“Hey Anna, Can You Help Me With My Russian?”
People often ask me, “Anna, why do you study the Russian language if you are already fluent in it?” Questions like the one mentioned above have come to me from different people: some are very intrigued and supportive of my efforts to keep up with my roots, but others are shocked, confused, and feel inferior to me. My answer to the question above is simple: I have been cultivating my knowledge of Russian by attending Russian language classes on Saturdays and speaking it to my parents who are natives of Moscow, and I want to share my gift with the world by teaching or writing about the Russian language and culture. Over the years, I’ve taken a variety of Russian language classes and I’ve had the opportunity to share my knowledge with those just beginning their Russian journey. During my second semester of freshman year, I took my first Russian language class at the university, which was RUSS 381, one of the more advanced classes. I sat in the front and center of the class on the first day and tried to make my way to the back throughout the semester, but the professor quickly summoned me back to conveniently use me as a reference point, a type of fact-checker. Needless to say, I felt very productive that semester. Not only did I help the professor during class, but I was also an informal tutor for a couple of people. One classmate stood out in particular: Dave asked for my help with his homework and some basic grammar concepts. I knew that if I could explain the language to my fellow classmate, then I would feel more confident in my knowledge of the language, so I quickly obliged.
Dave and I met a couple of times in a multi-purpose building at my school. With a vast whiteboard, a set of colorful markers at our disposal, our textbooks exhausted with notes and coffee ready for consumption, Dave and I went to work. Our sessions usually started with answering any of his homework questions and led to me remembering a critical grammar point and going off on a tangent. At one point, after explaining something, I looked at Dave’s extensive charts of verb endings, cases, and declensions in absolute awe. I had never seen such an expertly color-coded packet of charts and such dedication to learning a language. As I looked through them, I started realizing that Russian just how truly complicated Russian must be and how beyond blessed I am to have had parents that pushed me to learn it at a young age. I was determined to help Dave any way I knew how leading us to have sessions lasting hours. At some point, Dave told me that his brain was fried, but I felt like I had been teaching him for only thirty minutes, so I asked him to stay longer. Regardless, I knew that he was learning something since he started giving better answers to the professor’s questions during class.
Although I am just an undergraduate Russian language student with no teaching qualifications, I was able to affirm and demonstrate my love for the Russian language by helping a fellow peer. As a young person still trying to find my way in this world, I think that first and foremost, it is crucial to study a subject in college that will give you joy, that will make you want to get up in the morning with a sense of urgency and finish the day with a sense of accomplishment. On that note, I’d like to encourage all of you to continue searching for your passions, and perhaps you might find that Russian is one of them. Anna Belova is a junior at George Mason University double majoring in Russian Language and Culture and Psychology.