Thursday, November 15, 2012

Language and Listening

On Sunday night I was walking to a concert with one of my дорогая's (daragAya or "dear" seems to be the equivalent term of endearment found in English phrases such as "Hey lady" or "Girl, it's been ages!") and was surprised when she asked me, "Could one of those English guys be your millionaire?"

Oddly enough the content of the question was not the surprise. My quest for a millionaire is a frequent topic of conversation. It might have been the first joke I was able to make in Russian, which makes it nothing short of monumental. But the real surprise for me was my answer to her question: "What English guys?"

I hadn't heard the English.

This was a stark contrast to my first month in Moscow, during which my senses would instantly clue into any stray English sound that happened across my path. I haven't suddenly become fluent in Russian and oblivious to English, but I think there is a significant transition which has taken place from hearing to listening.

In the beginning, I was swimming in a world of sounds. Not knowing what half of them meant, and trying to tune into the fast mumbling which seemed to constitute the Russian language. I felt like I was truly trying to listen 100% of the time, but couldn't quite figure out what to focus on. Exhausting. I took a quick trip to San Francisco for a concert after 6 weeks in Moscow and found it miraculous that I could casually walk down the street and unintentionally understand the fragments of a passing conversation. Not really listening at all, just hearing. I have to say, it was a welcome relief. I think my brain was functioning someplace way beyond overload.

Working in the music business, listening is not an overrated skill. Several friends shared a recent article which appeared in the New York Times on The Science and Art of Listening. And while it obviously applies to my profession, I found it interesting in the context of language. I'm not going to get into the details, as you can read it yourself, but I will share the final quote which I loved:

“You never listen” is not just the complaint of a problematic relationship, it has also become an epidemic in a world that is exchanging convenience for content, speed for meaning. The richness of life doesn’t lie in the loudness and the beat, but in the timbres and the variations that you can discern if you simply pay attention.

While Moscow has its challenges, one of the true beauties is the amount of listening that's required. At this point, passive hearing is not an option. But if someday it should become so, I hope I don't forget the level of attentiveness that is now a necessity. While I have no intention of becoming oblivious to casual overall sense of awareness is important...there's something to be said for truly giving a conversation with a friend 100% of your attention.

It may mean you miss out on your English millionaire, but it just might be worth the sacrifice!

1 comment:

  1. Beautifully written, Stephanie. It reminds me of one training course that my previous job sent me to-- The Art of Listening. (I have a very short attention span). It was very helpful. It takes effort to be in the present, but it helps avoid many misunderstandings and we're able to capture the essence of that moment.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...