My Cousin Sergey has been here on Prince Edward Island for a month now, and while he’s been learning English, I’ve been learning a lot about Ukraine, and the Ukrainian branches of my family tree.
Sergey’s command of English is improving every day, and for most “come by our house at 10:00 for breakfast” kinds of things we can leave the technology aside and use a combination of English and charades to communicate. For the tougher, more subtle things, however, we use a combination of Google Translate and Yandex and watching Sergey type in Cyrillic is giving me a good opportunity to casually have that alphabet and its 32 characters seep into my brain. “In two weeks you’ll be speaking Ukranian,” Sergey said yesterday. Probably not. But I’ll know a lot more than I did a month ago.
I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about language and everyday life, both because I spend an inordinate amount of time embedded in Germany, Denmark and Sweden, but also because many of the people I deal with in my day to day life around town don’t have English as their first language. What I’ve learned, most of all, is that there is no room for timidity in langauge-learning issues: you are never going to get things perfect, and to imagine that you can squirrel away on your own until you do is naive. Language is alive, and to trully stuff it into your brain requires using it actively, boldly and without hesitation every day.
I imagine that part two of this process will involve me spending time embedded in Ukraine with Sergey’s family and then the Ukrainian shoe will be on the other foot; let’s hope I have the courage of my convictions when that time comes.
(пітер Рукавіна, by the way, is Ukrainian for Peter Rukavina)