Some people fear clowns and some people fear spiders but my biggest phobia, I am coming to realize, is going to a country where I don’t speak the language. The thing is, if you take ‘good at using words to communicate’ away from me, well, that is my entire personality right there. I don’t have any other skills. Except yoga, I guess, and karaoke, but those are of limited utility except in very specific situations.
Also I keep thinking about the time when, at 13, I had to try to explain to the mom of the host family I was staying with in Bordeaux that I was going to need to go to the pharmacie to buy les uhh comment dit-on “pads?” because it was only the second time in my life I’d ever menstruated and I didn’t yet know how to insert les tampons, which were the only produits d’hygiène féminine I’d been able to find under le sink. Êtes-vous là, Dieu? C’est moi, Emily. I still cringe when I remember this.
So I was determined not to show up in Russia completely 100% ignorant of Russian. However my chronic procrastinatory tendencies have led me to this pass where until very recently my only language training had consisted of spending a week hanging out with some delightful albeit condescending Russian children, who quickly gave up hope of teaching me anything complicated like how to count to three and started mocking me to my face. “Do you want to know how to say ‘computer’? (Exaggerated explainy-voice): компьютер. (Kompyooter.)” Oh. Thank you, little one. Hey, just wait til your Broca’s or is it Wernicke’s area gets a little bit less plastic and then get back to me, ok? It’s not so easy to pick up languages after your 12th or for that matter 26th birthday, you’ll find!
So then I got the Rosetta Stone thing, which I rush-ordered three weeks ago and then I guess I thought it would work by osmosis or something because it sat on my desk unopened until this week (I leave Friday). And while it is really fun — seriously, I finally understand why people play video games, advancing a level is so satisfying — I’m not sure that its full-immersion approach is actually best suited to my needs right now. I probably need to know how to say things like “I don’t speak Russian” and “Where is the subway?” but instead my conversation will consist of, like, “Man runs. Woman swims. (Or actually more likely ‘Women swims’ and ‘Man run.’) Girl drinks. Boy eats. Apple! What? Tea! Computer!”