The Russian Lesson

In the next room, I hear the unmistakable chatter of a foreign language.

Actually, I hear my bride, Inna, speaking Russian, which is not all that unusual as she was born and raised in the land of matryoshkas (see picture), permafrost (be thankful you don’t have it), and, well, more snow.

Inna is teaching Russian to one of my daughter’s friends, who wants to be a translator. Although she can speak a few sentences, they’re starting with the alphabet. Which of course, is a great place to begin.

My youngest is also sitting in. But she has an unfair advantage. She’s heard Russian from her mother and grandparents since the day she was born. Her grandparents have lived with us off and on since her birth nearly 20 years ago.

There’s been a lot of colluding with Russians in my life since 1992.

The in-laws have spent most of their time in Russia, where my father-in-law works as a medical missionary.

Russian is a tough language. I can say probably five words — maybe.

My favorite is “Good day (or good health) to you.”

Here’s how it looks in Russian: здравствуйте

Pretty scary, right? Hardly a vowel in sight!

Let’s see how that looks in English letters, shall we?


Don’t you need more vowels? Apparently, some languages eschew the lowly vowel.

I don’t wanna brag or anything, but it only took me three years of law school to learn how to spell the word eschew… and another two to learn the meaning.

My daughters have had the blessing of growing up hearing Russian.

The in-laws speak a little English here and there.

“Paul.” “House.” “Why did you marry our daughter and bring her to this forsaken place?”

Easy stuff like that.

Ever since I heard a tongue other than English, probably when I was in elementary school, I wanted to be able to speak it. I hated it that others could communicate in ways that I could not.

I’ve tried to learn Spanish too many times to count, and all I’ve got is Pablo. Se?

There was a time when I wanted to learn French. So, as a freshman at Jacksonville State University, I took a French class.

I mistakenly thought that because I was born in Louisiana, some Cajun French would be in my DNA.

It was not.

And my grade showed it. Laissez les bon temps rouler!

The Russian lesson is winding down. I am instructed to go to my bookshelf and retrieve books about Russian.

I bring back a few. One is titled “My first Russian reader.” It’s probably more at the later elementary stage though.

Not that I can read it.

But, like Professor Hill reminds us in The Music Man, you got to know the territory (if you want to sell band instruments).

And, you gotta know the alphabet if you wanna read Russian.

I hope the friend takes this lesson seriously. We need more folks like her willing to learn more languages. (They tell me she already speaks French and Spanish so I am sure she’ll get Russian).


While I’ve yet to achieve even a baby level knowledge of anything besides English, I do have a passing knowledge of Alabamian. And while my wife thinks that my ability in the latter doesn’t count as a second language, I disagree.

Because, I can almost promise you that when we’re traveling through Alabama and have to stop at a restaurant or gas station in Bacon Level, Burnt Corn, Coffee Pot, or even Frog Eye, Alabama, my native language skills will be put to good use.

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