Whether your child expressed an earnest desire to learn Spanish, or was motivated by the parents to take a Spanish class at a local school, having the right tools will help improve understanding and speaking skills, which, in turn, will get your kid even more excited about learning the new language.Read More
With over twenty countries speaking Spanish as their official language, which Spanish is better? Which dialect of Spanish should I learn? From which country should my Spanish teacher be? How much does Spanish really differ across different cultures? These are the questions that language learners often ask, and in this article I will share my opinion as well as additional resources to shed some light on the topic.Read More
“Where there is a will, there is a way.” Recently, when asked the question ‘How did I learn to speak French?” I immediately began describing WHY I learned French. Unless the WHY is strong enough to carry you through the journey of language learning, no method, no matter how scientific, how easy, or how intense will bring you to the desired outcome: fluency.Read More
Are you an “old school’ Learner? Join the club. I’m not stupid, but I’m slow. Ask me to plunge into conversation in a language I barely know? Well, you might as well tell me to stand up in front of a group of strangers and take off my clothes. Learning can be scary. It ’s no game for some Learners.Read More
There are many reasons why learning Spanish, Italian, Chinese, or another foreign language is good for you and the list of benefits is long. However, our individual reasons for learning a language are unique and are what really drives us to master communication in a foreign language.Read More
Winter is the time when our bodies long for hearty foods that warm up our souls, when the chilly weather makes us want to snuggle in the comfort of our homes, curled up on the couch under a soft throw blanket watching a favorite movie. Even in Florida. When the temperature dips to below sixty, what can be better than a cup of delicious home-made soup?
Most of the ingredients on this list can be found in any house or can be easily obtained for very little money. This recipe was shared by Lucas, a charming French man with shoulder-length hair and a devious sparkle in his eye. I hope to convince to share more of his culinary secrets with me because his cooking is truly magical!
The typical French onion soup does not contain potatoes, but this version does, and, frankly, being Russian, I love potatoes in any culinary manifestation. In my opinion, the more ingredients, the merrier, and it gives the soup more substance.
Here are the ingredients you will need for four servings of soup:
- 2 medium-sized onions
- 3 potatoes (creamy white potatoes or Idaho potatoes)
- extra virgin olive oil for sautéing onions
- 3 cloves of garlic
- several slices of white bread - old stale bread or fresh bread
- parmesan cheese, grated (anywhere from half a cup to a one cup - depending on how much you love cheese)
- 1 glass of dry white wine
- salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Onion soup is best served in French onion soup bowls or crocks. If you choose regular bowls or ramekins, they should be able to withstand the heat of the oven where the last step of the preparation takes place.
Peel the potatoes and onions. Chop the onions, slice the potatoes. Heat up olive oil in a medium-size pot, sauté the onions on medium high, add salt, and sauté until onions become of gold caramel color, turning them over frequently. This caramel color is the secret to making a delicious onion soup. Then add potatoes, add hot water to cover the potatoes and onions.
While the potatoes are being cooked (which will take about 20-25 minutes), if you don't have stale bread, toast fresh bread in the oven and then rub garlic on it to have the flavor of garlic envelop and penetrate the bread.
When the potatoes are almost ready (you can break them into smaller pieces with a spatula as you stir), add wine to the pot, and bring the pot back to rigorous boil. The alcohol will evaporate but the wine will give the soup delectable taste. Add black pepper to taste.
Take the individual bowls in which the soup will be served and place pieces of garlic bread broken into small pieces to the bottom, then add the soup, cover it with grated Parmesan cheese, approximately four spoonfuls, so that the entire soup is covered with a quarter of inch of cheese. Then put the bowls in the oven and broil for a few minutes until the cheese melts. Serve immediately and wait patiently for the soup to cool off a little bit as it will be extremely hot.
The arrival of New Year is symbolic of a new beginning, new chapter in life, and is celebrated with much fervor in many countries. Although some traditions are similar, I was curious to find out from my Spanish teacher Rosario that in Colombia there are some superstitions and beliefs about new year's celebration that are quite peculiar. To watch the complete video of Rosariodescribing in Spanish how the arrival of New Year is celebrated in Colombia, click here: HTTPS://WWW.YOUTUBE.COM/WATCH?V=AY0DKPQE_OY
Here is a brief description of Colombian superstitions and traditions (in English and in Spanish) when it comes to celebrating New Year:
When the clock strikes twelve at the end of the year, for each chime of the bell Colombians eat a grape and make a wish, for a total of twelve grapes and wishes for the new year.
Globe-trotters will appreciate this one: grabbing a suitcase and going around the block with it is believed to bring local or international travels in the coming year.
Beans, a staple in many Latin Ameircan countries, is a symbol of prosperity and scattering it around the house or putting up bags of it in different parts of the house is believed to bring good luck to all members of the family.
The most peculiar, however, is the Colombian tradition to wear yellow underwear, which is supposed to bring good luck!
Watch the video to learn about one more Colombian tradition that marks the end of the old year and the beginning of the new one: HTTPS://WWW.YOUTUBE.COM/WATCH?V=AY0DKPQE_OY
AGÜEROS DE FIN DE AÑO EN COLOMBIA
La esperanza de que el nuevo año será mejor, viene cargado de optimismo y de múltiples creencias llamados agüeros para aumentar la salud, la suerte, la felicidad, los viajes y el dinero.
Estas prácticas vienen de generación en generación y se realizan los 31 de diciembre de cada año. Las más comunes son:
Las 12 uvas: Por cada campanada del reloj, se come una uva pidiendo en cada una de ellas un deseo.
Vuelta con maleta por las calles: Darle la vuelta a la cuadra donde vivimos, es símbolo de viajes ya sean locales o internacionales.
Champaña: Es sinónimo de prosperidad y fortuna para la persona que se baña en ella.
Lentejas: Esparcir este alimento por la casa representa abundancia para todos los miembros del hogar.
Ropa interior amarilla: Es una de las costumbres más populares y consiste en usarla al revés el 31 de diciembre para obtener buena suerte durante el siguiente año.
Despite the natural knack for teaching – at the age of eight I taught a friend how to ride a bicycle to discover later that I, myself, did not know how to ride a bicycle – my very first official language teaching experience was a disaster. When asked to teach Russian to a beginner (and having been theoretically trained on how to do that) I stayed with the student for about fifteen minutes, then excused myself and cried for forty five minutes because my student had already known the things I was planning to teach her and I did not know what to do with her! After that day I swore that I would never teach again. That was twelve years ago and now, with a more than ten-year teaching career, I look back at those times with a smile.
Teaching somebody how to speak a second or third language requires a special set of skills, which, like any skill, can be learned with a certain amount of guidance and practice. Luckily for me, I had wonderful mentors who taught me the art of language teaching and emphasized the importance of focusing on teaching students how to communicate in the language. Nowadays, conversational approach has been almost unanimously accepted by many as the most effective way to teach and learn another language because it allows students to jump into speaking the language and start learning how to use it. Check out these enlightening videos on language acquisition and teaching using conversational approach:
No matter what is being taught, I am convinced that the learning process must be fun. Along with being prepared, organized, knowledgeable, and all the other obvious traits of any other professional, the most important characteristics of a successful language teacher, in my opinion, is creativity. Being able to spark your students’ interest, keep them engaged, and help them learn in a fun and easy way are what makes an amazing teacher.
Check out our Pinterest board for some creative ideas, as well as inspirational, fun, and educational resources:HTTP://WWW.PINTEREST.COM/WRLDCLSSLNGGS/TEACHING/
"Who dares to teach must never seize to learn", said John Cotton Dana. And what better way to learn than from the other fellow teachers? Call me old-fashioned, but I am very much a believer in personal face-to-face communication that no technology can replace, and coming together to share ideas can be a super powerful tool in growing as effective teachers. Oftentimes we, teachers, do not have the opportunity to observe our colleagues in action and, therefore, must use our own imagination to create activities, or rely on Internet resources. The latter does offer access to a wealth of ideas, but actually talking to another teacher and finding out what has worked for them, and being able to share your personal insights, is a valuable tool that we ought to take advantage of more often.
If you are a teacher in the South Florida area and would like to attend one of our exciting teacher training workshops - check out the schedule of upcoming seminars.
One late lazy evening, when vacationing in Turkey, my husband got up, rounded up all the family members and with determination proclaimed, “We are going to eat şirdan (shirdan)”. Being open to tasting a new culinary delight, I was filled with anticipation as we drove around deserted streets of night Adana, a city located in the southeast of Turkey. We perused the city for a while, as if looking for a place the address of which we forgot, until on the sidewalk of one of the streets we saw a small kiosk, the roof and walls of which were made of plastic sheets, with a sign Kemal’s Şirdan printed in red over yellow background. Kemal, a typical-looking Turk with salt and pepper hair, stubble on his face and mischievous wink in his smile, was sitting behind a small table, was inviting us to join two other men who were already devouring something and not paying any attention to our arrival.
We sat down. Our hands were sprayed with some lemony spray that smelled like cologne, but which, I was told, was made of lemon essence mixed with alcohol – think, homemade hand sanitizer. Then our host took the lid off a thermos-like container which kept his signature dish hot, and using tongs, plopped something that looked like a body part on a piece of brown wrapping paper for each one of us. I observed how others ate and imitated. Each patron to this very intimate eatery removed the string that kept the stuffing inside during cooking and helped themselves to seasoning, which was arranged on the table in large glass bowls and which included coarsely ground salt mixed with cumin, red pepper flakes, and pickled peppers. I did what everyone else did and took a bite. The taste was heavenly!
Now, as far as appearance is concerned, I must tell you that şirdan looks like a ... um... well... a penis. That might make the idea of eating it sound repulsive. The good news is that it is made out of a part of sheep’s intestine which first must be cleaned out really well, and then stuffed with seasoned rice and meat, sewn up, and boiled. The idea might still be repulsive to some, but the truth is that it tastes delectable! It melts in your mouth and keeps you craving for more. Unless you start looking at it and the thought of it being an animal’s internal organ makes you want to gag… It’s all the matter of perception, after all!
I discovered that şirdan(shirdan) is not common in other parts of Turkey, and is predominantly an Adana dish. My brother-in-law boasts: “we don’t waste any part of the animal, we eat everything”, and I am sure glad that it is so!
After I discovered şirdan, I tried it at several different places around the city – twice inside small restaurants, and several times outside, on the street, which for me was more romantic. Perhaps, the freshness of April night in Adana added more romance to this experience, which I am looking forward to reliving as soon as I have a chance to step on Adana soil again!
Here are some videos about Turkish food that might make you extremely hungry:
Turkish Culinary Guide
Gözleme: Turkish street food
Turkish Foods & Kitchen, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations
Despite the natural knack for languages that everyone claims I have, learning Turkish has been quite a challenge for me. Getting married to a Turk is what compelled me to start learning this language in the first place. “What better way to learn a language than being married to a person who speaks it?” I thought to myself. “Piece of cake! I will be conversational in no time!” The fact that Turkish belongs to a Turkic family of languages and has nothing to do with Spanish, French, English, Russian, or Japanese did not scare me but, quite the opposite, ignited my desire to learn this language precisely because it was nothing like any of the languages with which I was familiar. Being an academic learner that I am, I ordered several books on learning Turkish which were recommended to me by a Turkish teacher. I learned from books, I learned from listening to my husband talk to his friends, picking out random words and asking what they meant, and, boy, did I learn while I was in Turkey for five weeks! During those five weeks in Turkey I would amuse my husband’s family by showing off the few phrases and sentences I learned, in response to which people commented that I was çok zeki (chok zeki - very smart (yeah, right!)). After the supply of my memorized Turkish would run out, I would be surrounded by incessant chattering of aunts, cousins, distant relatives, and friends; the meaning of that chatter was not comprehensible to my ear, and it made me feel so alone in a roomful of people... It also made me determined that I WILL learn this language in order not to feel that way again. Undoubtedly, being in Turkey was the most tremendous opportunity to learn and LIVE the Turkish language and culture, and I am looking forward to another such adventure which I resolve to begin better equipped!
Here are the resources that I have been using to help me befriend the Turkish language:
Books for learning Turkish.
Gökkuşağı Türkçe is a very colorful series oriented for school children but which can also be used for adults. There is a Dil Bilgisi (grammar book), Ders Kitabi (student book), Çalişma Kitabɪ (workbook), and audio CD to accompany each level. The books are entirely in Turkish so you will need a teacher or a Turkish-speaking friend to guide you. There is also a vocabulary CD-ROM which makes learning new vocabulary such as things around the house, food, etc. fun and easy. You can order this series fromWWW.ANTSTORES.COM and they have a variety of other books for Turkish language learners.
Teach Yourself Turkish with CDs is another book that I would recommend for those who must learn with a book. Thematic dialogues in the beginning of each chapter are also recorded on the audio CD, and easy grammar explanations are followed by exercises to practice. HTTP://WWW.AMAZON.COM/TEACH-YOURSELF-BEGINNERS-TURKISH-LANGUAGES/DP/0340845376
Busuu is an online community of language learners, so you can make new friends who are native speakers of Turkish and with whom you can practice and learn. In addition to the social aspect of this website, Busuu is a wonderful resource for an audio-visual learner because it has a series of lessons, many of which are free. Lessons are organized according to topic, for example, emotions, talking on the phone, family, and level. Each unit is set up as a series of flashcards which display an image, a written phrase, word, or sentence, and the audio component which allows you to listen to it as many times as you wish. In addition to flashcards that teach you vocabulary and pronunciation, each unit also contains practice exercises and tests which rate how well you’ve learned the material. Many introductory lessons are free, and as you get to a higher level, you pay a small fee for each lesson. It is a cool app to use on your phone when you have a few extra minutes to spare and you don’t want to just kill time.
In many cases they will make you cry your eyes out, but it’s totally worth it. My favorite ones are:
Eyvah Eyvah 2: HTTP://WWW.YOUTUBE.COM/WATCH?V=0JL7RV7N-CW
Incir Reçeli (Fig Jam): HTTP://WWW.YOUTUBE.COM/WATCH?V=U6ECLBCIDIE
Aşk Tesadüfleri Sever (Love Loves Coincidences): HTTP://WWW.FLICKR.COM/PHOTOS/CHICAGOTURKISHFILM/7612787854/
Mutluluk (Bliss): HTTP://WWW.YOUTUBE.COM/WATCH?V=N92UFTQUOZ4
Listening to Turkish radio in the car is entertaining and educational! I love Kral Pop, which translates as King of Pop. You can listen to it by downloading a Tunein radio app on your phone or online: HTTP://TUNEIN.COM/RADIO/KRAL-POP-947-S25210/
Good luck on your quest of conquering Turkish, or at least making it your friend!
Russian Maslenitsa, which is often translated into English as Butter Week, Pancake Week, or Cheesefare Week, is a one-week folk and religious holiday before commencement of the Orthodox Lent, and which in 2013 is celebrated from March 11 until March 17. Before the advent of Christianity in Russia, around the time of the spring solstice people celebrated the imminent end of winter and the long-awaited beginning of spring. Each day of the Maslenitsa week had its own name and traditions associated with it. Usually, a human-like effigy of winter was made out of straw and other materials in the beginning of the week, and was burnt at the end of the week to symbolize the end of winter. In addition to that, glistening pancakes, round and hot like the sun, were cooked in every home and consumed in abundant quantities. The holiday was accompanied by joyous celebrations, singing, dancing, snowball fights, sliding off ice mountains, and visiting family members. During these festivities men would also choose future brides and arrangements for marriages would be made, and single young girls would steal shy flirtatious glances at young men. With the advent of Christianity in Russia Maslenitsa started being celebrated right before the beginning of Great Lent, during the seventh week before Eastern Orthodox Easter. Maslenitsa was the last week to enjoy eggs and dairy products, while consumption of meat and fish was already prohibited.
In the modern-day Russia not everyone celebrates Maslenitsa the entire week and not everybody observes the Great Lent. However, this celebration of arrival of spring is always accompanied with delicious bliny, or pancakes. Just as French crepes, Russian pancakes are very thin. For food lovers, here is a very easy and quick way of preparing bliny, which was shared by our student Lana Davis, who also happens to be an avid fan of culinary arts, travel, painting, and languages:
- 1 small peach or strawberry yogurt (feel free to use plain yogurt)
- 500 ml milk
- 1 tbsp sugar
- ½ tsp salt
- 3 tbsp oil
- 3 eggs
- about 1½ cups flour (to be adjusted)
To prepare the batter, in a large bowl combine yogurt, eggs and milk; beat them with a mixer at medium to high speed. Add 1 cup of flour and continue mixing at lower speed until the mixture forms into smooth batter without lumps. Add sugar and salt. Stir well and start baking.
You will need a skillet with a heavy bottom, preferably non-stick. Add 2 tbsp of oil and heat up the skillet on medium to high heat. Add the first batch of batter (approximately half a ladle) and quickly swirl the pan around to evenly spread the batter over the surface of the pan. Cook for 2-3 minutes on one side, then, using a thin spatula, carefully flip it over and cook on the other side. The first blin/pancake is most likely to be shapeless and too greasy, so you can through it away, but it is a necessary procedure to prepare the skillet. The first pancake also indicates whether you need to adjust the batter: if the batter is too thick, add a little bit more milk; if the first pancake tears easily, it means you need to add some more flour.
Once bliny are ready, serve them hot with jam or honey, caviar and champagne, smoked fish, Nutella, or just with a cup of hot tea. Bon appétit, or, as we say in Russian, ПРИЯТНОГО АППЕТИТА!
I remember receiving a woven orange pouch, the size of a matchbook, tied with a string. When I carefully untied the string and emptied the content of the pouch onto the table, I discovered a huge family of tiny, colorfully dressed people. These were tiny dolls, less than half an inch tall, made of tiny twigs that were tied together, and then decorated with yarn for hair, scraps of fabric for clothing, eyes and mouths drawn on their faces.
“What are they?” I asked the person who gifted them to me.
“They are worry dolls,” followed the answer.
“Worry dolls,” I repeated, mesmerized by the intricate details of almost a dozen little people that all fit on the palm of my hand.
I learned that worry dolls are traditionally made in Guatemala, where they were created by indigenous people many centuries ago as a remedy for worrying. To alleviate anxiety, before going to bed, you must tell each doll a worry that you have, after which you place the dolls under your pillow, and while you are sleeping, the dolls will take away your worries. To reinforce a child’s belief that worry dolls do their work diligently, parents sometimes remove worry dolls from under the child’s pillow. The psychological effect of worry dolls can be explained by the fact that, according to psychologists, saying what we fear or worry about out loud makes these fears lose their power, hence, less anxiety and better sleep.
I renamed my dolls into “don’t worry dolls”.
This year spring brought about a stealthy condition akin to depression which replaced my usual joyfulness and eagerness to accomplish things. This inert condition of being in a rut is familiar to many, I bet; it creeps in when life settles into the mundane and routine predicts our schedules and activities. Looking at the variety of projects that I created for myself and that were once perceived as wonderful, I would think about all the work that would need to go into actually getting these projects accomplished, and I would get intimidated. Instead of taking action, I would sit myself onto the couch with a cup of coffee (or a pint of ice cream) hoping that perhaps a jolt of caffeine (or half a kilo of sugar) will give me what it takes to start actually DOING what needs to be done. I would remember my mother’s words when she encouraged me whenever I dreaded doing something: “your eyes are afraid, but your hands are doing [the work]”. However powerful, even those words were not able to move me from the couch.
I found the cure for this condition just the other day through the people who have been wonderfully placed in my life. A client told me how happy she was with a private teacher who started tutoring her eight-year-old in reading and math. “We are very happy with Marta - she has an incredible way of igniting my daughter’s interest in learning; and my daughter runs to hug her new teacher and looks forward to every lesson!” When I heard those words I started saying how much of an inspiration Marta is to me personally, how I have never seen her have a bad day, and that she is always upbeat, positive, eager to learn and share her knowledge with others, always smiling and radiating happiness. As I was speaking these words, I caught myself thinking that I want to be like Marta, an always-happy-and-productive inspiration to others.
Later that day I went to the house of my Spanish teacher in whom I confide all my secrets in my not-yet-perfect Spanish, and who, after listening to me whine about not wanting to do anything, told me that she starts every day with ENTHUSIASM. Waking up every morning, Rosario, whom I don’t ever recall seeing angry, disconcerted, or having a bad day, looks forward to the classes she will teach and things she will do. She talked about her mother, who even at the age of 82 wanted to go visit another city in her native Colombia and assured her daughter that she could still sew, knit, and do other type of work. As Rosario was telling the story about her late mother with tears in her eyes, about how she didn't fear work, it made me think of the last line in Voltaire’s Candide “we must cultivate our garden”…
Thinking about Marta and the words of Rosario, I decided to make ENTHUSIASM my word of the day, my slogan to keep me moving forward. Perhaps this article belongs in the realm of self-help and inspiration, but, after giving it some thought, I realized that enthusiasm applies to learning languages as well. How often do we get excited about learning a new language, sign up for a class, buy a book, or resolve to watch YouTube videos to start learning, and then after a while the flame dies down and the only thing that is left from the dream to speak a foreign language is the remorse for not having done what it takes to actually achieve that goal? How often do we as teachers (let’s be honest, it does happen from time to time) get into a routine, settle into our comfort zone, and continue teaching without trying to reinvent ourselves and think outside the old proven methods? And how much fun is it to learn with a teacher who always thinks of new ways to interest her students with songs, games, and other exercises that are far from the traditional classroom but produce excellent results (like my wonderful Italian teacher Laura – grazie!) What is the prescription for always being excited and passionate about projects, life, languages?
I resolved to be ENTHUSIASTIC, just like Rosario taught me. Excited and ready to bring into life and to fruition all those projects and ideas that are born in my head, I decided to share this excitement with others, and, having googled “enthusiasm”, I came across the following quote by a photographer Gordon Parks: “Enthusiasm is the electricity of life. How do you get it? You act enthusiastic until you make it a habit.” Fake it till you make it, in other words, or become an energizer bunny like Marta, resolve every morning to wake up with enthusiasm like Rosario, and cultivate your garden one inch at a time even though your eyes are horrified by what seems to be an insurmountable amount of work. This quote convinced me to make ENTHUSIASM a mandatory supplement to my daily morning coffee, a habit, that will help me stay passionate about my teaching, work, and hobbies.
Living in South Florida with its diverse mix of cultures, I often meet parents who want to teach their children their heritage language. These parents want their kids to understand and speak the language to be able to communicate with their grandparents and relatives who still live “back home”, and understand and appreciate their cultural heritage. How can you teach your child another language when everything around you is primarily in English?
“Just speak to the child in your language,” is the advice you hear from friends and neighbors.
Sounds easy enough, doesn’t it? After all, this is how we humans acquire our native tongue – by observing the natural interaction between parents, immediate family members and caretakers, and by being spoken to in one language since birth. Somehow, the human brain just figures out the grammar of the language and by the age of 5 a child can speak its native tongue fluently.
If you speak to some of these parents trying to teach their children a minority language in a predominantly English-speaking environment, you will learn that raising a bilingual child is not as easy as it sounds. Researchers determined that there are certain things parents can do to ensure their success on the path of teaching their offspring a minority language, and here are some of the suggestions.
Talk to the child only in the minority language, no matter what. The dominant language, English, in our case, will penetrate every aspect of the child’s life, especially once they start going to school, since most of the input such as school, television, media, and surrounding environment are in English. Therefore, it is important to create as much input in minority language as possible.
Prepare to speak the minority language before your child is born. If both parents speak the minority language, they should switch to speaking only that language at least six weeks prior to the arrival of the newborn, as researchers say that it takes approximately that long for this type of communication to become a habit. As a native Russian speaker who has lived in the U.S. for thirteen years, I can relate: sometimes it is easier for me to express an idea in English rather than in Russian!
Provide your child with materials in the minority language, for example, books and cartoons. By recognizing that your minority language is a medium to understanding these, the child will learn the value of the language. However, it is recommended not to rely on television as a major input for the second language, as human interaction remains the most effective medium for teaching language skills to a child. Having your child attend a language immersion program in your area, where he can be spoken to in the second language might greatly help parents in the education process.
Become a part of the network of other people with children who speak the minority language. If your child realizes that there is a community of people who speak this language, it will help him understand that it is more than just a language spoken at home. If there are any language programs in your area, attending those classes will help develop language skills and nourish the love for learning it.
Raising a bilingual child in an environment where one language is dominant is no easy task. Is it worth a try? Definitely. I have met a lot of adults who regret the fact that their parents did not teach them their heritage language.
Here are some additional resources on raising a bilingual child:
Do you have any tips on how to raise a bilingual child? What works for your family? Please feel free to share your experiences, challenges, and advice!
A rational, educated person might argue that superstitions are nonsensical. A Brazilian lady told me once not to put my purse on the floor because, according to a Brazilian superstition, my money “will run out”. I like to think of myself as rational and educated, but ever since that incident I avoid putting my purse on the floor, and I am not even Brazilian! However silly and irrational they are, superstitions are inherent in every culture and are a part of who we are. Here are some Russian superstitions that I grew up with and with which most Russians are familiar.
Before going on a trip, one must sit down for a few minutes. We say “присядем на дорожку” [prisyadem na doroshku], which can be translated as «let’s sit down before we hit the road.” Usually, friends and family who are seeing you off or taking you to the airport or train station will sit down with you. Out of all superstitions this one is the most reasonable one because it has a very sound explanation. Preparing for a trip and packing can be frantic and stressful, therefore, sitting down and calming yourself for just a few minutes has a soothing effect that also allows you to ensure you remember to bring the most important things such as passports, tickets, and money.
If you are invited to a Russian person’s home and you are the happy type who likes to sing, hum and whistle wherever you go, refrain from whistling at your Russian friend’s house. “Don’t whistle, there won’t be any money” is what you might hear in response to your whistling. At least that is what I heard from my parents when, after my brother taught me how to whistle, I attempted to practice my whistling skills at home.
It is a bad omen to return back home if you forget something. They even sing about it in songs («возвращаться плохая примета» - [vozvrashat’sya plohaya primeta]). This superstition has several variations. Some people say that if you do return home, in order to ward off bad luck, you need to look in the mirror before heading out again, while others say that you need to look in the mirror and say hello to yourself. I am embarrassed to say that I do look in the mirror and give myself a nod before leaving the house for the second time...
Giving your lover or significant other a watch or shoes as a present is a foreboding of breaking up with this person. The logical explanation behind this belief is that a watch “times” how long the relationship will last, and shoes mean that the person will “walk out of your life”.
Don’t celebrate a birthday early. This superstition baffles me. In my opinion, if you celebrate early and then something unfortunate happens, at least you have celebrated. Otherwise, you are just completely out of luck! However, most Russians do not share my point of view and celebrating a birthday early is a no-no.
When someone leaves the house to travel to another city, don’t sweep, vaccuum, or wash the floor for a few days, otherwise, the person might not have a smooth trip. My mother taught me not to clean the floor for one-two days after the person leaves, whereas my sister-in-law instructed me not to clean the floor for seven days until her parents safely arrived in Western Russia after departing from the Far East!
There are a lot of other superstitions in the Russian culture, and some of them vary from one region to the other. If you spend a lot of time with Russian people, you will notice that they pay attention to many of these. You don’t have to make them constrict your life, but they are fun to know, a curious insight into what drives us to do what we do.
What superstitions do you have in your family?