I was having such a swell old time in Russian class today. The instructor opened with a short clip from a film, the title of which translates to “The Irony of Fate.” The clip featured a character singing a song about things you have and don’t have, and since we’re studying the genitive case, which governs possessives, it seemed to fit.

The song was fascinating. So…Russian. The lyrics went something like…”If you don’t have a house, it can never burn down. If you don’t have a dog, no one can feed it poison. If you don’t have friends, you won’t ever fight with them.” I suggested this was just the Russian version of “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose,” a reference that sailed 25 light years over the heads of the 19-year-olds in the class.

This is the part of the class I really like, where you see how language and culture are intertwined. Then he passed out a worksheet we did in class, covering material we did weeks ago — irregular plurals, etc. I thought maybe something was up, and when he passed the tests back, I saw why. I think a lot of people bombed it. I got a C, a grade I always considered a personal failure. Now I’m wondering if I want to do 102 next term, if I should just bag it, or if I should accept the task at hand. As one of my fellow Fellows says, “There’s just nothing easy about learning a foreign language. It’s a grind, and that’s all there is to it.”

In other words: Nose, meet grindstone.

Posted at 7:36 pm in Uncategorized |

8 responses to “Underachieving.”

  1. alex said on October 16, 2003 at 8:05 pm

    I was kind of surprised when you said you wanted to take up Russian again in the first place. Good lord�you could probably fit in three exciting classes with all the time you have to devote to just that one.

    With a free ride at that school, why not plunge into something you’ve got a passion for? It doesn’t sound like Russian’s really floating your boat all that much.

    If it were me looking at that course catalog, I’d probably load up on lit and history. Or maybe one of the numerous victimhood polemics offerings so’s I could have a blast lampooning it at some later date. (Has anyone endowed and Angry White Male Studies department there yet?)

    With such a fabulous feast spread out in front of you, don’t just hang out in front of the caviar the whole time, honey. Live a little and try a lot!

    811 chars

  2. Nance said on October 16, 2003 at 8:29 pm

    Well, part of my idea was this: Eventually, if I stuck with it, I might be able to read Nabokov in his native language. So it did have to do with literature.

    I think, if I get a little more disciplined about my studying, I can make it work.

    Or I could try to get into that “How to Be Gay” class at midterm, eh?

    317 chars

  3. alex said on October 16, 2003 at 8:57 pm

    Lolita’s the only Nabokov I ever read, but his English was electrifying�remarkable when you consider it was his second language.

    I’ve always wanted to learn Hungarian for exactly the same reason you want to learn Russian. One of my Hunky ancestors was a novelist, but everything of his in English is heavily footnoted and lyrically it all falls pretty flat.

    363 chars

  4. Lesley said on October 17, 2003 at 8:37 am

    I must have missed the reasons you gave for studying Russian and have wondered. I took up my Spanish again recently and when I attended a theater program [in Spanish] last week I suddenly realized the penny had dropped, and I was “getting it”. And not translating in my head, either. When you have your first dream in Russian you’ll know you’re making progress. Anyway, at my age I think of it as staving off “Oldtimer’s Disease” by exercising zee leetle gray cells. I’d keep on with the course.

    495 chars

  5. michael golden said on October 17, 2003 at 8:50 am

    Russian would be sort of useful around here. You could speak with all the Ukrainian babushkas crowding the supermarket.

    120 chars

  6. Nance said on October 17, 2003 at 9:03 am

    Well, my interest in Russian dates back to the cold war, when it was a hip thing to know. Nowadays, of course, about the only ones who still speak it are Russians, and they’re learning the hard-currency tongues as fast as they can.

    A friend of mine does medical-missionary work in Moldova, and flies there on the private jet of a wealthy Fort Wayne businessman who takes a charitable interest in the place. I’ve been wantiing to tag along on one of these trips for journalism purposes, and the last time I dropped a leaden hint about maybe being able to practice a little Russian there, I was informed Russian is the last thing Moldovans want to hear these days. They’ve reverted, as a country, back to their native Romanian, and anyone speaking Russian on the street is regarded the same way they did Huns in World War I.

    826 chars

  7. Nance said on October 17, 2003 at 9:04 am

    I mean: “…is regarded the same way we regarded Huns speaking German in World War I.”


    101 chars

  8. michael golden said on October 17, 2003 at 12:14 pm

    Lots of kids were taking Russian when I was in High School. The only reason I could figure for taking Russian at the time was to prepare for the coming occupation (I graduated in ’62). Glasnost was a long way off. There was no travel to speak of between the US and the USSR other than the odd cultural exchange. Usually a third rate ballet swapped for a third rate jazz band. I do remember those Commie promotional publications printed on bad paper with fading ink that always featured on the cover a huge wheat field with a peasant woman staring off at a harvester in the distance. Russian novels were hard enough to read in English. I never had any ambition to read them in the original. I always did like Chekov, though.

    733 chars