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Language and its Connections Lauren Toma English 1103 Narrative Draft

I grew up in America inside of a purely Russian speaking family. I learned English much quicker than they did since I was the only one born in the states. As I began going to an American school at the age of 6 my parents saw how rapidly the Russian language was slipping away from me. That next summer my parents signed me up to attend Russian school every Saturday in addition to my regular school schedule. I absolutely hated it! Every Saturday for 6 years I was there learning to speak, read, and write in Russian. It was so confusing to learn the Russian alphabet. Its alphabet consists of 32 letters 3 of them being sound changers which made my life so much more complicated. The school was run by my church and the classes took place in any available room including the choir room, Sunday school rooms and in the rooms that were in the event hall. The classes were separated by age groups but you were allowed to skip grades depending on your knowledge of the language. The topics covered in one day included, reading, grammar, writing and Christian etiquette in which we had a book with stories and examples of behaviors and actions a Christian should and should not practice. My teacher, Lyudmila Foderovna, was a cruel old lady that every child in the school hated. She was a woman that only accepted perfection from her students and scolded them if they were anything less. She had a high pitched voice that left a buzzing in your head and a glare that could easily give you goose bumps. She would make me read a passage over and over again until I met at least the minimum amount of words per minute. She would make me write and rewrite the alphabet to improve my penmanship until it reached her standards. She would work the class into our recess and into our lunch, she would not let us go home until we finished our assignments and if anyone was caught speaking in English they were lectured for about half an hour. I was lucky enough to be in her class EVERY year since the class and the teacher rose in grade levels together. So it was not only the kids that hated her but the parents also but everyone was too afraid of her to say

anything. I would come home from school every Saturday relieved that I did not have to see that woman again for another week. There I was after Russian school at home sitting at the kitchen table on dreary day smelling the aroma of the food that my mom was preparing for dinner. I had my book bag on the floor next to me and all its contents spread out on the kitchen table. I was dreading the fact that I had to start on my homework. I reached for my homework log book and started reading the assigned pages that the teachers assistant had listed inside. As I begin looking at the assignments I start to dread doing my homework even more than before. I let out a deep sigh and took out my reading book and flip to the assigned story. While I flipped through my book trying to find the page my mom looks through my bag and gets out the daily reports booklet. I start getting nervous because I know that my timed reading grade for that day was awful. My mom looked disappointed and said that famous line wait till dad gets home, but in Russian of course. I look down into my book feeling ashamed and mad at myself for not being able to read as well in Russian as I was supposed to by this time. I didnt want to read the book aloud feeling embarrassed at how badly I was probably going to stutter or mess up on the words. So I begin reading silently which was painfully difficult and I could not understand anything I was reading. Once I was done reading the assigned pages I started to pack the book away, but as I unzipped my book bag my mom asked me what the story that I read was about. I had absolutely no clue what to tell her. It was as if she expected me to not have an answer. So she got out my book and sat down the table next to me and said read it again and this time aloud. And so I did. I stuttered and messed up on the words and I barely understood it. She told me to read it again and I did until I could read the story without any pauses, without stuttering, and until I could answer any question she could throw at me about the story. This is how nearly every Saturday was played out. My mom would gather up the patience, sit down and read with me. Not only did

she read with me but also helped in all other topics such as writing and Christian etiquette. Yes my mother was strict and yes the work she made me do was tedious work but she helped me succeed in Russian school. When I went back to school the following Saturday we had a timed reading test and we got to choose which story we wanted to read. I of course picked the story that my mother made me read a dozen times. When the time started I was flying across those words. Admittedly, I was going more for memory than actually reading the words. Nevertheless, I scored fantastically on the test and for the first time, Lyudmila Foderovna was pleased by the way I read. So pleased that she grabbed my head and kissed it. This was one of the very few days that I saw less as a strict dictator and more as a kind and loving teacher. The feeling that swept over me was almost too great to explain. It felt so good to succeed in something that I so badly struggled with and I just wanted to make that feeling happen more often. Seeing that score in my grade book filled me with joy and pride and for the first time I felt motivated to keep learning Russian. I was never the fastest reader or the best when it came down to speaking the language but day by day I was improving. I was learning the language, and even though I hated it I knew it was beneficial to me. I came home that day with the biggest smile. Again I sat down at the kitchen table and spread all the contents that were in my book bag onto it. I immediately whipped out my grade book and showed my mom as she was by the cook top making dinner. She looked at the grade unimpressed and only said good. That good was all I needed to hear to know that deep down she was proud. I knew this because the next morning she was flaunting my good grade to her sisters on the phone. Because of support and help from my mom I was able to overcome that feeling of resentment towards Russian school. I was learning the language and I knew it was beneficial to me. I started seeing going to Russian school more like an opportunity rather than a punishment. However, I cannot give my mom all the credit. Lyudmila Foderovna

was with me from the beginning working with me individually sometimes during the breaks between class times and being very patient with me when I did not understand something. She would notice if I was struggling and would offer help. She never turned down any of my question or made me feel stupid for asking them. She was the one that actually taught me the Russian language whereas my mom was just there for supplemental instruction. Since I was growing in my knowledge in the language I became more able to communicate with my family. Because I felt like my grammar had improved I felt more comfortable when it came to speaking the language. Calling my grandparents became one of my daily routines that came from improving my speech. Since my grandparents knew no English at all I was forced to speak in Russian so that they could understand me. Whenever I would speak to them they would always correct my grammar or sentence structure which I didnt mind much. The day that I got that good score was the day that I started that routine. I first called my grandfather and told him about my entire day and how well I did in school. He was so proud of me and encouraged me to never give up and to be careful to never forget the language. He went on to explain that the language is a part of who I am and who I will always be. I took what he said into my thoughts and realized that the Russian language was not just a language that I needed to learn to get good grades but it was a language I wanted to learn so that it connected me to my family, my church, my friends and my history. Knowing Russian helped me develop a stronger bond with my family because it is just one more thing that we have in common with each other. It strengthened my bond with the church in that I could more readily understand what the preacher was preaching and what the choir was singing. It also helped with my ability to participate in fellowship with my friends in the church. If I didnt know Russian I would have problems with trying to communicate with my current friends. Knowing Russian and the history of the language and looking back at what an

elegant language it was prompted me to try to speak just as elegantly in not only Russian but in English too which was one of the reasons I tried so hard to never develop a southern accent even though I have been living in charlotte my entire life. I realized that communication to me was the key to connecting with every living body that mattered to me in my life. Later on in my life I began to think where I would be if my parents had not sent me to Russian school. I would probably not be going to the same church and I would not have the same friends and I would have never met my one and only boyfriend and just the thought of I terrifies me. Also my bond with my family would be crushed. I know of an American girl and boy who are the children of Russian parents and do not know the language. That same language bond between them and their parents was gone and in its place stood a language barrier instead. That one good test score ignited my desire to continue learning Russian. My one regret from Russian school was that I didnt finish my last year of it and therefore I couldnt graduate with the rest of my classmates. Having that feeling that I didnt complete it discourages me in a way. Not graduating felt like all my hard work was in vain mainly because I was never acknowledged for it like the rest of my class mates were. However, even though I did not graduate and Even though Russian school had its rough times I never regretted the experience of it. It opened up doors for me that were shut before and ended up probably changing the course of my life for the better. I felt extremely grateful towards my teacher and my mom for pushing me the way that they did even though I did not enjoy it at the time. Their encouragement and their motivation helped shape me into the person I am and played a part in making my life the way it is now. They helped me connect with who I am and also connect to the rest of my world.