The key to mastering a language…

…is not to panic when you don’t understand every word.

(OK so there is more than one key, but this is still a very important one!)

As a languages teacher training  lower set GCSE pupils for the listening test, I would tell them to listen out for key words that would help them build up a general understanding of the situation. I had personal experience of this myself today, as I am back in St Petersburg visiting my son. It’s minus 18 and beautifully sunny:


And today I was left to my own devices while my son was at work. So at lunchtime I took myself into a cafe and tried out my cafe-Russian phrases. First lesson: they do actually say the stuff you learn in text books, but it might sometimes be surrounded with other words you won’t understand. That’s OK 🙂

I decided to play it safe and order something I could actually pronounce as this was my first time ever alone in Russian  in a cafe. I ordered tomato soup and coffee (Americano – multinational!) with milk. Then the waitress asked me something I didn’t quite catch ,but amongst the words I heard – молоко , горячее and холодное which I know mean respectively milk, hot and cold – so assuming she wanted to know how I wanted my  milk, I opted for холодное (cold) and – guess what? I got what I ordered!

Encouraged by this, I went back in the evening to order dinner. Consolidation of learning! I’d been practising in my head for weeks how to ask for a glass of house white -and then I learned from my son how to get another one: you simply use the Russian for “repeat please”. But last night I discovered that if you say ноль пять (zero five) you can get a half litre carafe. Well, who wouldn’t?

It’s still baby steps, as they say, and I confess for my main course and dessert I ordered Italian food, making the process easier somewhat. But that’s ok too. Baby steps are how we learned our own language, and we got there in the end.

I mentioned in an earlier post about individual tuition. Well I have now completed three one to one sessions with a lovely teacher, Lilia, who is my son’s advanced tutor. It has been a fascinating experience and the subject of my next blog post. Once the ноль пять has worn off 🙂

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