I forgot the word for helicopter the other day. For the rotor, actually. And I didn’t forget so much as remember it in the wrong language. My brain froze up and then offered me nothing but a very Russian “vyertolyot”.
The end result is that I have a toddler who will never know what those non-airplane things in the sky are called.
I actually have a few words that I repeatedly forget in English. Brain blank, frozen, empty. The words just vanish. I literally have to translate in my head, because my brain is stuck on a repeat loop: “vyertolyot-vyertolyot-vyertolyot”.
Let me be clear – I’m not talking about some wonderfully Russian insult that just doesn’t translate properly into English. I’m talking about basic nouns.
The most common words I consistently forget in English?
And teddy bear.
And apparently now helicopter.
I should point out that I have the Russian of a 10-year-old. A 12-year-old on a good day. People laugh at my Russian accent, if that tells you anything. Since I was about six, I’ve spoken English almost exclusively, even with my parents. So it’s a lot strange to find my brain hijacked by words. Or a lack thereof.
When I was 15, I worked at the local JCC day camp. It was just after the Soviet collapse, so we had lots of confused, new Russian kids. Someone remembered that I knew Russian, and I was called in to translate for a parent whose child was being kicked out. I explained everything until I got to the why – he’d been kicking and punching other kids. That time, it was my Russian that had failed me – those weren’t words that I’d ever learned at home. We ended up miming it out.
These days, I actually can understand a lot more – most of my interviews on the immigration are in Russian – but you get the idea. I don’t exactly consider myself anything like a native speaker. And yet, still subject to sneak attacks from some language nether regions of my brain. At least I know that when I’m old and doddering, aprons and teddy bears will be the first part of my vocabulary to go.
I know everyone has their own weird language moments – the leftovers of youth or childhood, that pop up on occasion, long after even your dreams have switched languages. Or perhaps ones that crop up to remind you that you knew some other language first before English.
So, today I’m asking you to please share – what are your language tongue twisters and stumbling blocks?