Oh, this subject brings up so many memories…
Like any other child born and raised in Europe, I had to learn two foreign languages in school. As far as I can remember, being able to speak into another language was something of a great appeal to me. When I was a little girl, probably 4 years old, I was fascinated by the foreign radio stations my parents were listening to and, as I was trying to imitate those mysterious languages, I could be heard ‘speaking’ an unknown sort of Dutch dialect or maybe Mongolian?!…oh, happy days….
Then, I went to school and learned how to read, write and speak Russian for 8 years, but of course, that was not enough to read Tolstoy or Dostoevsky in original. I was excited to learn Latin, writing and declamation, for 4 years in high school, the language of Virgil, Cicero and Ovidius Naso, who were often imprisoned for being outspoken...Also, I learned French for 12 years, which was quite easy and delightful, as my native tongue has similar roots and vocabulary to French language. Obviously, I came to New York, New York very fluent in French.
So, there I was in Manhattan at the phone booth on Lexington Ave., crying and crumpling a note with phone numbers that I couldn’t use because I couldn’t understand what the operator was telling me to do “Please, dial 1 in front of the area code.” For the first time since my arrival, I felt so alone and discouraged, I couldn’t even explain what my problem was…English came very hard on me as strong communication skills were a must-have in my career…. Armed with a pocket bilingual dictionary, I spent so many nights scribbling and mumbling trying to teach myself Shakespeare’s language….it was like being thrown into a pool without any swimming instructor in sight…so I drowned many, many times… My struggles with English pronunciation were comparable only to those of Inspector Clouseau in ‘I would like to buy a hamburger’.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lz0IT4Uk2xQ Pink Panther
To top it all, I had been offered a solo show at International House and everything was fine and dandy, but they asked me to do the presentation of my works in English.
Who said ‘Desperate times call for desperate solutions’ really got that right. I went to Barnes & Noble, bought an art book about Surrealist Painting and made a compilation that I decided to memorize and deliver to the audience at the opening reception. I even invited my boss to the show. Everybody was there: the trustees of the fellowship, the director of the program, professors, international students, guests, art galleries owners, journalists, guests and my friends. The entire show had been recorded on a video. As for myself, I didn’t want to talk to anybody before the show because I didn’t want to forget my lines...ha ha ha…I had received the warmest welcome ever, the audience was thrilled to have me there and after the presentation, everybody wanted to talk to me. Oh, God… The very next day, I got fired. My boss told me that she saw lots of men looking at me and, right then and there, she thought to set me free so that I can pursue my dreams without having a job. I don’t know what she was talking about because according to me, there were more women than men in the gallery, even on the streets of Manhattan there were more women than men, but anyway, she fired me and that was that.
The frustration grew to the point where I put myself into an art & design school and started all over just to get some computer skills and English knowledge…Although, in order to enroll in school, I had to pass the TOEFL test twice...Once in school, the only English courses requirements for my major were English Composition and Public Speaking that I had to attend at the end of that tumultuous one year program only. But, the professors were kind and very supportive to my efforts especially in writing essays.
Yeah, learning a foreign language is a very long process, comes with a price, but it is definitely worth it.
Still chuckling here at Peter Sellers ‘Pheun Service’ and ‘English wex’… this brings up many memories as well…:)