My Latest Memory Challenge

Let me share with you my latest memory challenge. I am going to Ukraine in the summer as part of an Aikido Summer School. My teacher, sensei Kolesnikov is from Ukraine and he returns there every couple of years to teach his Aikido Students.

I met a few of them a couple of years ago when they came to our summer school in Bridport. Nice bunch and really strong on the mat. I can remember being embarrassed and a little frustrated that I could not speak either Ukraine or Russian (they were fluent in both) and that they had a good grasp of English. Not learning a language is something we British sadly excel at resorting to speaking louder or using incomprehensible hand gestures (which is not an exaggeration because I saw exactly that on a recent trip to the continent!).

It is one of those things that has started to bother me more and more as my network of friends and business associates has developed around the world. I am always impressed at the levels of fluency in different foreign languages that many of my international friends have. For many years I moaned about it and now I am doing something about it.

My main focus is to learn to speak German, primarily because I had 5 years of schooling in it (but didn’t take a blind bit of notice much to my regret) and because I like the sound and the structure. A recent trip to Austria gave me lots of chance to practice, especially when I got fined 50 Euros for having an invalid tram ticket (how was I to know that even having bought the ticket from the driver I still had to stamp it in the little machine!).

Anyway, my trip to the Ukraine has encouraged me to learn to speak Russian. I couldn’t find any Ukraine tapes when I first looked and I rationalised that Russian is probably spoken and understood more widely across eastern Europe (and in the Stands at Chelsea) than languages like Ukrainian and so would be more useful to me.

I have been working through the excellent Pimsleur course and am very happy with my progress. If you want to know where Red Square is then I can certainly ask for directions and then tell you where it is myself!

I was chatting to a friend of mine who has already been to Ukraine and he recommended that it would be a good idea to learn the Cyrillic alphabet. His reason was that even though I might be able to speak a little Russian, if I did get directions to a particular street or shop, how would I know which one it was if I couldn’t read the sign?

So on his recommendation I am about to embark on learning how to read Russian/Ukrainian in the Cyrillic alphabet. Now this shouldn’t pose too much of a problem for me because I have a variety of tools that I can use to memorise the letter shapes and the sounds they represent.

However, that is only part of the battle because effectively I am learning to read again from scratch. Now that is quite an interesting thought and until a few moments ago, I had not appreciated that essentially if I don’t learn the alphabet, I will be illiterate in that country which might put me at a bit of a disadvantage.

So that is my latest challenge. Learning the Russian Alphabet and then learning to read all over again.

I’ll let you know how I get on but if you do have any tips for doing this then please do let me know.