Thursday, February 23, 2006

Prabusire a Limbii

There are some classroom moments when you realize that your understanding of the language is just not up to snuff.

I'm talking about my English.

On Thursday, a girl in my seventh grade class was reading her homework out loud. The assignment had been to describe a friend's bedroom, using vocabulary that we had learned in the last lesson. During her reading, she said something like, "There is a desk, a cassette player and a video." I asked her to clarify what she meant by "video". She made the gestures of putting a videotape into a machine. I understood what she meant, and moved toward the board to write the correct word.

But what was the correct word?

I had forgotten. Five seconds passed.

"What is it?" I asked out loud. 10 seconds passed. My children began laughing.

"We use DVD players more in America, so I've forgotten the word," I said, trying to cover. 20 seconds.

"I know this," I said, tapping my foot and looking out the window in a desperate attempt to find the word written on the hills outside. 30 seconds.

Absolutely stumped. 40 seconds.

"A VCR!" I got it! I wrote the word on the board and had the students pronounce it.

"I'm really embarrassed about that," I told them. Hopefully, not too many of them know what "embarrassed" means.

My sense of accomplishment was bittersweet. I had found my answer, but it was if at age 22, I had been stumped by "What is two plus two?" It took me 45 seconds to remember the name of a basic electronic item that I have had in my living room for my entire life.

This loss of native language is widespread among anyone who lives abroad for a long period of time. I no longer use the word "to pour" in English; my first instinct is to say, "Can I turn you some wine?" since the Romanian verb "a turna" means "to pour".

A fellow volunteer who has been in Moldova for nearly two years and lived in the Czech Republic before that often has lapses in her English. I used to tease her about it. But now my language is declining like Charlie in the second half of Flowers for Algernon. I don't laugh anymore.


At 10:34 AM, Blogger Val said...

Hi Pete,

Your story reminded me of the books - A Year in Merde (1) and Merde Actually (2) - 2 books written by Stephen Clark about an Englishman's experience in Paris/France where he'd spent 2 years. In the book the author describes a young American poet from NYC who had lived in Paris for several years and was using abundantly (and purposely) French words in his English talk. Pretty funny books (especially if you've been exposed to the French life style and culture). You should read them when you have a chance.



At 3:40 PM, Blogger Peter Myers said...

I'm glad I know what merde means. Known it since eighth grade. That's about all the French I remember, in fact.

Also, I know that throughout my American career teaching English when I return, I will describe kids using obraznic. There's just no such word in English without resorting to vulgarity.

At 6:02 PM, Blogger Val said...

obraznic, literally means 'cheeky' (as obraz means cheek). i would make a (wild) guess that the meaning of this word comes from the times of 'boieri' (aristocracy). the kids of boieri, because they were rich and spoiled (and fatter - therefore 'cheekier') were very obnoxious.

cheers. enjoy the 'glod' of moldovan spring. and happy upcoming martsishor!

At 3:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

so can u tell about other "prabusiri de limba" pe care le ai. I liked: "torn"(turn)u some wine


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