People ask us all the time if we’re ‘fluent’ in Russian. It’s an interesting question with a lot of nuances, actually, and not easy to answer. If we’re talking about feeling comfortable getting around here, getting things done, or just talking about various things, then yes, one could say I’m fluent.
I looked up the definition in an online dictionary and a couple of the entries there read as follows: “fluent [ˈfluːənt] adj 1. able to express oneself readily and effortlessly;” “able to speak or write a specified foreign language with facility.”
Nowadays, I think in terms of what the context is that we’re talking about. Again, if it’s just getting around, getting things done, or talking on a variety of topics, I do feel like I can express myself ‘readily’ or ‘with facility’. But if I need to or want to talk about a specific topic that’s not an everyday topic, we move from ‘with facility’ to ‘with some/a good deal of effort.’
For example: I was asked to give the lesson in a small group women’s Bible study. Public speaking isn’t my forte, so even in a smaller setting, I do feel that I’m talking in front of people. I’m more of a around-the-table-with-coffee kind of speaker, which is very different from presenting a lesson or material in a more formal way. For one, you don’t have to be as precise in a conversation; it’s just a conversation. And if you don’t know a word or how to say something, you can ‘circumlocute’ as they say, that is, you can talk all around it and therefore get the idea across anyway.
Well, the topic – actually topics – for the small group time is family finances, with a digression/segue into feminine appearance. I didn’t pick them; they’re going through a book, and the gal who’s leading it thought I might be able to speak to these two topics.
Which I think is why I was asked. I have a degree in accounting, I have given some lessons on banking and money to the high schoolers over at KCA, and, in general, feel pretty comfortable talking about financial things. (The feminine appearance, well, I’m not sure what she was thinking there.)
I should say here that the idea that I talk to women about family finances has come up more than once since we’ve been here, and I’ve been relatively hesitant to agree to it. This is for two reasons: culture, and headship. I just don’t know what cultural things are involved and so it would be fairly complex try to speak on this topic just taking that question into account.
The other reason, headship, is far more important to me. The last thing I want to do is give a whole bunch of ideas or information to women who will then go home and ‘tell’ their husbands what’s what about the family finances. That’s better addressed in a setting where both are present and can interact with each other and the material together.
The reason I agreed this time, though, is because these gals are not married. Which brings me to why I decided to write this post: it is one thing to know something about or be interested in things financial. It’s quite another to be able to talk about it, effectively, in another language!
Several years ago a man asked Mark if he was teaching in Russian. This man was an engineer for, I think, one of the many oil and gas companies in the Houston area. He had had some experience working outside the U.S. and we asked him if he did his work in English or ______. He responded, ‘in English.’
You see, taking all of the technical knowledge that you have crammed into your head and transferring it over, accurately and effectively, into another language can be a painstakingly slow and difficult process. This is a few miles beyond regular language school. Language school gets you the foundations of the language, and, hopefully, gets you up to speed in reading, writing, and listening comprehension, in a relatively short period of time. Two years of study is common for a lot of languages, but by no means are most people ‘able to express oneself readily and effortlessly,” “able to speak or write with facility” after two years. After two years, the effort is still rather pronounced and sustained.
So I spent a good deal of time working on transferring that information into Russian, and praying a lot about making it sound relatively natural-sounding! At least I have a whole bunch of new vocabulary – anyone want to talk finances?! It’d be nice to use it and solidify it in my head a bit; I’m one of those people where, if I don’t say use it over and over again, it just doesn’t stick. Maybe that’s why I’m sometimes seen wandering around mumbling to myself in Russian – hey, there are a ton of words out there!