Why am I learning Russian?
When I was a little girl, I looked through my mother’s Russian textbooks from high school, and was amazed and wanted to learn a foreign language. Fast forward to junior high school where I signed up for the only foreign language offered: Spanish. Much later, I had the opportunity to spend a week in Croatia, and I listened to recordings for months prior so that I could speak a few words in the country, which actually came in handy a few times. Then in 2019 my family booked a Baltic Sea cruise and I mentioned to my son that I wished I could understand the Cyrillic alphabet and be able to say a few words when we got to St. Petersburg. He challenged me to take a Russian language class. I found Jane and Russian Heritage Society online and signed up for my first class, which started two weeks later. Six months later my family spent two days in St. Petersburg and fell in love with the country and our own Russian Heritage. We hope to return one day soon and be able to speak and understand the language enough to travel independently.
It all started because I wanted to write a fan letter.
I wish that I could state a great and noble intention, like a great love of Pushkin and Dostoyevsky, an appreciation for fine art and opera–but honestly, I started studying Russian because I have a crush on a singer. His name is Denis Dmitriev, and he’s the star of a viral Youtube video in which he and the rest of a small military choir sing Adele’s “Skyfall.”
Writing a fan letter in English was out of the question. Hiring a translator was out of the question. Cheap moves. He learned English and sang beautifully in a language not his own, in front of the whole world, in front of an often cruel audience. Learning enough Russian to write a fan letter would be only a small tribute.
So I started studying–by every means available to me. And through some of my blundering comments on the choir’s videos, I even became acquainted with one of its members. I could easily send that fan letter to Denis Dmitriev, but I still haven’t done it.
It’s not because I’m shy or afraid of making mistakes. My Russian will never be perfect, although it improves every day. No, I think it’s because he is no longer my greatest reason for learning the language.
You see, I have encountered dozens of Russian speakers along my journey so far. Some of them I now have the honor of calling my friends. Each and every one of them has responded with such kindness, such a selfless desire to help, that I now live in a constant haze of stunned gratitude. My efforts to give back seem insufficient.
Even if the Russian language ceased to be so caressing to my ear, so intriguing to my brain, or to produce such inexplicable longing in my heart, I would continue learning. I’m now doing this for my current and future friends, for the warm and wonderful Russian speakers who have warmly greeted me and have never failed to lend a helping hand along my path.
Amenda Wong (Shapiro)
Мои родители приехали из Молдовы в 1973 году. Они выросли на русском языке. Молдова находилась под контролем Советского Союза с 1940 по 1991 год. В детстве я говорила в основном по-английски и немного по-русски. Когда я стала старше, я увидела что теряю способность говорить и понимать по-русски. Поскольку у меня почти нет друзей с которыми я могу говорить по-русски я хотела сохранить эту часть меня. Я решила оставаться на связи со своей культурой и выучить русский язык. Я начала учиться с подкастов и использовать приложения. Сейчас я учу русский в этом классе. Мне очень нравится русский язык и культура.
Kevin B. Makel
I grew up on a cattle ranch and went to small rural schools. Halfway through high school my family moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. Being the transfer student at a new school meant I needed to make some friends quickly. The most interesting and intriguing people I met were the guys of Russian descent, their family stories of escaping the Soviet Union and immigrating to America through China were fascinating to me. Soon I had half a dozen Russian friends who spoke the language.
I enjoyed their sense of humor and their pranks of slipping impolite Russian words into our school yearbook and newspaper. One of my friends, Mike Viripaeff, was the nephew of the legendary Russian-American film actress Natalie Wood (Natalia Nikolaevna Zakharenko, Наталья Николаевна Захаренко).
Unfortunately, Russian language courses were never offered in high school or the college which I attended. Many years later I was on duty in the Balkans and after some time, I was able to understand my Serbian friends’ conversations. It was not Russian but similar in many ways. Finally, after discovering that I have some Russian ancestry myself, I’ve decided to learn the language, gain a unique skill and explore a very interesting culture. I enjoy the intellectual challenge and as my cousin Pete, a teacher, stated “If you’re not struggling, you’re not learning”. Thus I’m doing a lot of learning.