In the large shopping mall, the little boy kept tugging at my sleeve insisting that I buy a beer. “It’s only 50-cents. Please,I want beer.” I repeatedly told him, “No, I cannot buy you a beer.” The boy said, “One last time, beer here, only 50-cents.” Then he pointed at a root beer stand a few steps away from us.
I sometimes have peculiar mini-dreams like the one described above. In this case, the little boy was a Chinese kindergartner who was my adopted son. In the dream, this was a given quality because my dream-self felt deep love and the need to protect the boy from harm because he was close family.
I suppose there might be a few different interpretations of this dream. First of all, I do not have a son, adopted or otherwise. Maybe having a son in a vision was a way to help me remember the dream. Who knows? The other aspect of the dream was the nagging feeling of the misunderstanding about the beer.
Perhaps the dream was just an amusing reminder that I need to be aware of and admit my misunderstandings. At the very least, the dream about misunderstanding is worth pondering for awhile.
During the past month, I’ve been trying to lock in better comprehension of the Russian language by inching through a Russian language edition of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. Due to the fact that I probably do not have even a first grade level of Russian skills I refer frequently to a Russian/English dictionary plus an English language version of Tolstoy’s book.
Needless to say, this will probably be a very long-term project because reading and checking even one page of the book can take over an hour. Right now, my goal is to eventually read one chapter. It might be smarter to read a grade school level Russian book, but I don’t have one of those nor one with an English language equivalent.
As is the case when translating from one language to your mother tongue, misinterpretations frequently spring up. There are the matters of sentence structure and grammatical rules. There is also the fact that in many instances there are words that have no exact equivalent in English. This is why translation is as much an art as it is a skill. If someone has only rudimentary translation skills, gross misunderstandings can crop up quickly.
The reason why I consult the English copy of Anna Karenina after reading a paragraph of the Russian story, is that if a person only converts Russian words to English words with a dictionary, the English version paragraph is confusing. I could easily become frustrated and misunderstand the gist of Tolstoy’s story. On the other hand, the struggle to overcome potential misunderstandings in this work of literature makes it a good language study tool.
Often times when a new acquaintance discovers that I’m studying Russian, they misunderstand the reasons for my interest. Their usual assumption is that I somehow approve of the geopolitical policies of the Kremlin. Of course, I do not. The main reason the Russian language fascinates me is cultural. I also love the appearance of the Cyrillic alphabet and the tonal qualities of the spoken language. To me, the Russian language is a thing of stunning beauty. It is also a key to the better understanding of Russian culture.
It’s important to remember that misunderstanding of meaning happens more frequently between native speakers of a language than between people who have different native languages. Even with two close friends who both speak English, misunderstandings often happen. It’s almost miraculous that we are able to communicate with a minimum of misunderstanding. What is ironic is when we remember that understanding that misunderstanding is a common feature of human interaction. This can deepen our level of compassion.