Great lenguage irrelevat activities?
June 9, 2014 10:11 AM   Subscribe

My wife is finally going to meet my family. Problem, they don't speak English, She doesn't speak Russian. What are good non speech dependent fun activities we can all do?

Hivemind, Pamagiti! ("Help me" in russian)

So we are flying to see my family for the first time, and there is a speech/communication barrier.

I mean, I will be happy to be the translator between the sides but were wondering what creative activities we can all do where speech is not as important? We are staying with the family for a solid month, so would love to have a fun, non awkward/boring visit.

So far, I was thinking about:
* Watching movies (Russian movies with English subs, and English movies with Russian subs)
* Ballet Shows?
* Playing Chess
* Playing Puzzles or Jigsaws
* Playing card games
* Cooking together a ton each day
* Going to museums
* Mushroom gathering?
* Walks in the park?

Any other family activities where talking with each other are not on the frontline?

Thanks and balshoya spasibo!
posted by Sentus to Society & Culture (28 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Bowling always seems to be really good for this, if that is a thing you can do where they live.
posted by Mchelly at 10:14 AM on June 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

It might be helpful to know where your family lives so people can tailor suggestions.
posted by sweetkid at 10:16 AM on June 9, 2014

If your family is at all musical, you could teach each other simple songs in English and Russian. No one would need to understand the actual words for this to be fun, provided you enjoy singing.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:19 AM on June 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Also, playing games is a good idea- do people play lawn games in Russia, like croquet or bocce or kubb? It might be more fun than playing a game like chess or cards, for people who don't speak the same language.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:21 AM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

posted by novelgazer at 10:25 AM on June 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

I have few suggestions but remove the question mark and absolutely take your wife mushroom gathering with your family.
posted by griphus at 10:26 AM on June 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Bring a lot of photos with you to show your family how your daily life looks like. You'll be able to point out people/pets/things and connect this way. It's four weeks, your wife will pick up some Russian and your family will learn some English. I think your list sounds good. What is your family like? Do they have a datcha? Take a trip there! Do they make jams and preserves? Late summer is prime time for that.
posted by travelwithcats at 10:29 AM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh, and as far as films, see if you can get an English-subbed copy of the Vasily Livanov Sherlock Holmes films as a way to bridge the cultural divide.
posted by griphus at 10:30 AM on June 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

Any crafts, if your wife and anyone in your family is crafty (jewelry, knitting, carving, whatever).

Assuming you're going to Russia for this: Simple things like going to the grocery store can be interesting, because enough things are similar (and you have visual aids) that you'll all have common ground, but lots of things will be different, perplexing, and interesting. I don't know if your wife would enjoy this, but I would!
posted by wintersweet at 10:34 AM on June 9, 2014

And remember that communication is more than language. My friend's mother doesn't speak a lick of English but at her wedding, the mother & I were able to communicate well enough to arrange flowers and table settings without any translation. You do get to know someone and learn other ways of communicating.

So just prep your wife for any non-verbal signals that would be different in the Russian culture - hand gestures, tones of voice, ways of acting around elders etc.

For activities, you could have your parents buy kid's books in Russian so they can have a good chuckle at her trying to read "Run Spot Run" in Russian.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:47 AM on June 9, 2014

I have a bit of personal experience with this, from the perspective of your wife, and here are some things that have worked for me:
*Cooking together -- especially in the context of teaching each other different dishes
*Household chores in general. This sounds a little funny, but it's nice to feel like you're both on the same team, helping each other out. You don't need words to get the goodwill from 'Let me do the dishes' or 'Look, I bought you the ice cream you like'.
*If there are any little kids in your family, get together to play with them. Little kids don't care what language you're speaking, as long as you will play with them. And every can appreciate the cuteness.
*Movies with subtitles. This works doubly well if you can actually go to a movie theater, since it feels like more of an outing that way. For Russian movies with English subtitles, you might want to stock up at home and bring them with you, depending on if they're available in Russia.
*Shopping. If your mom and your wife like clothes, this can be a great way for them to connect without you.
*Sightseeing or cultural experiences like concerts, opera, etc. The ballet sounds like a great fit for this.
*If your family does any regular religious rituals, share them with your wife. Even if she doesn't know exactly what is going on until you explain, there is something inherently intimate about sharing your spiritual life.

Also, putting google translate on everyone's phones will be helpful. If your wife is interested in learning Russian, or if your family is interested in learning English, I also suggest that they do a couple lessons before the trip. Not because I think that they will learn much, but because it'll be nice to show the effort with a "Hello!" or "Goodnight!" every once in awhile.
posted by tinymegalo at 10:48 AM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Would it be helpful to bring some workbooks (or flashcards) aimed at young English speakers so you have samples of simple pictures with basic vocabulary? By the end of the trip your wife will probably pick up some basic Russian, and you could use the books to help do the same for them.

Learning spoken language will be easier than written, of course: I took a six-week course in Russian as a kid and the alphabet was a big barrier. :7) But anythingn to help get ideas across might be good.

Usborne Books does a series of "First Hundred/Thousand Words in YOUR-LANGUAGE-HERE" that might be helpful to keep conversations moving. Bring some paper and drawing tools if you're arty, and you could show pictures of your house but then draw a map of your town, or something. Here is a link to the Usborne book for Russian.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:57 AM on June 9, 2014

Is your wife learning Russian or has she picked up on some words? My boyfriend is Russian and I'm American. I have a vocabulary of 50 or so words on a good day and I can manage to say some things to his mom on skype with ample gesturing. ITs actually sort of a fun challenge to communicate to eachother with some words adn gestures and a translator to jump in when things get to WHAT?! status.

If i went to Russian I would really want to go to a sauna and get smacked with that bush thing.

Russian movies - Dom and Stylagi are 2 Russian movies that I found pretty easy to understand even without subtitles.

Definitely go mushroom picking.

Sing songs!

Go fishing or maybe take some sort of boat ride on a river.
posted by WeekendJen at 11:05 AM on June 9, 2014

Card games, sporting events.
posted by stillmoving at 11:08 AM on June 9, 2014

If there's enough time before you leave, you might want to get a copy of Barbara Monahan's A Dictionary of Russian Gesture; Russians do very different things with their hands and bodies than your average English-speaker, and it will give her a head start on that good old nonverbal communication.
posted by languagehat at 11:36 AM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Maybe not mushroom picking if you can't say "no, those ones are poison here, I understand they look just like the ones you have where you live, but they aren't". Fishing would be similar but less fraught. I came to suggest bowling, it's perfect for this if it's doable where you are. Other similar games might be boule, petanque or croquet.
posted by Iteki at 11:42 AM on June 9, 2014

Maybe not mushroom picking if you can't say "no, those ones are poison here, I understand they look just like the ones you have where you live, but they aren't".

I'm assuming this mushroom picking won't involve wandering off alone and eating whatever you find on the spot, so this ought to be ok, assuming someone knows what they're doing- and since the OP suggested it, I assume his family must do it.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:54 AM on June 9, 2014

If you have some sort of yard, all sorts of picnic style games are fun - especially if there are some kids in the mix. Kick the Can, Steal the Bacon, freeze tag, etc. Something like horseshoes is good where you can have an ongoing competition over time. Maybe pack a whiffle bat and some balls or construct a ladderball set when you get there.
posted by mikepop at 12:01 PM on June 9, 2014

I definitely think it would be a great idea for your wife to learn the pronunciation of the alphabet (if she doesn't already know it). I don't speak Russian, but a few years ago I taught myself the Cyrillic alphabet, and it's very empowering to be able to sound out any Russian word I see, even if I have no idea what it means.

(Sorry, I realize this is a bit off the topic of your question!)
posted by mekily at 12:08 PM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Picking up on mekily's suggestion: writing each other's names in English/Cyrillic script makes an interactive way to learn the alphabets, which is really useful beyond just sounding out words, e.g. for checking subway stops, street signs and shop names.
posted by anadem at 12:24 PM on June 9, 2014

Kind of a side suggestion - but make sure to carve out time for your wife when she is alone with you and doesn't have to struggle with communication - it can be very tiring emotionally and physically to be in the presence of people who you can't communicate fluently with.
posted by Riton at 12:40 PM on June 9, 2014 [7 favorites]

In addition to the other game types mentioned, maybe dexterity games - like Jenga or Suspend?
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:04 PM on June 9, 2014

When my family had a similar situation, the Vietnamese contingent brought in a young bilingual cousin to translate for the week. Great kid.
posted by Soliloquy at 1:08 PM on June 9, 2014

> Maybe not mushroom picking if you can't say "no, those ones are poison here, I understand they look just like the ones you have where you live, but they aren't".

It sounds to me like they're going to meet the family in Russia, in which case they know very well which are which. (And anyway the average Russian is far better at picking out good mushrooms in America than the average American, as I know from personal experience.)
posted by languagehat at 1:24 PM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

The deck-of-cards version of the game Set could be great fun. It's pretty easy to find in game stores, and you and she can practice a little before you go, so that you both understand the (very simple) rules. It would be great for playing with kids, too.
posted by amtho at 1:36 PM on June 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

Dice games!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:55 PM on June 9, 2014

If you're there for a whole month, could your wife take a bunch of hour-long Russian classes while you're there?

She'll learn faster when she's hearing it all around her, your family can help her practice, they'll be delighted to see that she's keen to learn their language, and she might also enjoy a wee time-out from the in-laws when she goes to class (No offence to your family, who I'm sure are lovely, but everyone needs a little breather if they're really close to family for a long time!).
posted by penguin pie at 4:10 PM on June 9, 2014

Depending on when you are going and if there are any bodies of water nearby, you could go swimming together. There's all kinds of fun games that can be played in the water, from Marco Polo to just kind of horsing around having fun. Does require people to be able to swim, although a bit of hanging out soaking up some sunshine is surprisingly bonding. I think it's to do with the relaxation.

Also depending on people's knowledge/interest, going for a walk in the park/woods/meadows and sharing the names for things in Russian/English. I know this is language-focused, but it's also focused on the real, concrete world around you and if you are the kind of people who enjoy nature, it's very enjoyable.
posted by Athanassiel at 5:13 PM on June 9, 2014

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