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Forgetting the Language

My buddy Helena shared an interesting article by a native Russian woman, who detailed her experiences and struggles using the language, after moving to the United States in the late 80s. Helena and I pretty much grew up together (her dad was my dad’s closest friend – they went to grade school together), and our families came to the United States within a few years of one another, although she was younger than I was when she came here. We both speak Russian, but we’re both completely Americanized, and neither one of us has a detectable accent.

My parents took extra care to force me to speak Russian at home when I was a kid. Seriously. As in, they wouldn’t answer except with a curt “Po Russki” (“in Russian”) when I tried to speak English to them. I hated it. Once I learned English, there was no turning back. I didn’t want to speak Russian. I didn’t feel it was necessary. I hated the language, because as a kid who came here during the Cold War, I felt everyone despised me, so I didn’t want to speak it. I was embarrassed.

When I was in college, I did wind up taking some Russian lit courses, because even though I didn’t regularly speak the language, I could still read and understand, and frankly I needed an easy “A.” But I still refused to speak Russian, other than in class, and my history still struck me as an embarrassment to be hidden and shunned, not taken advantage of.

Fast forward *mumblegrumblemhmmmh* years later, and I realize how wrong I was. My former job required extensive use of my Russian language skills, and while I still got the maximum ratings on my Defense Language Proficiency Tests (DLPT), I only took the lower range (easier) exams, which required little effort. Not only was I using my language skills on a daily basis, but my language pay, which we call FLPP, or “FLIP” depended on my DLPT scores, and as a linguist, I was also required to attend language refresher training that lasted six weeks.

My experience speaking Russian matches this writer’s.

But I haven’t spoken Russian with any regularity since I was in my early teens, when, tired of middle-school ostracism, I decided to become as Americanized as possible. Many psychologists think that we forget languages, and other things, because of “disuse”—the memories that we don’t try to recall very frequently become more deeply buried over time. Which explains why, even though you once aced your French midterm, you can no longer remember how to declare that you would like to go parasailing with Jean-Claude this weekend.

Other studies have shown that forgetting a native language might be an adaptive strategy that helps us learn a second one. In a 2007 study, “native English speakers who had completed at least one year of college-level Spanish were asked to repeatedly name objects in Spanish. The more the students were asked to repeat the Spanish words, the more difficulty they had generating the corresponding English labels for the objects.” That is to say, the better I became at English, the more my brain suppressed the Russian inside me.

As I said previously, I literally tried to forget it – not so I could learn English, because I was already fluent by the time sixth grade rolled around – but because I wanted to forget my background. I didn’t want to be different. I wanted to fit in.

So what happens when one has the language somewhere deep inside that brain, but the linguistic muscles atrophy from misuse?

Well, for one, remembering words becomes a chore. The Russian word is right there on the tip of my tongue. I just need to retrieve it somehow. Easy word. I know this word.


The more I focus on trying to remember the word, the less reachable it becomes. Dammit! I step back, I say the entire sentence out loud in Russian, hoping the elusive word just rolls off my tongue out of habit. That strategy is sometimes helpful, but most of the time not. The longer I strain, the worse it becomes, and by the end of the day, I can’t even remember how to say “car” in Russian (Mashina)

On my last deployment to Kosovo, I was asked to act as interpreter for the visit of Ramil Kadyrov to Camp Bondsteel (yes, I did write that article). Kadyrov was at the time First Deputy to the Minister of Defense of Tajikistan, and since he only had one terp with him, I was asked to supplement.

It was three days that went something like this.

Day 1:

Him (in Russian): blah blah blah

Me: (translating into English): blah, blah, blah.

His interlocutor (in English): blah, blah, blah.

Me (translating into Russian): blah, blah, derp (look at his terp for help – oh yeah!), blah.

Day 2:

Him (in Russian): blah blah blah

Me: (translating into English): blah, blah, (fish around for English translation), blah.

His interlocutor (in English): blah, blah, blah.

Me (translating into Russian): blah, derp, uhhhhhh, blah.

Day 3:

Him (in Russian): blah blah blah

Me: (translating into English): blah, blah, (fish around for English translation), ummmmmmm, blah.

His interlocutor (in English): blah, blah, blah.

Me (translating into Russian, brain bleeding into my mouth, eyes crossing): derp, derp, uhhhhhh, derp.

By the third day it became considerably more difficult to access the Russian words I needed to do my job. As the author points out, you just get plain exhausted. Much like after a strenuous workout, after having avoided the gym for several months, you are in language muscle failure.

I was surprised how exhausting it can be to operate in an unfamiliar tongue. By the end of the day, my word-dogs and I yearned to stop. I would run out of things to deem “beautiful” or “interesting.” My tongue felt fat, and my already half-assedly rolled “rs” started getting straight-up swapped for the American kind.

I was surprised, however, to realize that the three-day terp fiasco is merely a small hurdle to overcome.

When I did my mandatory language refresher course in 2013, the teacher demanded that only Russian be spoke in class, and the homework sometimes took three hours due to sheer volume.

My brain was tired after three days, but as the course rolled along, I realized that the access to words I thought I had forgotten was coming back strong. I was able to complete the homework quicker. My word recall skills returned strong, and eventually, I was able to speak without reaching back to slowly tug the words out of my brain.

I began to speak Russian, instead of translating from English to clumsy Russian in my head before opening my mouth. And yes, there is a difference. Those learning a language will translate in their heads first before speaking. Native speakers simply speak, and the sentences flow directly from their brains in Russian (or any other language), instead of English words that first have to hit a translation filter. The longer I spoke, the easier the speech flowed. I began to dream and to think in Russian, which is where you want to be as a linguist.

And then, one day – at the end of my training – I sort of forgot English.

The instructor had us watching a Russian sitcom called “Interny” or “Interns.” It was a blatant ripoff homage to both “Scrubs” and “House,” which one episode fully acknowledged in a scene, and it was hilarious! I spent many nights watching that show on my computer, and one night I binge watched close to an entire season. For six hours straight. When I finally finished, I decided to turn on CNN in my barracks room and see what was going on in the world, and that’s when I realized I didn’t understand a single word.

Not even kidding.

I was literally listening to CNN and not understanding a word. The English sounded familiar, as if I should have been able to understand it, but I couldn’t.

And that’s how I got my Russian groove back. I did return from the course, still dreaming in Russian and yelling Russian commands at my dog, who looked at me like had lost my mind, but as my English slowly became normal again, my Russian remained intact, confirming UCLA cognitive psychologist Robert Bjork’s theory that while disuse of the language does cause words to become less accessible, relearning the information makes it stick around stronger and better than ever before.

I took the upper range (more difficult) DLPT that year, and I scored a 4/5 in listening, a 3+/5 in reading, and a 3/5 in speaking (never could get a higher grade in speaking – that score is more subjective than any other, because you’re actually speaking with a live Russian on the phone, who is grading your ability to communicate, and they apparently all hate me).

I should have listened to my parents when they tried to get me to speak Russian as a kid all those years ago.


And Here’s Another One! Zero Tolerance Stupidity, Part 9,000,072,328

Say hello to the 11-year-old daughter of Ronald and Andrea Souto. This little girl brought a peach to school, and when her friend asked her for a piece, she was nice enough to cut the peach in half and give it to her pal at lunch.

Wait… WHAT?

This child cut a peach? Oh, no! Did she bring a dangerous switchblade or butterfly knife to cut said fruit?

“This is a set of a spoon, fork and knife for toddlers — one year old,” Andrea Souto said. “It is made for children to learn how to eat properly. She’s used it since she was baby.”

According to the school district, the girl violated the county’s weapon policy when she used her butter knife in the cafeteria to cut the peach.


Thanks to the Daily Caller for the graphic.

And for this “awful transgression” that endangered the lives of her schoolmates, this honor roll student has not only been suspended for six days, but could now be facing criminal charges, because the Pembroke Pines Police Department said it has turned the investigation to the State Attorney’s Office. It’s not clear if charges will be filed, but it’s a possibility.

School officials are, of course, defending their course of action by claiming they were just following the district’s policy regarding weapons. Because why use common sense when these rabid, hysterical, mentally unhinged, half-witted, imbecilic fuck badgers can simply suspend a good kid and be done with it? Thinking is goddamn hard, apparently!

Meanwhile, this complete lack of common sense has destroyed this child’s confidence in her school and her teachers.

Nice job, shit gits. Nice job.

Clockhamed Wants a Payout

Y’all remember the Clock Kid, right? He’s the teenager who made a hoax bomb, brought it to school, was arrested, booked, and subsequently released, but was still suspended from school for trying to cause a bomb scare.

After the incident, Ahmed Mohamed’s family gobbled up thousands of dollars in donations by guilty, “privileged” white people, got to visit the White House, demanded millions in “damages” from the City of Irving, ostensibly because Mohamed ostensibly was targeted because he was Muslim – and not because he brought something resembling an explosive to school – and moved to Qatar to accept a scholarship from the Qatar Foundation.

And now they’re back and demanding more money, because apparently Clockhamed’s civil rights were somehow violated, because of the kid’s religion.

Among the claims made in the suit, which was brought by the teen’s father, Mohamed Elhassan Mohamed, is that the boy’s right to equal protection under the law was violated and that officers arrested him without probable cause.

Ahmed was a victim of systemic discrimination by the school district and state Board of Education that has marginalized Muslims and other minority groups, the suit claims.

Equality. Yes, let’s talk equality!

An honor student expelled for unintentionally bringing a butter knife to school.

A seventh-grader suspended for having a keychain the size of a quarter in the shape of a tiny pistol in school.

o-POP-TART-GUN-facebookAn 8-year old suspended from school for allegedly chewing his Pop-Tart into the shape of a “gun.”

A 6-year old suspended for taking a Cub Scout utensil that included a knife, fork, and spoon to school, so he could use it at lunch.

Kids suspended for toys, drawing guns, pointing fingers in the shape of guns, and even asked to change the way their names are said in sign language, because ZERO TOLERANCE!

But bringing something that resembles an explosive to school and being suspended for it is somehow prejudicial to a Muslim?

This isn’t about justice. This isn’t about equality.

If it was about justice and equality, these gold-digging, opportunistic swine wouldn’t be claiming discrimination, especially given the hundreds of white, Hispanic, and black kids who get booted from school!

If it was, the parents would be more concerned about the kind of environment that gives school administrators the authority to destroy young lives based on paranoid stupidity and a blind observance of imbecilic “zero tolerance” policy diktats.

ClockandBombJihadWatchBut no. They came back from Qatar, which was ostensibly so much nicer and more generous to their son, and filed a lawsuit claiming discrimination. Because if there’s one surefire way to cash in, it’s to scream “DISCRIMINATION!” at the top of your voice, and watch the dollars roll in.

All at taxpayer expense!

All because a teacher couldn’t tell the difference between a bomb and a clock.

Here’s hoping a judge with some common sense tosses this crap out and saddles these litigious shitbags with the court costs.

Protesting freedom

You ever wonder why is it that gun grabbers are so desperate to push their odious agenda that they will do practically anything, including accuse law-abiding citizens of facilitating the deaths of children, hysterically vilify innocent people, and use their power to destroy lives and livelihoods? A few months ago, I blogged about the noxious hag that represents us in Richmond Barbara Favola and her abhorrent, corrupt buddies trying to sabotage the livelihood of a local military veteran who had the unmitigated gall to want to open a firearms store in our area.

JB Gates, the owner of NoVA Firearms originally intended to open a store in Arlington County, but thanks to bullying, manufactured outrage, and outright abuse by sniveling hoplophobes in the area – the same morally corrupt band of gun-grabbing invertebrates who are now politicizing Mr. Gates’ livelihood in order to gain election traction – the landlord of the store’s original location canceled the lease and forced Gates to move elsewhere.

That elsewhere was McLean, VA – near Franklin Sherman Elementary School.

Virginia blog Bearing Drift obtained information under the Freedom of Information Act, confirming without doubt that the nasty gargoyle and her gun grabbing buddies conspired to harass and bully Mr. Gates out of his business and used his livelihood as a means to get themselves elected by the whining cowards of Fairfax County.

And now Favola is at it again. She, along with her braindead minions of the McLean Citizens Association (MCA) and another leftist member of the House of Delegates, is out to destroy Mr. Gates’ livelihood. Again. The MCA is protesting, which is fine. They certainly have the right to do so – even Mr. Gates acknowledges this.

But Favola… no, she’s trying to push legislation that would prohibit legitimate businesses such as NOVA Firearms from opening near schools. Oh… I’m sorry. She’s pledging “discussion” on the issue, which in gun grabber speak can be translated into, “trying to stop a law-abiding citizen from doing legitimate business,” even though this man is an upstanding member of the community, who plans to use the expanded space to do exactly what the gun grabbing lunatics claim to stand for: GUN SAFETY. Gates said at the opening of his store that he would use the space to offer gun safety classes.

But the hysterical MCA loons don’t care about that, because CHILDREN. Even though Gates is a legitimate business owner, who performs background checks on his customers, and who will offer gun safety courses to those in the area, the MCA has already begun its histrionics in front of the store.

“We just don’t want the gun shop behind our school, what’s the problem?!” said one protester.

“Because it’s a civil right!” responded a gun-rights supporter.

Owning firearms is a civil right.

Owning a legitimate business is a civil right.

Making a livelihood and supporting your family is a civil right.

But the monkeys at the MCA don’t care about that, because their imaginary right not to shit themselves at the idea of a gun store apparently trumps the very real right of JB Gates to run a legitimate business.

They want to throw a valuable, law-abiding, active member of their community under the bus.

And they’re willing to reinforce their hysterical paranoia with government force. Mike Stollenwerk at the Examiner reports that Delegate Kathleen Murphy – yes, the same Kathleen Murphy who emailed Favola asking for advice on how to best screw Mr. Gates and shut down his business, and who is pushing a bill to ban firearms stores and ranges from operating near schools – was among the protesters.

This is how Northern Virginia legislators treat small business owners in their communities.

This is how they treat law-abiding members of their community.

They work to destroy their business. They try to ruin them. They try to blame them for violence. They vilify them. They try to interfere with legitimate commerce.

And for what?

For something that JB Gates cannot morally or legally be held responsible for. Violence committed by criminals and derelicts.

nova firearmsBy all accounts, the protest was small. VCDL calculates there were about 40 gun grabber protesters and about 50 counter protesters. Mike Stollenwerk calculates the numbers were about even. A friend of mine who attended the protest and took the opportunity to take her family gun shopping said the pro-rights advocates far outnumbered the gun grabbing cowards, and that by the time she and her family exited the shop, there was only a handful of gun grabbers left.

Whatever the truth is about the numbers of protesters present, I hope this gives NOVA Firearms some good publicity and support.


Huckleberry Finn Causes Special Snowflake Syndrome

Mark Twain’s classic has always been the subject of controversy. It its early days, racists condemned the novel for positively portraying a friendship between a white boy and a black man.

Today, Special Snowflakes™ demand its removal from schools and libraries, because it chafes their fragile labia.

This week, a Montgomery County school removed Huckleberry Finn from its curriculum after a group of students said the book made them uncomfortable.

 After a forum for students and faculty, the administration of Friends’ Central School decided to strike the book from the 11th-grade American literature class, principal Art Hall said in a letter to parents this week.

“We have all come to the conclusion that the community costs of reading this book in 11th grade outweigh the literary benefits,” Hall said in his letter.

A group of students said an American classic made them “feel uncomfortable.”

Let that sink in for a moment. A great American novel about a friendship between a white boy and a black man at a time when such friendships were not just frowned upon, but hated, despised, and punished is making Special Snowflakes “uncomfortable.” This novel is the epitome of American literature!

There used to be a time when ideas were challenged, viewpoints were explored, history was closely examined and discussed. It used to be called an education.

Now, an education is wrapping Special Snowflakes in brightly colored cotton to protect them from mean ideas, bad language, and anything else that may result in a rash on their precious little hineys. They can’t possibly be placed outside their comfort zones! They can’t possibly be challenged! Their precious feelings are more important than knowledge, than historical context, than the ability to analyze.

So in order to protect their fragile sensibilities, they burn anything that makes them feel uncomfortable. Why be reminded of  Of course it’s figurative for now. They simply remove the book from school or from the library, but how long before it really starts?

“If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none. Let him forget there is such a thing as war. If the government is inefficient, top-heavy, and tax-mad, better it be all those than that people worry over it. Peace, Montag. Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. Cram them full of noncombustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information. Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving. And they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change.”
Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

The ridiculous thing is that the principal of the school does not believe removing the book constitutes censorship. “I really do believe that this is an opportunity for the school to step forward and listen to the students.”

The disconnect is frightening, because this is what is teaching today’s youth. This is what is running today’s schools. Instead of applying his knowledge and expertise and taking control of the ass enraged, entitled Generation Cupcake offendapotomi, he’s simply giving in to their unreasonable and ignorant demands.

Is it any wonder, schools are putting out generations of perpetually butthurt, barely educated cattle who outright REFUSE to think?

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