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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

The Art of Learning English: The Saga Continues

Learning English is not the simplest endeavor for an older child adopted from Russia… nor for his parents.

“Is this soup cold?”  “Is it cold soup?”  ” Is this cold soup?”

After our newest children repeat the recorded phrase for the hundredth time, I tell Benedetto that they should just stick their finger in the imaginary soup, which would answer their question and be so much easier on me, if not them.

Locating interesting English as a Second Language materials is like locating a Starbucks coffee shop in Sweaty Starii Krai. They haven’t existed up to the present. But, the times, they are a-changin’.

I need a DVD to capture the kids’ attention and hopefully impart some of the local lingua. I need a DVD to give my hoarse, scratchy, cotton-mouth a rest from non-stop drilling and interrogating. Better they get fed-up with a pre-recorded process than with Molodaya Mama.

“Ktitcher!”  the girls practice.

“Teacher?” I try to help.

“Kitchen!” the boys insert themselves, starting an argument over who’s Right and who’s Wrong, their favorite topic.

“Nee DRAHT-syah!”  (Don’t argue), I jump into the fray, as a war of words breaks out.

Why can’t they just repeat and learn? I sense myself aging at the speed of dog years.

We test-run a British ESL program featuring outer-space creatures and a monster who eats parking meters, before passers-by scream, “Take him away!” and he’s hauled off to prison. I don’t grasp the everyday benefit of such phrases, unless the children are slated to begin their Life of Crime, but the boys and girls seem to enjoy the parts that review fruits, articles of clothing, and daily schedules. The fact that they will never live in a castle, be visited by a space alien, or marry the gardener has no bearing for them.

“Take him away!” they employ the next time the dog feels sick and does his business smack in the middle of the living room floor.

Next, we move them on to a DVD specifically designed for schoolchildren. I feel this may be more germaine to their intended destination. They learn to say, “Hello, my name is ________” and hear about an American school set-up: the janitor, the nurse, the secretary in the office–hardly key players in my estimation, but necessary nonetheless. I wonder why they left off the cafeteria ladies and a discussion of hairnets and hazing, but, never mind. The pre-teen girls hosting the program have come from Eastern bloc countries a few years previous, and their English abilities are remarkable.

With all of the DVDs, our children have a knack for focusing on exactly the opposite of what we’re trying to impart. Any side issue to side-step the task at hand.

“Mama, his name is Pavan!” one shrieks in Russian at the novelty of it all.

“And this one’s name is Kenyatta!” enthuses the other.

When listening to audiotapes in the car, Mashenka and Sashenka inevitably repeat the Russian interpretations, rather than the English phrases. I’m not sure that they know what is English and what is Russian anymore. Sort of defeats the whole purpose. So their Russian improves day by day, while they make paltry progress in English.

The kids think that as long as their lips are moving, they are actually speaking an English of sorts. They mumble and bumble, proud as peacocks. Benedetto tries to correct them when listening in on their inaccurate repetitions.

“She eating mine chips!” Mashenka and Sashenka chant in unison.

“She is eating…” he guides them.

“She is eating…” they echo.

“My chips…” he says slowly.

“No, Papa, not your chips, mine chips!”

Math is the same. We start in Russian, but trying to move them into English is like wrestling a Russian bear.

“Two time two igloos four.”

So close, yet so far.

Most of the time, we have a general idea what our kids are trying to say, either in Russian or in English. I guess that’s a step ahead of most parents approaching the teen years, when the folks could write their own “Guide to the Perplexed”.

Our son Pasha, home one year, embarks on a more advanced level of English and we indulge him in a teen ESL course, sure to keep him on his toes. The phrases hold his attention, yet I’m unsure of whether or not I’m getting my $79.95 worth.

“I kicked that gnome over the fence.”

Now I don’t know about you, but I find such a phrase rather distressing. (No, I’m not making this up!) And it didn’t get better.

“Carmen is giving the filthy llama a bath in her backyard.”

“Easy-peasy, kick in the kneesy!”

Try saying that with a childish Russian accent.

We intersperse these jewels with a more straightforward English series, designed to help the new immigrant shop, work, and attend university. Possibly not in that exact order.

“I have worked in steel mills,” I hear the preteen intone.

“The bone is sticking out at an angle.”

“Can she catch this bad disease from her brother?”

“My uncle needs a case to hold a hunting gun.”

“I would like hot tea with sugar along with a dish of figs.”

So goes the hit and miss linguistic life of the internationally-adopted child, hanging onto certain feel-good phrases before venturing to dip the toe into the deep end of the pool, swimming in a sea of actual sentences. As long as Pasha and the others never need four out of the five above phrases, I’ll be happy and consider it a perfect “10” jacknife off the high dive.


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