Today was a good day.
I spent the day at school visiting various classes — unfortunately for me, it’s the end of the semester so almost all of the classes have tests this week. But I followed my counterpart, Halyna, to some lessons today and got to do some interesting things: while one class was taking a test, for which I got to read a passage for listening comprehension, Halyna let me help her correct her 6th Form written tests. These two incidences contrast the older English teacher, Diana Dmytrivna, whom I offered to help correct tests and read listening portions of exams. She refused my help, claiming that the students were used to her voice — very true — and that she has a complex system for grading tests. Fair enough. Halyna later filled in for another teacher in an 8th Form class — they had no test, so I talked a little about myself and then the pupils introduced themselves. They were so shy to speak English in front of me! But some of them opened up eventually, and they told me about how they celebrate the New Year and Christmas in town (going to the New Year’s tree in the center of town, eating food, singing Christmas carols, spending time with family and friends — not all that different from how we do it).
The last highlight at school occurred during Halyna’s 6th Form class. They had a speaking exam and were supposed to retell a short text (a very reduced version of Oscar Wilde’s fairy tale The Selfish Giant). Well, none of the pupils could say “giant” correctly — they variously said “gee-ant” (with a hard “g”), “gigant,” “jee-ant…” Finally I got fed up with hearing mispronunciations and asked Halyna if I could have a moment to help them. She agreed, so I went to the board and first drew the letter I. “What is this in English?” I asked. “Eye,” one pupil correctly responded. Then I drew a G and ДЖ, the Ukrainian letters that make a J-sound (like in “John”). They pronounced it and saw the connection. So I put G and I together, then added “-ant.” “Giant,” I said, and they repeated it correctly. The best part was when Halyna re-tested a few pupils with translations, most of them said “giant” correctly! I was pretty pumped. Halyna said she never thought of doing that with vocabulary and said she’d definitely do so in the future. Maybe I got the idea from my dad, who long ago taught me that the word “ghoti” is pronounced “fish.” How, you ask? Well, “gh” is pronounced like in “enough.” Say “o” like in “women.” And “ti” like any word ending in “-tion.” There you have it: fish! English pronunciation is so random at times that it really helps to think up tricks for how different letters and letter combinations sound in different words. It’s like a sound puzzle.
On another note, the afternoon ended well because the late-afternoon sun shone in a cloudless sky and of course I had to go for a run to relish it. I ran down a long hill that I’ve done a few times, but I had never gone further than a certain point. Today I did, and to my surprise I found the River Prut (Річка Прут)! This is the river that flows southeast through lower Sniatyn, through Chernivtsi and into parts of Romania and Moldova before joining the Danube. You can read the Wikipedia article about it here (there’s even a poem and a legend inspired by this river and region). It was beautiful — frozen, with a thin layer of snow on it as well as some men ice-fishing. When I turned around to run back home, I looked up and could see Sniatyn’s clock tower on the top of the hill. Here is a picture of the valley from above, taken on the shortest day of the year last week: