27 September 2006

In over my head...

I just had my second balalaika lesson. It went alright in general, but near the end of the lesson, disaster (?) struck. Bear in mind that this whole conversation is in Russian; my teacher, Natasha, doesn't speak any English.

N: So, are you in Vladivostok to study Russian?
L: No, no, I'm an English teacher.
N: Oh, I see.
Her eyes start to twinkle. She glances over at her son, a boy of about seven who she brings to the lessons for reasons I don't entirely understand.
N: Say, I have an idea. How about instead of you paying me money for the lessons, I can teach you balalaika, and you can teach Slava English?

I swear, in that moment, my life flashed before my eyes.

I don't consider myself a pushover (note: I readily admit there might be a bit of delusion in my self-perception), but I often find that in Russian, my hands (and tongue) are tied. I could think of a million reasons why this type of in-kind payment is a bad idea: I have virtually no pedagogical training and the training I do have has nothing to do with little kids; if Natasha isn't satisfied with my teaching - or if I decide I don't want to teach the kid but do want to keep learning the balalaika - the situation could get awkward very quickly; planning lessons is very time-consuming; I'm not sure how this kind of work jives with my grant agreement; etc. Unfortunately, I was struck more or less dumb - not exactly because I can't say these things in Russian, but just because it seems the combination of (awkward situation) + (foreign language) leaves me unable to function normally. Someday maybe I'll tell you about Djanik, the guy I met in the grocery store who ended up professing his undying love for me via text-message. But that's another story; the sum of today's story is that I'm teaching Slava his first English lesson next Wednesday and all I can do is laugh at myself and pray that it all turns out ok.

Something good did come out of the lesson, though: Natasha and I picked out a song for me to study, and the first one she suggested was the TETRIS THEME SONG. If any of you know how much I love Tetris, you will realize how exciting this is for me.


Anonymous said...

The Tetris theme song!!! Cool!!! Will you be able to play it on the double bass, too?

Daisy awaits your loving attention. Forget about Djanik ... hahaha!


Anonymous said...

I got stuck teaching English to my German landlord's 9 year old son for a slight reduction in my rent. I used Fox in Socks and One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish to teach him words and pronunciations. Maybe if you can find Dr. Seuss in Russian and translate the alphabet into English, it'll work! Ha,Ha!!!
Did Djanik begin the conversation by asking, "Do you have the time?" Hope you weren't as naive as I was when a swarthy young Turk asked me that question on a Frankfurt street corner.

Aunt Susie

^u3a said...

Who's Djanik & why does he have your phone #?

<3, L

Ps. Skolka vriminiy? ;-)

Anonymous said...

I freely confess I was put off by your use of the word "alright" in this post. I grew up knowing that this bastard child of "all right" is incorrect usage. I even wrote you about it.

I should know better than to mess with a Yale linguist. You pointed out to me in your e-mail response that the dynamic language express had left me at the station. Even the Wall Street Journal approves of the word "alright" these days.

My only rejoinder is that the Wall Street Journal lacks a comics section and therefore has no credibility. Neither do the New York Times or the Sugarcreek, Ohio Budget (Amish/Mennonite paper). I don't trust any of 'em.

But I concede. Your usage is alright.

A chastened reader

P.S. Mary Worth's neighbors just meddled with a guy who was amorously chasing the old bat, and he got drunk and drove off a cliff. I'm not making this up.