Learning a Language with Scottie

“Baba,” said my grandson Scottie, as I helped him lift the lid of the toy box to retrieve the bottle he had put inside.

I marveled. This blond, blue-eyed little boy had begun to learn a foreign language in only fifteen months. As small as he was, he, I, and everyone else in his life knew that “baba” meant “bottle.” He could communicate.

Scottie learned “baba” by listening to his parents and others—and by then imitating their speech until he got it close enough for them to understand. In this way, he had also learned “kitty,” “daddy,” “mama,” “bye-bye,” and several other bits and pieces of our language.

I decided that if Scottie can do it, so can I. So I bought some Russian-language tapes and began.

I switched on the tape player. “YanizNAIoshtoETa,” said a woman who sounded as if her name should be Olga. I looked through the workbook until I discovered that yanizNAIoshtoETa means “I don’t know what it is.” That’s appropriate, I concluded. I didn’t know what it was, either.

Hearing it once doesn’t get the job done. Scottie probably heard ‘bottle’ a thousand times before he finally made the connection and it began to sound comprehensible.

In the three months since then, I discovered that what Olga was really saying was Russian characters Each of those odd-looking words has a correct pronunciation, a meaning, and a use within a grammatical setting.

While driving to and from work, I have memorized side one of the first tape. I have heard side two so many times that one of these days I may run off the road screaming and babbling Russian.

But it’s working. The same process that is making English a communication tool for Scottie is making Russian a communication tool for me. With enough time, enough listening, enough speaking, and some timely pointers from people who want us to succeed, we’ll master our respective languages.

I’m ahead of Scottie now. He can say nearly 25 words in badly accented, imperfect American English. I can say about 650 words in badly accented, imperfect Moscow-dialect Russian. My goal is to stay ahead of him, somehow, and then, when he is ready to go forth to preach the gospel in New Delhi or Winnipeg or Houston, I’ll be ready, too—to preach that same gospel in Kiev or Leningrad or Smolensk.

Here are ten tips for busy people learning a language in their spare time:

1. Listen to language tapes as you drive to and from work. Listen and then repeat out loud—over and over. Practice makes perfect!

2. Print the vocabulary words you’re trying to learn on 3 by 5 inch cards. Carry these in your pocket and study them in elevators, while you are waiting for crosswalk lights to change—at any time you’re waiting.

3. Use your lunch break to study a basic grammar text of the language.

4. Before you go to sleep, spend a few minutes reading a graded reader in your chosen language.

5. Have someone work up some short prayers for you, including a blessing on the food. Memorize these and use them until you are able to express your own thoughts in prayer.

6. Find someone—preferably a native speaker—to talk with, and speak with that person as often as possible.

7. Find a pen pal who is fluent in the language and write often, using what you have learned.

8. Carry a pocket dictionary with you so you can look up words. Use a pencil to mark the words you’ve learned.

9. If you jog, use a portable tape player and headset to listen to your tapes as you run.

10. Pray to the Lord for help in learning the language. If you exhibit faith and work diligently, the Lord will bless you and help you learn more quickly than you would have believed possible. Terry J. Moyer, Salt Lake City, Utah

Piggy Bank Management

When our children were small, we started them on a financial plan that has proven most valuable and effective over the years. Whenever they earned any money, they first paid 10 percent tithing. Next they deposited 30 percent in a savings account designated for marriage, college, or a mission. They could spend the remaining 60 percent.

At first, the children grumbled and complained. Then, as their money added up and began earning interest, they became excited to watch it grow. When a child’s account reached five hundred dollars, we invested it in a money market certificate, with higher interest rates.

Now our children are in the habit of saving, and they are also wise spenders. Sharla Luker, Salt Lake City, Utah

Reminder Binder

Special birthdays and anniversaries often slip up on me, and too often slip right past! To help me remember to send cards and notes on these important occasions, I made a reminder binder. I bought an inexpensive three-ring binder and inserted twelve pocket dividers, one for each month of the year. Then I listed each month’s birthdays and anniversaries on the appropriate pocket. I stocked the pockets with cards, envelopes, and stamps.

Covering the binder with pretty fabric makes the reminder binder a favorite gift for family members, too. Denise Wright, Farmington, Missouri

[illustrations] Illustrated by Beth Maryon Whittaker