience to speak your foreign languages with multiple people.

You see, everyone has their own little dialect and accent. I've gotten expert at speaking Romanian with soția mea and soacra mea, but the chance to practice with the friend and her husband presents a new linguistic challenge.

 But when soția mea called her friend some days ago, she learns, well, the friend and her husband have just separated. And that means, it will be just soția mea and her friend--and me? Awkward.  I told soția mea that I should opt out of that dinner because it is very likely they'll better discuss all that's happened without me there.

And so, I plan out a new day. Like many days, I go to Biblioteca Naţională a României (The National Library of Romania). It's a quiet, air conditioned, and smoke-free place (none of those three things are common in Romania). And my plan is to study/work/relax there until such a time as I would go to a nearby mega-mall called Piața Unirii and eat dinner in the food court there. It's a very touristy place
Piata Unirii
and immediately upon entering, young people working by handing out fliers for businesses were addressing me in English.

Is it so obvious that I'm not Romanian? I mean, sure, I have prematurely grey (alright, white) hair. I'm as fair skinned as my Norwegian ancestors. Okay, I get it.

 And I made the decision to not answer in Romanian. Of course I could have. But I get more than enough chances to speak Romanian. But these young people, who have undoubtedly worked hard in school to learn English, are excited for the chance to practice their skills as well.

I decided to spend the next couple hours not practicing for myself. I asked people I encountered, "Do you speak English?" They all affirmed. I would find the restroom, buy a pizza,  and get a couple of beers. I conducted these exchanges in English, even when the people I encountered were clearly struggling despite their earlier claims. I watched them looking out the corner of their eye, straining to retrieve vocabulary, and so pleased when they succeeded. 

I enjoyed this day. I'm heading home now. I'll spend the rest of the evening speaking Romanian with soția mea when she returns from her dinner (with one side of the story) and soacra mea.  

Good luck in all your language learning endeavors. Practice often, and enjoy letting others practice as well!