Monday, February 27, 2012

Vot Tak: Picking up Russian

The boys get busy making some valentines.

Just as we had hoped, the school and day care where we send the boys has been the perfect Russian crash course for them. Now that the kids have been immersed in Russian for almost five months, it's amazing what they have picked up. After the first difficult weeks, basic communication was already possible. Misha learned the most-commonly used phrases right off the bat, things like snimai obuvi (take off your shoes), ni meshai! (don't bother them!), and esho budesh? (usually in reference to food, as in, "Will you have some more?"). He also noticed another phrase immediately: he came home one day asking, "Mom, what is vot tak?" 

Vot tak may possibly be the most used tidbit in the Russian language - it basically means "like this," "like that," close to the Spanish "asi" or the French "comme ca." It's a great word. If you're at the hair salon, for example, and you want your hair cut just above your shoulders, you can simply motion to the length you want and say, "vot tak."  If you're buying potatoes, the seller will undoubtedly load your bag up for you with a good kilo or two of produce and say, "vot tak?" If you're showing someone how to do something, you can say something like, "Wait, ni tak. You have to do it vot tak," accompanied by a demonstration. 

Sebby also started using this word quickly. We noticed it one day when he was playing with blocks and directing where they should go. "Tuda!" he said, pointing to a spot on the right. "Suda!" he announced, placing one right in front of him. These words imply motion: tuda means "to there," while suda is "to here." When we had helped him stack all the blocks just so, he observed his project with satisfaction and said, "Vot tak!" 

Sebby immediately mastered all the toddler essentials: nyet (no), nyetu (all gone), ni nada (you don't need to do that), nelzya (that's forbidden), ni trogai (don't touch), and eto moyo (that's mine).

Sebby also quickly picked up "vot ana!" which is equivalent to "there it is!" ("voila!"). If we ask him to find the sun in a picture book, he'll point to it and say "vot ana!" It's fun to read books to Sebby and watch his Russian come out. If we're looking at a picture of a crying baby, he'll point and say sadly, "Plachet… Ni plach!" (He's crying … Don't cry!") 

Naturally, he sometimes speaks in sentences that are half Russian and half English. "Where's my shapka?" he'll say, searching around for his winter cap. I don't see the mixing as confusion on his part, but rather the result of the word shapka becoming so natural for him. He also says, "I want hleb" or "I want moloko" when he wants to eat bread or drink milk. However, he is acutely aware of when someone is speaking Russian verses English. For example, if we ask him a question in English, he will respond with "yeah" or "yep" or "no." But if we or someone else asks him a question in Russian, his answer will immediately be "da" or "nyet." A few days ago, Sebby told me proudly, "My teacher say I'm a BIG BOY!" I responded, "She did? Did she say 'Ti balshoi malchik?" Sebby affirmed exuberantly, "Da! Balshoi malchik!" easily repeating the words that he has no doubt heard quite often. Sometimes when we are eating, Sebby offers me a spoonful of his meal and says, "Kushai, mama. Na!" (Eat, mom. Here!) Or if I'm hurrying him along with something, he'll tell me "padajdi!" - wait!

When we first arrived in Bishkek, Sebby didn't know his colors in English, let alone Russian. Now he knows them well in English, with a good handful of Russian colors under his belt. Misha has been teaching him the difference between goluboi (light blue) and sini (dark blue), which are two distinct colors in the Russian. 

Misha actually teaches Sebby a huge amount of vocab - in English as well as in Russian. Recently, Sebby has started saying, "What's up, Mom?" if I'm looking thoughtful - a phrase he probably got from Misha. He has also started saying "ladna" (OK), which Misha taught him. When Sebby doesn't want to do something, he'll exclaim, "Ya ni hochu!" (I don't want to!). 

Sebby's speaking ability in his native tongue has really taken off too. It's exciting to hear him create complex sentences, filling out his stories with exaggerated pantomimes and sound effects that make me want to laugh. Yesterday he put his stuffed tiger up next to me and said, "Mom, Hobbes is giving you a hug!" Look at that perfectly articulated, grammatically correct, present-continuous sentence, complete with direct and indirect objects. Behold the phenomenon of language, so natural and yet so complex. 

Dancing with Hobbes

Misha's ability in Russian has taken off to such an extent that I can't even track it with cute phrases like I did for Sebby. I hear him talking to Sebby in Russian occasionally, or to our little friend Alihan, explaining what his toys can do or telling him what project they're going to do next. Sometimes we read easy Russian stories to the boys at nighttime, the kind with lots of pictures, and they understand quite well. They have also been enjoying a Russian kids' TV show called "Drakosha" about a family with a boy and a girl who find a dragon egg. Misha loves to see what happens next in each episode and he follows the dialogue well. Once we asked him, "What did he just say?" and Misha piped up, "He just said he needs to buy a present for the mom's birthday," without even taking his eyes off the screen. Josh and I were so impressed!

I know Misha is able to communicate with his classmates now, even though I don't get to observe him doing so very much. After school, Misha tells me stories about the conversations he had with his friends and how they responded, and I know he's able to interact with the kids much more easily than when he first started. He even told me about a dream he had in Russian!

Misha with his class and the soldier guests - he's front and center, in the green.

Both kids can sing a good number of songs and poems in Russian. They still belt out their New Year "yolochka" favorites, as they continue to learn more. Sebby has learned the first stanza and then some of the famous kids' poem "Mishka Kasalapi" (about a bear). This week, Misha's class sang and danced to celebrate Men's Day (or more formally, Defender of the Fatherland Day). It was originally called Red Army Day in honor of the soldiers drafted for the 1918 Russian Civl War, but it has since been expanded to celebrate anyone of the male gender. (In March, the women will have their turn to be celebrated and showered with presents.) 

Misha (in green) and all the boys got Transformers as gifts for the holiday. The girls have to wait until International Women's Day on March 8.
Josh and I have dedicated much of our time to studying languages too. We have cut down our teaching load for a few months so we can focus on what we're really here for - language. Now we are taking individual lessons for Russian and Kyrgyz, which have already proven very rewarding. Our Russian vocab is quite conversational and it keeps expanding as we constantly read stories and watch sitcoms in Russian. As for Kyrgyz, even though we just started and can only speak a little bit, we are able to understand a great deal of conversation. While Russian, English, and many European languages are in the Indo-European language family, Kyrgyz is completely different, closely related to Turkish. It's exciting to see a very different way that language is put together.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

More Essential Winter Fun

It's just not a real winter until you have built a snowman. During a recent weekend when conditions were perfect, we got to work creating our little snowmen.

Misha starts building a base while giving advice to Sebby.

Looking good!

I helped Sebby build his snowman while Misha ran inside to get a few carrots. Actually, one carrot cut in half the long way. :)

Ta da!

Misha gave his snowman a "sword," for self-defence against kids who might wish to knock the snowman over.

Our apartment building. If you look closely, you can see our second-floor window open with Josh peeking out.

Sebby is all bundled up, ready to go outside.

Father and sons out for a stroll (with mother lagging behind with the camera). This was several weeks ago when we didn't even have any snow!

Of course, much of the winter season is enjoyed indoors. Thus, I bring you the "indoor installment" of photos from the past several weeks:

Misha, as always, loves any kind of project. Here, he's creating a secret code. After this, we found little scraps of paper around the house written in his code.

We also drew our own jungle puzzle on the back of real one. 

We spend lots of time reading books. Here, Misha is reading a book in Russian about colors to our friend Alihan. Misha reads in Russian slowly but pretty well, thanks to the very phonetic alphabet that Russian has. He is also making amazing strides in reading in English - he is a master of Dr. Seuss, can successfully read various "leveled" books, and easily reads Frog and Toad - and now he is moving onto reading beginner chapter books like the Magic Treehouse series. We attribute much of his sudden acceleration in reading to Calvin and Hobbes - we often find him pouring over the comics in his room.

Sebby has the same thirst for books. He often brings us books to read to him, and not only at bedtime.

Time for some play-dough.

To get out of the house, we went to a play-area in a mall with friends. Misha and Sebby loved riding this horse. Reminiscent of Sue and Ed's house, I think!

Sebby and Alihan on the choo-choo.

Back home - three kids squeezing into the storage spots.

The three musketeers?

Cleaning the house is an endless task ... but at least the kids pitch in.

Cooking - another endless task. We keep cranking out the uchpuchmakis (pictured), gan fan, pancakes, cookies, and brownies. :)

Another fun project - cardboard ramps for the boys' many cars.

We're all enjoying the guitar. Sebby gives us a concert, singing his favorite Russian holiday song with his improvised strumming.

Last but not least, an all-season favorite: bubble baths.

Our little sledding hill

We discovered a little hill near us where someone has poured water to create a few slick paths for sledding. Even though the hill is small, the ice makes for great sledding, and walking back to the top of the hill is a piece of cake! This has provided lots of entertainment for Misha and Sebby, as well as dozens of other children who live in our area. They come bringing wooden sleds with metal runners if they have them, and if they don't, they simply sled on pieces of cardboard, plastic bags, or nothing at all. If you're wearing snowpants, you're set!

The place to be.
The camaraderie of the kids is nice. Toddlers with their mommies, elementary schoolers out with friends, Kyrgyz kids, Russian kids, girls, boys - everyone is out enjoying the winter together. Whenever a kid is poised at the top of the hill ready to go down, he or she yells out "otiditye!" ("get out of the way!") before cruising down. Following suit, Sebby has also taken to bellowing "otiditye!" before he takes his turn.

Sebby the Abominable Snowman

Hooray for snowpants!


A little push ...

Misha gets a ride from Styopa, a nice kid in the neighborhood.
When the boys are sufficiently soaked through (despite the snowsuits), I entice them back inside for some hot cocoa! 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Family Ice Skating

We are happy to report that we have resumed one of our favorite activities - ice skating! In Saudi Arabia, unfortunately, it was impossible for us to go skating as a family because the rinks were either for men or for women, but not for both. Bishkek, however, has several rinks around the city. The one we have been frequenting is a large rink filled with men, women, and children of every ability level. 

We weren't sure if we would be able to find little skates for Sebby, but we were pleasantly surprised. Not only do they have skates for the smallest of customers, but they have helmets and knee pads to boot! 

Misha was thrilled to be back on the ice, zooming around in no time, and Sebby absolutely loved his first time on the ice. I guess he's just dying to keep up with Misha. He can't skate by himself, of course, but he loved hanging onto our hands and getting spun around the rink again and again. Every time we took a break, he begged, "I want more ice skating!" Skating while supporting Sebby takes a big toll on Josh and me, so after taking Sebby along for the first two times, we found a sitter and enjoyed skating for ourselves the next time. Each time we have gone, we've taken friends along who have never skated before and were excited to try something new.

The enjoyable exercise wears us all out - especially Sebby! He fell asleep in the brief time between taking off our skates and loading back into the car.