I’ve been speaking in Russian since I’ve been speaking, really. I was sent off to nursery when I was six months old, and our carers spoke to us in Russian. I then went on to study in that language at school and university. I spoke in Russian to my friends. I wrote in Russian, and I even thought in that language… for 30 years. I’ve read Russian classics in original: Pushkin, Dostoyevski, Tolstoy – you name it, and I’ve probably read it. My Azerbaijani, in comparison, was mainly rudimentary. My family spoke it at home. In my whole lifetime, I’ve read only two books in Azerbaijani – a book of fairy tales and funny stories about Mulla Nasreddin.
But here is the thing. Two years after I’ve been in England, my Russian started seriously deteriorating. I tried to practice it with friends, but it was never the same. I’ve switched to thinking in English. It got even more interesting. When my son was little and I wanted to teach him another language, Azerbaijani came to me naturally, whilst Russian felt clunky and effort-some.
So, when it came to languages, my mother tongue is still going strong, whereas Russian, the language I have learnt thoroughly, including endless grammar lessons at school for 10 years as well as vocabulary of all the subjects I mastered at school and university, started fading away.
I think it’s the same with our authentic selves. We can learn many survival strategies in life, but as soon as we stop practicing them, our authentic selves shine through. As with mother tongue, it’s much harder to forget who we truly are.