Today I had a lovely dinner with Alisa. As usual the conversation drifted to learning languages and our own experiences learning each other’s language. I told her how I sometimes feel that it’s hopeless to know a language perfectly as, when you are speaking it, your accent will reveal your status as a foreigner. If you are learning a language just for survival or tourist purposes, I guess this doesn’t apply. But if you truly want to become integrated into a culture, especially one where the presence of and attitude toward foreigners can be a sensitive subject, then it can be an issue. Sometimes I feel that even if I know the exact right words and can communicate in Russian, when I speak, my accent betrays me. The attention I receive for being a foreigner is, I feel, often very negative. It’s worse if I am overheard speaking English. But is speaking Russian any better?
But, like always, Alisa offered some uplifting words and shared some experiences of her own. She told me about a friend of hers who is Russian but who had lived abroad. Apparently upon returning to Russia his Russian had changed and all his Russian friends found the way he spoke funny. So it’s possible for even Russians to find themselves being identified as foreigners by their language. It’s quite an interesting concept, the loss of accent and changes in pronunciation that can occur. I admit that this has happened to me a bit with my English due to the fact that I constantly grade my language and have adapted to British English in both pronunciation and vocabulary. From an intercultural and linguistic approach it’s also fascinating how one can lose and then reacquire one’s native accent.
We also spoke of how one day we feel so confident, that our language skills are strong and we can do anything with them. Then the next day we feel like a beginner, struggling just to link the simplest sentences together. I thought that because her level of English is far superior to my Russian, she never had any problems. She makes it look so effortless and beautiful. But it’s nice to know that everyone has difficulties, even at advanced levels, and that I’m not alone in my struggles. It’s also nice to know that someone understands and that perhaps my progress is as visible as hers is to me but, like her, I, at times, can’t see myself clearly through my own eyes and can’t properly evaluate my progress and level.