Originally Written December 10th
I started my Russian lessons today. A friend in the neighborhood to tutor me a few times a week, and while I’m really excited about the idea, the reality of the situation hit me right in the face this morning. But before I get into my realization that this is going to be really difficult, I should give a little background.
When I came back from Korea, I needed to finish one more year of a foreign language for my B.A. requirements. In many ways, continuing with Korean would have been the obvious choice, as I had just returned, and could probably hold my own with second year students, so there would be no need to start at the beginning level. But before I had left for Korea, I had taken a year of Spanish, and ultimately decided to pursue that language during my final year at PSU. Along with being a simpler language to learn (with saner professors), Spanish held the title of being the ‘more practical’ language.
I think it would be hard to argue that there would be any language that is more practical to my being right now than Azerbaijani. As I have learned in my time here, I’m only as good as I can say I am. For example, I might want to do some project in the computer room at school, but if I don’t know the work for ‘open’ or ‘key,’ I’ll never get in there, and any ideas I had will all have been for nothing. I plan on relaying this bit of wisdom to then next batch of volunteers.
Still, I don’t think that taking Russian lessons and not getting a tutor for Azerbaijani is analogous to the Korean-Spanish situation. I’m not dropping one for the other. I’ll still be speaking Azerbaijani all the time. I don’t really study Azeri any more, and that my improvement of the language has come from practice, not from cram sessions. And while I don’t want to simply get by, should my Azeri not get any better, I certainly wouldn’t be stranded.
I’m looking at this as a chance to broaden my linguistic horizons and learn a language in a place where nearly everyone knows it. I would put my salary on the table and bet that at least 50% of the people in Ujar speak Russian. I wouldn’t be surprised if the percentage was closer to 80 either. Do you speak Russian? is probably the second most commonly asked question I get, after Are you from England?.
I also think that I’m getting on board of this whole Russian thing early enough in the game that I could walk away with some competent ability in the language. I’m amazingly six months into my Peace Corps service, and with 21 months left in this little country, I’d like to think that learning Russian could do me some real good, both while I’m here, and afterward.