Words fail me – things I’ve said in Russian to describe something I didn’t know the word for

When I was first learning Russian I’d often be stumped as to what the name for certain things were, so like any good language student, I used the words I did know to describe them and hopefully get the point across, often with amusing results!

  1. Calling a wasp a “spicy fly”.
  2. Struggling to find detergent in a supermarket by asking a member of staff for “laundry juice” (I later found out that the term in Russian is almost exactly the same as in English – детергент).
  3. Failing to explain why I find the use of formal/informal forms of address complicated and uttering the phrase “excuse me, mister person”.
  4. A graveyard as “a place where people don’t live”.
  5. Forgetting the word for deaf and saying “blind, but with your ears”.

Being able to explain what you mean in a foreign language using the words you know is a very important skill – language isn’t just about knowing words and grammar, it’s also about being able to speak it freely and with confidence. Knowing several thousand words and understand every tense is of course very important and you’d be well on your way to fluency if you did, but being able to practice speaking helps you build up the ability to use your imagination to find creative solutions to your language issues.

Always remember, next time you forget the word for insect, ‘small bird with six legs’ is just as acceptable!

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