Learning Russian was a continuing lesson in learning to laugh at myself. Whether learning how to jokingly discuss bathroom problems or making awkward mistakes, I continually put my foot in my mouth.
For example, one week after I got to Kyrgyzstan, my host sisters’ mother came home to visit from Kazakhstan, where she worked. While she was here, they cooked a lot of amazing Kyrgyz cuisine. As a guest, however, one is supposed to eat a lot to demonstrate how much you appreciate the good food and hospitality. While this wasn’t the worst problem, there is a limit to how much a person can physically eat. So I tried to tell their mother that I couldn’t eat anymore but it was very tasty. Unfortunately, I said скучно (boring) instead of вкусно (tasty)! My host sisters teased me for months afterwards, ask me if I find the food boring.
The not-so-pancake mountains.
Another time, one of my host sisters was taking me out of town and, looking at the vista, I attempted to say “what beautiful white mountains” but instead of белый (white), I said блины (pancakes). Ah, the beautiful pancake mountains! In retrospect, I suppose that was a better mistake than saying what beautiful блин (shit) mountains.
Long story short, when you’re trying to learn a language, the best tool that you have is your attitude. It’s easy to get wrapped up in fear of saying the wrong thing, trying to construct perfectly formulated sentences in your head before you speak. While it’s important to drill and learn new vocabulary, unless you put yourself out there and try to speak, make mistakes, and laugh at yourself, you miss out on the best language learning opportunities as well as some great stories.