Today I paused in my workout to speak some Farsi. I swim laps several times a week. Today, there was a young woman in the lane next to me who seemed inexperienced. I noticed the lifeguard was talking to her–maybe telling her how she’s supposed to swim? Between laps I noticed they were still talking. He was a guy, she was pretty, so I understood. But then I overheard she was Tajik–I moved in.
Tajik is very closely related to Farsi. They are completely mutually comprehensible dialects. So I asked in Farsi if she was Tajik. (I made one mistake in that sentence. I’m not going to count. I’m just going to say now that I’m getting better at approaching my 100-mistake quota.) Then we started chatting. She said that she knew Russian better than Farsi–as do I. So we spoke Russian, too.
I’m grateful for her generosity. I asked her how to say some things, and she patiently spoke painfully slowly, breaking down words into syllables. She was generous to do so, especially since we were there to swim, not chat. I asked for the word for “study,” as I noticed I’ve been grasping for it. I had to ask her again during each break since I couldn’t write it down and would forget otherwise. She also told me about a group of Central Asians that meet locally, so I hope this information will help to find a conversation partner at some point.
This encounter reminded me of an important lesson for learning languages: Count on the kindness of strangers. She was incredibly helpful, and I have had countless such encounters. I have to attribute a significant part of my language-learning to kind strangers.