In an attempt to better integrate into my school and keep Russian and Georgian from jumbling together in my head, I’ve started sitting in on the eighth-grade (second-year) Russian class at my school. (I studied Russian in both undergrad and grad school, and my Russian is generally better than my Georgian, though still embarassingly poor after six years of study with fantastic professors. In contrast, I’ve only had two years of actual Georgian classes.)
The difference I see between the students in Russian class and in my English class is quite pronounced. Part of this comes from the age of the students. Georgian students now start English in first grade, and used to start in third or fourth grade. (I co-teach all the first through sixth grade classes in my school). By contrast, the Russian class is eighth grade, and the students started studying Russian in seventh grade. In my experience, eighth graders are far less excited about all things school-related than their elementary-school aged siblings are. There is also, of course, the political element. Georgia is trying very hard to move West, and the history with Russia is troubled. Because of this, English is seen as a cool language that will help them in the future (and helps them listen to pop music now) whereas Russian is just another of the subjects that they have to learn in school because their teachers make them. My school’s Russian teacher is (IMHO) quite good, and despite the lack of motivation, the kids are learning Russian. I love sitting in on the class—on one level it requires some major mental gymnastics on my part. The grammatical explanations and translations of hard vocabulary all come in Georgian! This doesn’t help me figure out what the word means, but helps me practice switching between the two languages in my head and should help me pick up some new Georgian vocabulary. On the other hand, Russian class is relaxing—Russian is EVERYONE’s second language, so we’re on much more equal footing than we are in either English or Georgian. My Georgians speak very good English, but I still have to sometimes rephrase, explain, or slow down for them to understand me. Everyone knows how hard it can be to live your life in a foreign language, but it’s also difficult to live in your native language with people who speak it as a foreign language (even if they speak it excellently) because you always have to think if the words you’re using are comprehensible, and make sure you don’t talk too fast. My Russian isn’t good enough for this to be a problem. Maybe with more practice and use, I’ll soon get to the point when I’m not confused when a taxi driver speaks to me in Russian.