Keith Gessen on Teaching His Son Russian (New Yorker)

Monday, June 18, 2018
Keith Gessen, George T. Delacorte Assistant Professor of Magazine Journalism, publishes essay on "Why I Taught My Son to Speak Russian" in the New Yorker (June 16, 2018).
I have found that I am shorter-tempered in Russian than I am in English. I have fewer words and therefore run out of them faster. I have a register in Russian that I don’t seem to have in English, in which I make my voice deep and threatening and tell Raffi that if he doesn’t choose right away which shirt he’s going to wear this morning, I’m going to choose it for him. When he runs down the street, I find myself without any embarrassment yelling in a very scary manner that if he doesn’t come back, he’ll get a timeout. (We don’t have a Russian word for “timeout,” so it sounds like this: “Rafik, yesli ty nemedlenno ne verneshsya, u tebya budet ochen’ dlinny timeout.”) I am more of a yeller in Russian than I am in English. Raffi is afraid of me. I don’t want him to be afraid of me. At the same time, I don’t want him to run into the street and get hit by a car.