Saturday, February 14, 2015

The languages of February


How is it that the shortest month always seems so long? Ukrainian sure got the word right: Лютий, fierce, cruel, severe, February.

Morning commute.

Instead of just treating this post as a place to whine, though, I want to share a positive linguistic trend. At work we use mainly English and Spanish with clients. I met one Ukrainian guy back in October of last year, and then... nothing. Just when it seemed like it would never happen, they appeared.

First, a husband/wife from western Ukraine. I asked them what language they used at home, expecting the answer to be Ukrainian or possibly Russian. Nope. Any guesses?

[hint: it's another language that starts with an "R".]

Romanian! "I grew up learning Romanian and Russian in school", the husband explained, "then picked up Ukrainian during my military service in L'vov." Have you ever heard Romanian being spoken? It's a beautiful language.

The next day, I went off-site to teach a class. When I arrived there, a staff member said that a guy had just been asking to speak with me. Because 99% of students in this location are Latin American, the woman telling me this was a little surprised by him; she whispered "I think he's European" and pointed to a blond man wearing headphones. Sure enough, another Ukrainian!

And finally, yesterday a woman from Turkmenistan showed up at the front desk. She didn't speak English, so I was called over to help find out what she needed. At first it was really fun and rewarding to be able to change one person's words into another language. Wow, I can really do this!, I remember thinking. Then we moved into the office of an accredited representative and started talking about questions on citizenship application. When we got to "Are you willing to take the full Oath of Allegiance to the United States?".... uh-oh, trouble. Luckily, that's just when a real Russian colleague came back from lunch and was able take over.

I still don't know how to say "Oath of Allegiance" in Russian. Is Google's claim of присяга на верность correct? I've been trying to boost my foreign language vocab by studying translations of the USCIS test questions. So far, the most interesting word encountered is законопроект. In English, we'd say "The president can veto a bill", but why is the word "bill"? In Russian, it's phrased as "law-project" (законо-проект). Now that's a good description.

If you're learning another language, take a look for your language on the list of the 100 Civics/History Questions for US Citizenship. Or give it a shot in English and see how you do. Kind of makes me glad I already finished high school unlike these poor kids ; )

In the meantime, it's still February out there but at least we're halfway through it!


  1. присяга на верность is correct! Russky approved :) I learned something new too!

  2. Replies
    1. Wouldn't be surprised if you guessed that even if you'd never been to Ukraine in your life- you're such a language guy, Timur!