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Monday, July 4, 2011

My first talk in Russian.

I recently wrote a post on how I was scheduled to give a short talk in Russian before an audience of native-speakers. Well, it happened and here is what transpired.

Since I had to speak for 15 minutes or so I made a short mind map of what I wanted to say. The purpose of this was to keep me on topic and to make sure that I knew what topics to cover. I often use mind maps when speaking in public and find them very helpful.

The affair was held in the community room of a retirement center near where I live. Fourteen people attended. About half of them were native-speakers of Russian. The others were three students who presented and some family members.

Boris Shekhtman introduced each of us. I spoke following the other two students.

When I got up to speak I jokingly addressed the audience as, " Workers, Toilers, Pensioners, and Heroes of Leisure World ( the name of the retirement center) !!! Greetings!!"

Boris laughed. The others went into a deep trance, their faces frozen in confusion and incredulity.

That was the high point of my presentation.

From there on it was all down hill.

I told them that I was a physician and teacher. I explained why I study Russian.

I love Russian literature and music.

When I mentioned music, as if on cue, a cell phone in another room went off. It loudly played a rather long and silly Russian peasant medley.

I told them that this is why I study Russian.

Boris laughed. The others just stared at me like I was a horse that had been hit by a tram in the street.

The cell phone music continued.

I broke into a feverish Russian dance, the kazatska, that I do at bar mitzvahs ( usually before I collapse in a sweat due to my lack of physical activity).

Boris laughed. The others became glassy-eyed, going even deeper into the trance state.

I spoke about my entry into medicine and why I became a physician.

Then, finally, I ended my talk with some background on my time with Michel Thomas and how I came to author the Mandarin Chinese course.

When I asked for questions one man raised his hand.

He was another student who dared me to demonstrate that I could speak another foreign language besides Russian or Chinese. I asked him what I should speak. He pointed to a family member visiting from Madrid and told me to interview her in Spanish.

It so happens that I am comfortable speaking Spanish so I did OK.

It is a hell of a lot easier for me to speak Spanish than Russian for many reasons and I didn't want to stop speaking with this woman. The rest of the audience began to come out of their trance states when I broke into Spanish.

At that point another man, a Russian, asked the only other question.

"Can you recommend a decent Chinese restaurant around here?"

I told him that since I am allergic to MSG ( monosodium glutamate) and almost all local Chinese restaurants use it in their food, I can't recommend one. However, I did recommend a really good Thai place.

He got my e mail and told me that he would contact me the next day and make plans for us to there together and speak Russian.

So far, he has not contacted me.

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