No, I’m not learning Russian, not really. My two younger kids have been playing around with Duolingo (Lucas with Italian, because he wants to go to the Palio di Siena, and Nora with French, because Paris is the greatest city in the world). I started fooling around with it on my phone yesterday while waiting for Matthew to get out of math class, and decided to play around in Russian. I’ve been watching a lot of The Americans lately, and have been trying to pay close attention to the shape and tone of the language. Plus, hey, one day I might get to Petersburg to visit Evgeny Vodolazkin. It would be fun to know at least a few words and phrases.

Duolingo is a lot of fun, but it was challenging fun for me, with Russian. First there’s the Cyrillic alphabet. And then there’s the pronunciation. People tell me I have a very good French accent, and I know it must be true because when French speakers hear me say a few lines, they immediately assume that I’m far more fluent than I am (which is not very). I find that I don’t have much trouble picking up European accents, such that after a couple of days in country, I can read menus aloud to the waiter and make myself understood.

But Russian — wow, is it hard. Repeating these basic words and phrases aloud makes me sound like … well, like a clunky American. But I’m enjoying puzzling out the Cyrillic; if I can learn the Cyrillic alphabet, I will be able to sound out phonetically text I sometimes see at our Russian Orthodox parish.

I won’t ever get serious about learning Russian, because I simply don’t have the time. If I did have time to go all-in to learn a language, it would be French, because I have a good basis from which to start. And I would no doubt learn Italian before Russian, because Dante. Still, I would like to hear from students and speakers of Russian. What’s it like to learn that language? What are the particular difficulties that English speakers have with it? And what are the pleasures you who have learned (or are learning) Russian find in the language?

Me, sometimes I’ll pull my French psalter off the shelf and pray a few Psalms aloud en français, just because the language tastes like creamy butter in my mouth.

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