May 22, 2012

Too Much Grammar!

written by Kelly Smithson

If only my Russian were as good as my German and English! Unfortunately, to become fluent in a language, you need to use it regularly in all forms of communication, whereas I have always been a quiet person; I am one of those people who can listen to a conversation without adding even a sound to it. That explains why my spoken Russian is not as good as my writing or comprehension of the language. By not speaking Russian on a regular basis, I also lack the confidence in grammar apparently required to speak fluently, which in turn makes me hesitate to speak for fear of making mistakes. My mother, on the other hand, had a different experience with the German language.

I owe my life to circumstances that are not as obvious as one might assume. Even before my parents met, when my mother was studying German in the US, there would not have been any future for me if my mother had not persevered in her study of the language. She actually considered dropping German because its grammar seemed impossible to master. To her, the hardest aspect of German grammar was gender. The gender of a noun in German cannot always be discerned from its ending in the nominative case. Certain endings are associated with each gender, but there are more exceptions in German than there are in other languages, such as Spanish, French, or even Russian. This no doubt gives the impression that each German noun must be memorized with its gender in order to communicate correctly. That was a daunting task for my mother at first. However, she decided not to let grammar stand in her way of communicating with German natives. As a result, she came to speak German fluently although she did not always use the correct endings for nouns and adjectives. That flaw was the only thing that set her apart from German natives, as her pronunciation of the language was very good. Apparently, Germans did not mind my mother’s grammatical errors. In fact, they praised her German. I suspect they appreciated the fact that my mother had taken the time and trouble to learn to communicate with them in their own language and the fact that she pronounced it similarly to a native (and not with a stereotypical American accent).

Perhaps that is the approach I should take. After all, it is tedious and frustrating for me to always worry about grammar when I speak Russian. Would Russians be as forgiving as Germans if I did not always use correct grammar? I am sure that over time and with continuous practice on my part and appropriate correction by native speakers, my grammatical issues would gradually be mended, and Russian would come to me more naturally.

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