I first started learning Russian when I was in 7th grade. Little did I know the profound influence the decision to learn Russian, and the teacher who taught it, would have on my life. Every Friday we would single file out of the classroom to the baseball field with a broomstick as a bat and play Lapta, the Russian one-base version of baseball. Easter time we painted Ukrainian Easter eggs, using a stylus, layers of wax, and colorful dye. There were times after a long grammar lesson he would tell us to put our heads down on the desk and rest, as he then walked in between the rows of desks singing to us in Russian, “Moscow Nights”. I am deaf now, but I thank God for auditory memory as I can still “hear” his voice belting out this song.
It’s no surprise, at least to me, that years later I became a Russian teacher. I knew I needed to make a complex language as easy as possible for high school students and have some fun along the way. My first day of teaching Beginning Russian, I would tell the class they already knew some Russian! I then started speaking Russian cognates (words that sound the same in English) and asked the students to guess what I was saying. I loved seeing the look of surprise on their face as they guessed each word and realized it was true – they already knew some Russian! Their confidence soared as they learned an extensive vocabulary of Russian that was easy to learn.
Taking something complex and making it as simple as possible to learn, with words of encouragement, has become part of who I am in both my teaching and counseling careers. Perhaps you have doubts that you already know some American Sign Language like the students who doubted they knew any Russian on that first day of class. I encourage you to explore the mimes on this website and you will find that you already have a considerable sign language vocabulary as many of these signs are natural gestures. It is my hope that your confidence will soar and you will have some fun along the way.