This spring, God opened a door for me to learn Russian while teaching English to a neighbor. I met my neighbor at the gym one morning in the wintertime. I waved "hello" and smiled, and she joyfully returned the greeting. I began talking with her after beginning my workout and then realized she did not understand me. I asked her if she understood Spanish. When she smiled, I (wrongly) assumed this meant "yes," so I started speaking to her again-this time in Spanish. She responded, but to my confusion...not in Spanish. I listened to a series of words I did not know until finally I heard a word that sounded similar to "Russian." I smiled and repeated the word and she nodded and smiled and continued biking. I felt I had made a new friend through a joint effort to try to communicate and the universal smile.
I immediately started thinking about how I could learning a few basic expressions in Russian. Over the next week I listened to a couple of YouTube videos to learn a few key phrases. Each morning I would say a new phrase to my friend at the gym. She was thrilled to start helping me learn a few words, and each time she also began speaking a few more English words. One day, she showed me her DuoLingo app on her phone that she was using to help her learn English and she pointed to me and said "ROO-skiy"-русский-(Russian). I downloaded the app and for a couple of weeks worked to learn Russian through the app.
At about the same time I met my neighbor, I learned about an opportunity to help teach English at a local church. There, I began volunteering, and I was able to pick up a flier to give to my friend. She did not come, so I was not sure if she understood the flier. I continually prayed and brainstormed how to ask my friend if I could set up a time to meet with her to practice English because I could see she was eager to learn. About a month later I was out walking, and I was delighted to see my friend with her daughter, who is bilingual. Her daughter said that her mom would love to meet to practice English. So, we set up a time, and I started learning Russian as I helped my friend with English. I love the joy and laughter that comes with communicating with few words, motions and drawings.
I now understand a few Russian expressions (Priviett- "hi" and "Baca"-"goodbye" are a couple of these expressions according to the phonetics I hear). My friend is able to communicate a lot with motions and just a few English words at a time. I have also noticed that she is speaking more and more in English. I admire her organized notes and eagerness to study and learn. She also practices at home with her family. We use flashcards with pictures in our study sessions, and she brings a list of words that she has translated with the help of her daughter.
Today was memorable. My friend was practicing introducing herself. After telling me her name and where she is from (Turkmenistan), she told me that she is a Christian. I said, "I am a Christian too" with a feeling of peace in my heart and new clarity of focus from the Lord. Then using motions, she spoke in Russian mixed with a couple of words in English, and I responded with English attempting to repeat her words, drawing pictures of what I understood her to say and using motions to communicate back.
In this conversation, she taught me the how to say "God" in Russian- "Бог," pronounced "bohkh." Then she asked, "in English?" I got to teach her the word for "God" in English. Words are incredible. A word that has so much meaning to me, she was learning for the first time, and at the same time I was learning this powerful word in Russian to refer to Almighty God.
Earlier in the conversation my friend had taught me how to day say "I love my family" and I wrote down this in Russian as I understood it. ("Ya lu blu sviyusimu*" is what I understood her to say phonetically) So, I said "Ya lu blu bohkh*" to say "I love God." It worked! She smiled and repeated "I love God" in Russian. Wow! Putting together this sentence for the first time in Russian and seeing a bright smile on her face telling me it communicated sent Spirit-filled joy to my heart! *I found these phonetic spellings online for "I love" in Russian- "Ja ljublju" or "ya lyublyu." (With Russian alphabet: Я люблю)
Then, I heard my neighbor say the Russian word for "house"- "dohm" (дом) and then "bohkh" (Бог). My brain slowly put the two words together and adrenaline rushed through my veins as some understanding set in-house of God- heaven!! After I wrote down "heaven," she began motioning someone walking and she said "heaven everyday" and pointed to me. Oh! A moment of reflection and I pointed upward and said "heaven" and then drew a church and said "church." After some discussion I believe she was sharing with me that she is desiring to find a church that speaks Russian. I know God has just the right person in mind to help me with this. I am praying to help her find this.
Language learning can feel like learning to walk or ride a bike. It feels a little clumsy at times, but after practice it is worth the effort and leads to great adventure and travel. When fueled by God's amazing love and purpose, understanding someone a bit more each time as you learn a language feels like soaring. God is good! I encourage you to think of someone you would like to communicate with who does not know English and try out Duolingo for that language or a YouTube video to learn a few phrases and then try the new expressions out! Remember, it's okay if you don't say them perfectly. This will give the other person the opportunity to help you and make it more comfortable for them to try English and not worry about making a mistake. Ask the Lord for help too and see what adventures he may have for you traveling the world one conversation at a time!