Posted Jun 19, 2010 by 6 Comments
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Being in another country is like having my birthday every day of the year. I wake up and find that I’m much more excited about it than everyone else. And that excitement comes from seeing something new every time I step out the front door. What’s going to come next? A run-in with the Ukrainian Mafia, an opportunity to lift a burning car off of a group of small children, or maybe I’ll even muster up the courage to order something in a café where they don’t speak English!
I just never know what sort of excitement life is going to hand me. And that café experience really was an exciting adventure because I had to leave behind what was most familiar to me, language, and walk on uncertain ground (I’m just glad their menu had pictures!). Which is the epitome of what travelling represents, tackling the mass of mystery surrounding everything from grocery stores to street names.
See, most people don’t like the unknown. I think that’s why so few people are willing to travel.
But never fear for your good friend Chris is here to help you on your way to becoming a world class language learner through the Ukrainian context. So put on your star-spangled coat and pants, strap yourself in, and let’s jump this shark!
Wait a second, why do I need to learn their language?
Good question. I myself was surprised to find that English isn’t the only language on Earth. In fact, almost every country has their own! I guess it all started because of some Tower of Babel nonsense. Boy did those guys make a mess of things! Since most Ukrainians don’t speak English it’s a good idea to take an interest in learning their language. This is beneficial because it shows people that you’re working hard to engage with them. Meet people halfway when it comes to the language stuff and you’ll be amazed at how many great conversations will inevitably ensue.
But let’s get down to brass tacks.
Don’t waste your time trying to learn languages ahead of time. Like everything else in life, put it off until the last possible minute because it’s usually a pretty easy task. Oh, and since you’re headed to Ukraine, you’ve got two languages to learn; Russian and Ukrainian. I guess the whole soviet occupation thing was kind of a big deal or something because now everyone speaks an odd amalgam of the two. Once you arrive, spend a few minutes picking up both languages and figuring them out. I’ll give you a minute to get them straight…alright, that should be enough time. Now just speak like a local.
What’s that? You need MORE help? Gosh, slow learners or something. Alright fine, I’ve got a few more tips for you.
1. Ask questions, all the time! Seriously, it’s better to sound ignorant initially by over-asking than to stay quiet and prove that fact later.
2. Immediately start using any basic phrases you learn. You would be amazed at how many opportunities there are to say Please, Thank you, and You’re welcome.
3. Always triple check pronunciation because odds are the accent is really going to trip you up. I’m not kidding, you’re going to have to learn how to make somewhere in the neighborhood of fifty different “e” sounds and, as my choir teacher always said, “Practice makes permanent.”
4. Learn a two or three sentence introduction. This is key because, as a visitor, you’re going to have to introduce yourself to someone new almost every day. This is a great way to impress your hosts and will spark countless conversations. Though sometimes those conversations will be with children who speak infinitely better than you do and all you can manage is a feeble, “I don’t understand” in reply.
5. Learn the alphabet as soon as possible (It’s as easy as А, Б, В…) and start sounding out signs. True, you’ll feel like a fool the fourth time you sound out the word “airport” as “ae-row-pour-et-ah” but the familiarity with basic words will be worth it in the end.
6. Swallow your pride (but try not to choke on it like I did) because you’re going to make a whole lot of mistakes. Remember that this is an integral part of the learning process. It takes years to learn a new language fully and if you’re only going to be there for a few days or week or months then people will cut you some slack.
There you have it, a foolproof guide to being an aggressive learner of language while travelling in Ukraine. If you follow all of these tips, you’ll be just fine. If you don’t…well you may wind up going on an accidental dinner date when all you wanted was to use the toilet (yes, it happened to me).
And always remember that you’ve got to be proactive in learning language. If you don’t take risks then you’ll never get anywhere but McDonalds (it’s the only restaurant here where the employees speak English) and while it’s nice, it gets old after a few days.
So get out there and start learning the language. In the words of Mr. Knievel, “Carpe diem, yeehaw!”
About the Author: Christopher N. Cambell was a summer intern with World Next Door in 2010. He is a graduate of the Moody Bible Institute and an avid reader. He has an endless appetite for stories both true and otherwise and loves using those to better know and understand people.