Alexandra: “Sign language helps me with Hindi”

In the age when kids usually start going to schools, little shorthaired Alexandra used to start her day by riding her horse. When she was 6 years old, she was already very confident in horseriding.  Thats why, people used to say sometimes: “Hey, look, what a cute cowboy!” seeing her galloping on her horse as fast as wind.

Alexandra’s life is full of horses, races, show jumping, racetracks and stables. But in January 2017, something more added to her life journey- India. Alexandra was born in the North Caucasus, next to the great volcano Elbrus and got married in India, where she lives now with her loving husband, his caring parents and a cute as well as very bright younger sister. Extraordinary life of this equestrian and her purposefulness in learning foreign languages raised some questions in my mind. Following to these circumstances,  I decided to interview her for our blog.

Alexandra - Hindi passenger

I know, that in school you were learning German. So, that means German was your first foreign language?

Actually, even before I had foreign language classes in my school, At home, I was helping my elder sister with English, by learning vocabulary together. I was ready for studying English further. However, later I was informed that the places for English language were full and hence I had to go for German. Of course, I got upset at first, but then, just after few classes, I fell in love with German. Unfortunately, we didn’t have good German language teachers those days. Therefore, I learnt it by myself mostly.

It is not easy to learn foreign language alone, especially when you are a kid. How did you deal with that?

I had a friend who lived all his life in Germany, but for summer he usually came to hometown. My mom was always sending me to practice my German with him. I remember, how shy I was to try.

You mean, you were just talking in German randomly?

For example, we usually discussed our daily routines. Before coming to him, I had to prepare myself to speak in German, as I didn’t have any speaking skills before. In school we practiced only few common phrases, like who is present who is absent today. Or few words about ourselves. Thats it! We were never taught to converse in German properly. Nevertheless, I loved to read in German. I could easily memorize words, but speaking was something unreal for me.

Alexandra, Hindi learner

And what about Hindi? Did you start learning it before or after your marriage?

Much earlier. Actually, after German I started learning Sign language. That time I met new friends and among them there was a deaf girl. Almost all those guys were Sign language interpreters. Later, we opened our own classes to teach Sign language. But when I was 17, I  moved to Tambov, so I had to leave those classes. I didn’t leave Sign language although.

Is Sign language difficult?

In Sign language all emotions must be shown on your face. For me, it is difficult as I can’t express my feelings much. Nonetheless, my experience with Sign language helps me with Hindi now. When I have to tell something to my mother-in-law and I have lack of Hindi words, I start using gestures and sounds. I do say, it works. She can understand me perfectly.

But how did you start learning Hindi?

I was living in Tambov. I started loving India through books. This motivated me to learn Hindi.

As I know so far, almost all Hindi learners loved India from Bollywood movies. How come from books?

I have read some novels of Mayne Reid. Those were about trip to India, to mountains of India. I was so much interested of those books, I was curious to know more and more about India. Later just by a chance I watched a Bollywood movie. Then, eventually, I started learning Hindi.

How long had you been learning Hindi before you met your husband?

I had been learning Hindi for 2-3 yers before I met my husband. First, I learnt how to read and write in Hindi. Following, I learnt basic Hindi grammar. However, I had to give almost all my time to my work, so Hindi went behind. I didn’t leave learning Hindi totally, but what I was learning, wasn’t enough. Therefore, I started even forgetting simple things I have learnt already.

So, that means you had started learning Hindi in Russia and now you are learning it further in India. What’s your opinion: Did you notice any difference between learning a foreign language in your own country and in the country the language is spoken?

When I was learning Hindi in Russia, I used to write down some sentences. I always dreamed of meeting someone, so that I could practice my Hindi. I was thinking: ” If I meet someone or I call someone, then I will say like this or like that.”  In this case, learning Hindi in India is much easier. Now, when I need to know anything, I just go and ask anyone.

Which language do you usually speak in India?

With my husband and his sister I communicate in English. But to his parents and maids I have to speak in Hindi.

How do you begin learning English?

The fact is that, I started learning Hindi just for fun. I didn’t know why I learn it, what for, whether I will use it! I just loved to learn Hindi. However, I was worried about it. I remembered that I had also put a lot of efforts and time to learn German, but I wasn’t using it. I had forgotten everything. It made me so upset. I gave my time and energy for what? Nothing. Even my mom started taunting me: “Why are you learning Hindi? I understand that you love it, but it would be more useful for you to learn English. It’s global language. Wherever you go, the first language you will need is English.”

That’s why I started trying to speak in English with those Indian friends whom I knew already while learning Hindi. In parallel, I also started talking to foreign students who barely could speak in Russian. I didn’t have even one English class, only by practice I had to learn things. And also, that time I was working at radio station. There I had to talk and announce about English songs, but I couldn’t even read in English properly. Therefore, this was another motivation for me to start English dominantly.

According to you, you never attended any language course, right?

Not only learning languages, but also, Horseriding and many other things I do, I learnt it by myself. I don’t know why it is like that. Maybe it’s easier for me to learn things like this, or maybe because of money. My whole life is reflection of self learning.

Do you also read novels in foreign languages? For example, in English?

Yes, I do. I started with very simple books. I used to read a lot about horses. Then I started reading other books too.

Interview with Alexandra, Hindi learner

Now, after many years of learning and practicing languages, do you use any dictionary while reading?

If I want to learn any word, I will take a dictionary, note down that word, try to remember and use it oftenly. I remember, my first English book. I had already read this book in Russian many times, so I decided to read it again in English. Though, my English was too weak that time. I couldn’t understand much. But I noticed something very useful for me. As much I read, as I found the repetition of words. Subsquently, I could understand them even without dictionary. And in the end of the book I could remember them easily as well.

Finally, my last question, In what language do you speak to your horses in India?

In Russian! To all animals in Russian only. Even for scolding monkeys I use Russian. In beginning, I wanted to teach our dog only English commands, so that she could understand and obey everyone at our home. I started with 3-4 commands, but that’s all. I couldn’t continue in English. I don’t know. I just can’t. I don’t feel anything talking with her in English. We speak with animals from our hearts. And no matter what, but my heart is Russian!

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