Meet Alex Sapple: A man who learnt a language for love. Alex is 29 years-old, lives in Chester, works as a software developer, and coaches at Liverpool Victoria Rowing Club in his spare time. In 2016, Alex boarded a flight to Brazil. Little was he to know, that the love of his life was to sit beside him. Just one problem – Alex couldn’t speak her language.
Victoria is Russian, lives in Moscow, and is a talented multi-linguist, fluent in Russian, English, Spanish and Portuguese. Alex describes her as an inspiration with an incredible drive to see the world, and of course, the love of his life. Although Victoria speaks English – so communicating has never been a problem – Alex felt there was a part of Victoria that he could not reach without speaking her language and understanding her culture. Driven by love, Alex decided to try his hand at learning Russian.
Determined to speak Russian, Alex started learning with Babbel in November 2016, and uses the app almost everyday. He finds the app’s bitesize lessons are perfect for his busy day-to-day schedule, “The lessons are short and seem simple, but you realize afterwards that they do pack a lot in.” One of the most terrifying of Alex’s Russian-moments was his first trip to Russia one month after he had started to learn with Babbel. Although Victoria could help him with the language most of the time, once or twice Alex found himself on his own, needing to ask for directions or read bus timetables. Overcoming the initial nerves of speaking, Alex put his new skills into practice, and immediately discovered the fun and satisfaction of starting conservations in Russian.
“Speaking in Russian feels awesome. My attempts at speaking with the locals have always been positive. One highlight was when a shopkeeper spoke to me and commented on ‘how Russian’ I sounded. That and the smile I get from Victoria when I ‘try’ make it all worth it. This journey still has a long way to go – but I’m enjoying every moment of it.”
“I feel like a more well rounded person. There is both instant gratification and a long term positive feeling from speaking a foreign language. Languages open up opportunities and I am able to give my brain a workout!”
Alex supplements his learning with other resources including Russian children’s novels, Russian TV – even when he can’t really keep pace with dialogue – and, of course, practices with Victoria. “I think it might frustrate her a little – it’s probably like talking at a small child’s level – but I also think it gives her a bit of a laugh when I say something stupid. I said to Victoria some time back, that I want to have a conversation with her in Russian (and what I mean by that is, a natural flowing conversation rather than just basic statements). This remains my target. Я надеюсь, что скоро смогу говорить по-русски (Ya nadeyus’, chto skoro smogu govorit’ po-russki) – I hope that soon (I) can speak Russian.”
Alex and Victoria live what to them feels like a world away from each other, Alex in England, and Victoria in Russia. Nevertheless, the couple try to see each other every two or three months. Their next rendezvous is an adventurous trip to explore Japan together. Alex and Victoria’s love has endured the gaping linguistic and cultural canyons that threatened to pull them apart. Alex’s determination to learn Russian reveals the depth of his love for Victoria and has helped to strengthen their long-distance relationship. More amazing still, is that Russian created a new side to Alex. He has since become an adventurous traveller, more confident to open doors and build friendships with people across the world.
Learning a language is a challenge. Alex has face many frustrations, but the rewards of real conservation are plentiful and come in many forms – including a hug from a Russian stranger after Alex told her he was studying Russian. For many learners like Alex, these are the experiences which motivate, guide and give the confidence to learn a language.