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  • Writer's pictureGaila Cohen Morrison

Dear Gaila - Being a Stranger

Well, I'm back in Israel and like I told you last time, I've learnt a lot from my trip to Russia.

Recently, I spent seven days being a tourist in Russia. Not being able to easily communicate with other people was a novel experience. Most Russians don't really know English, and my Russian - well, there really isn't much to say about my Russian. It's simply non-existent...

Not being able to explain, or to express myself caused me to feel extremely helpless. I felt restricted, unable to communicate with the people around me. I tried to learn as much Russian as I could, keeping an ear out to decipher the most critical, words. It amazed me - and frustrated me- how much time it took me to learn the most basic of words!

The helplessness of not knowing a language

Even when I thought I knew a word, I was hesitant to use it. I was worried that I might misuse or mispronounce it and embarrass myself. However, when I did use words and managed to communicate, I felt empowered. Two small words in a common language could build a bridge between me and anther person.

One example of the importance of language happened when we went into a taxi. My Russian lexicon had indeed grown exponentially, yet it still contained less than 10 words. But I knew how to say big, car and wonderful - so when I told the taxi driver: "Bolshoy auto, porazitelenyy auto", the taxi driver was very pleased.

Two words can create a bridge between two strangers

Knowing multiple languages helped me out even then! Certain words in Russian were similar to English or Hebrew words. Even my poor French was helpful Turns out that the word for ticket is the same as the French billet- that was helpful for buying tickets!

Learning a new language takes a lot of work and ingenuity. Kudos to all those brave language learners out there!

I'm glad to be back in Israel, working on the teaching end of it.


Gaila has almost 40 year of experience teaching and runs A.H.A.V.A., a non-profit to promote English literacy. Would you like to ask Gaila a question? Email us at or send us a message. Look out for more Dear Gaila columns

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