Welcome to my blog. I write about fitting in, sticking out, and missing the motherland as a serial foreigner.

This is what language learning is like

Polkupyörien as far as the eye can see.

Polkupyörien as far as the eye can see.

When we lived in Moscow, I used to take a mini shuttle bus thing from the Pushkinskaya metro station to work. On the way to work, it was simple enough because the bus went directly to where I needed to go. But on the way home, the bus driver would stop anywhere you liked along the route, including Novoslobodskaya metro station, which was more convenient than Pushkinskaya to our apartment. Of course, to get the driver to stop, you had to call out through the noise of the other dozen passengers to tell him. In Russian.

So much of language learning in an immersion setting is observation and imitation. Each night on the way home, I'd listen to how someone requested a stop. Better still how they requested MY stop specifically (since the word ending would change depending on the case). Once I was confident enough to do it myself, I did. I imitated what I'd heard as exactly as possible. It was high stakes, too, because there were lots of other people around me listening, and if I'd made a mistake then...I don't know, everybody would have known I was a foreigner? Sometimes that seems like the worst possible fate to a language learner, doesn't it? I loved the feeling of getting it just right, where no one would bat an eye when I called out my stop from the back of the bus.

Today on the bus (and you'll see why I was reminded of the above story), the stop request button didn't work, so as the bus driver started to go past my stop, I had to say something. Fortunately, I had filed away an earlier observation of the same situation, and called out, in imitation of the previous encounter, "Anteeksi!"

Yesterday, I went looking at used bikes for Miriam and learned that the word is polkupyörä pyörä meaning wheel. Also yesterday, I was at the grocery store and learned that liha is meat. So today at IKEA, I noticed a sign and suddenly realized that it said meatballs: lihapyörykkä. Meat wheels! This was especially rewarding because when I was there a week ago, I saw the same sign and literally thought to myself, "my Finnish knowledge is so lame that I KNOW the word meatballs is on that sign and I could not for the life of me pick out which word it is."

Language learning is filled with little moments like this. You watch, you wait, and then you put together what you've heard and produce (or understand). Some days you blend in flawlessly. Other days, well...not so much.

Together again!

Finnish miscellany