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Immigration 3: Squirrel

Language. Learning one is always an experience. Whether in school, at home or in a foreign country, the process is basically the same. Study the words, practice the words, stick the words together to form basic sentences and move on from there. Emphasis is rarely placed on the order in which you study based on your need. If you have all the time in the world, well hey, study whatever you want, whenever you want. However, if you need to communicate in a few months ... it’s all about the verbs. You must have the verbs and basic expressions. You can always point and say "What is that" or "I need those". Pronouns pretty much take care of your missing vocabulary.

No one told us that.

As I mentioned earlier, it took us about 4 months to get to the states. We left the homeland in mid May and arrived here in mid/late September. We spent a few weeks in Austria and the rest of the time in Italy waiting for permission to come to America. They were pretty lazy months for me (no so much for my parents, but this isn’t about them, yet ;)). I had a bunch of free time and my folks wanted to make sure that I used some of it to learn English. So they got me a book and every day for at least a little bit I studied.

The Book was a simple picture book. You know the type. A big picture of whatever on one page and on the other, in big, block letters, the word identifying the whatever. There may be a few sentences using the word, maybe a few more pictures, not much more.

I would open The Book, look at the picture and do my best to read the word. Boy, was easy enough, Dog too; Cat was a bit tougher. A C sounding like a K was a little strange but Dad helped and I got it ... sometimes in English Cs sounded like Ks. Weird, but I could handle that. And so on, I would randomly pick a page, recognize the picture, try and read the word and then keep repeating it over and over until I felt I got it.

One day I flipped open The Book and saw an animal. One that I knew from home, it was a cute little creature with it’s dark eyes, short reddish brown fur and an enormous fuzzy tail extending up and over its head, in its tiny paws it held a nut. It sat there on the page looking all sweet and innocent. It was a belka or belochka in the childish diminutive. A simple word, couldn’t be anything tough to pronounce. My eyes moved over to the word and immediately crossed. If I had known any profanity back then, I would have used it. S.Q.U.I.R.R.E.L. You have got to be kidding me!

I sat there, mouth agape for a little while, my eyes moving back and forth over the series of letters, trying to get at least my brain to grasp how their sounds would flow from one into the other seamlessly. It looked impossible. So I started slow. I tried the S and Q. That was doable so I added the U. A bit tougher, the jaw complained but I kind of got it. I felt that maybe this was actually going to work, maybe my parents were right. Just break it down, take it slow and I'll get it. So, brazenly, I threw in the I. HA! My jaw refused to cooperate. I tried again and again and again. My face had never gone through such contortions even when I was TRYING to make faces! If YouTube had existed back then my hilarious attempts at pronouncing the word would have made quite amusing little videos ... I may have become a star. After a while I gave up and brought "The Book" to Mom for help, then to Dad ... we were all stumped.

I moved on to other words but I still occasionally flipped back to the page with the rodent. I mean, honestly, YOU try it. Really try to say the word as it is written ... can you honestly tell me that you can get your jaw to move from the U to the I without complaint? Now, of course, I know that SQUIRREL is actually pronounced SKWERL. I also know that the word has Greek and Anglo-French roots and in my heart of hearts I know that it must have been some sort of sadistic psychopath living in 1327 who took that innocuous U and followed it up by that ridiculous I!

To this day seeing the word "squirrel" sends small little shivers down my spine and my jaw spasms a bit just at the memory of those contortions. And the cute little belochka with its innocent black eyes and adorable tiny paws? It has a new name in my household. It's a Rat with a Fuzzy Tail.

A couple of links about those rodent things ;)

Russian Squirrel pack "kills dog" ... Yeah, right LOL

Pics ... if you don't see enough of those things in your neck of the woods :)




( 17 confessions — confess )
Sep. 3rd, 2007 05:41 pm (UTC)
Anya - I'm sorry, that was FUNNY - well it's funny now, but i'm sure it wasn't funny at all when it was happening.
Sep. 3rd, 2007 06:04 pm (UTC)
LOL Why are you sorry ... that was funny and we did laugh about the insanity of the English language and I was trying to write it funny since the last two were a little on the sad and sappy side ;)

Laugh! Laugh I tell you ;) These experiences, when my parents and I start talking about them, crack us up!
Sep. 3rd, 2007 06:31 pm (UTC)
I bet that post I did about cartoon squirrel battles really turned your stomach! lol.

I'm really enjoying these little snippets! We had some of the same issues with language in Japan, but we weren't emigrating there for good, so it was easier to shrug off our failures at Japanese.
Sep. 3rd, 2007 06:42 pm (UTC)
LOL Yeah, I don't have any warm and fuzzy feeling toward those tree scamperers anymore LOL

I'm glad you like! I'm finding it very therapeutic, working through the images and making connections from the past to the present.
(Deleted comment)
Sep. 3rd, 2007 07:44 pm (UTC)
You're kidding ... her fave? I thought it was the pink flamingos.

I saw the other story ... mmmmmmmmmm Squirrel ;) LOL
(Deleted comment)
Sep. 3rd, 2007 10:11 pm (UTC)

Sep. 4th, 2007 04:42 am (UTC)
Aww! You know I've always heard that children learn other languages better/easier than adults. Though it seems to me that a child thrust into the life of people who they can barely understand a word of would be more frustrating and confusing for them. I can't imagine having had to do that.

I don't know if it's been mentioned before and I just missed it, but if you don't mind, where is it that you immigrated from? I would guess Russia by the word used for Squirrel but I'm not sure. Can/do you still speak it?

Sorry for all the questions. :)
Sep. 4th, 2007 12:24 pm (UTC)
I can honestly say that I picked up the conversational English much quicker than my parents. Within six months I could make myself at least somewhat understood ... it took my Mom about a year and a half. I think part of what made things easier for me was the fact that I was in school. Not only was I immersed in the language and culture but I was also with adults who instinctively taught me. They didn't speak loudly, but slowly and clearly. They understood that one of the hardest things for a foreigner is picking the individual words out of sentences :) Frustrating and confusing, yes. No denying it, but in all honesty, I got over it, quickly :)

Oh, sorry :) Yes, I'm from "The Soviet Union" now known as Russia ;) And Yes, I still speak it. In fact I speak it to my youngest and she understands pretty much everything. Sadly she doesn't speak it (lazy girl ;) ) but if she was dropped in the middle of Russia, she'd be OK!

Don't worry about the questions .. I'm happy to answer :)
(Deleted comment)
Sep. 5th, 2007 12:41 am (UTC)
LOL LOL LOL That's just too funny! Your toy squirrel was called "Bunny" *gigglesnort* I'm so going to remember that!
(Deleted comment)
Sep. 5th, 2007 12:50 am (UTC)
I hope you don't mind but I just told hubby about Bunny the Squirrel and we both had a very satisfying giggle ;)

I would love to that portrait ... by the way, where's Bunny nowdays?
(Deleted comment)
Sep. 5th, 2007 01:19 am (UTC)
Ohhhh poor Bunny

Oh that pic is adorable ... but could you explain why is he mooning the photographer? LOL
(Deleted comment)
Sep. 5th, 2007 01:31 am (UTC)
LOL ... well you are the more captivating of the two ;)
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( 17 confessions — confess )

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