Learning the Lithuanian Language? Buckle Up, Cowboy!
Updated: Nov 4, 2022
It's been about two months since The Scientist and I started our Lithuanian language lessons at Vilnius University - a semester-long biweekly crash course in beginner's Lithuanian, admittedly not for the faint of heart.
Lithuanians love to acknowledge that they've got a tough language. You know what? I think they almost feel bad that I, an American, have to learn it, as hard as it is. And I quote: "I still mess it up sometimes, and I'm a native speaker!" Can't even tell y'all how many times I've heard that. To be fair, this is one of the oldest Proto-Indo-European languages, connected to Sanskrit with pockets of Latin and Ancient Greek - a fascinating and mellifluous language to foreign ears. (In true Lithuanian fashion, many words come from nature or rural life - trees as names of months, etc.) These features do give it an air of complexity; it hasn't exactly simplified over time. Let's not even get into its multiple grammatical cases - yet.
But is Lithuanian really as hard to learn as my wincing friends think? (This wouldn't be my first rodeo coming up against tinges of an inferiority complex among these beautiful humans!)
Source: Igor Gubaidulin
Alright, I'll bite. Personally, I feel like I'm able to get around with my botched, second rate Lithuanian - for instance, when I'm outside of main cities and English just isn't in the cards. I know how to politely ask someone to move out of my way, profusely thank them, to tell someone what I and my husband do for a living, to share where I live. I know enough to have a secret language with said husband when we're back in the United States. But that's about where it ends. I wanted to understand it better, and more pointedly, I want to be able to eavesdrop on conversations - just a tiny bit for context. What's the goss, Lithuania!?
Listen, we tried to motivate ourselves into taking lessons, but they'd always fill up quickly. (Turns out The Scientist and I are not the only ones looking to improve!) We used as many apps as possible, like Mondly and Ling - no thanks to you, Duolingo, for not offering Lithuanian. (Duo better!) While these apps helped familiarize us with the language, they didn't satiate our needs. Eventually, we discussed utilizing a private tutor, but that, too, never materialized. What was it gonna take?
The answer came via a semester-long class at Vilnius University, one I'm currently enrolled in right now. (Ask me anything!) Twice a week, we - and our carefully recruited friends! - scurry down to Old Town to entertain and annoy our incredibly patient teacher. She deserves a medal, y'all. At this point - as a Beginner with a capital B - I'm feeling the crunch to synthesize double doses of Lithuanian, but I'm nothing if not a goody two-shoes recovering perfectionist who loves to learn - so I've enjoyed every single class so far. Our teacher runs through vocabulary, grammatical cases - why so many!? - and then, the work of embarrassing ourselves truly begins via improv dialogue. It hurts so good - gets me right out of my comfort zone. And importantly, she keeps it digestible while emphasizing correct pronunciation within conjugations - something Google Maps hasn't exactly caught onto.
Sure, I'm feeling the strain of learning something new, but I don't feel like Lithuanian - as I know it now - is incredibly hard. Trust me, I know I'll get there, thanks to all seven grammatical cases. We've got time! I'm buckling up, regardless. If we're being honest, I understand a good bit of this language, especially in written form. See: I'm slowly luring my native speaker friends into Lithuanian conversations via text. I'm sure they're wildly entertained.
So, I guess I should share a few phrases you can bring into your own day-to-day life. You can thank me later. ;)
Sveiki! = Hello! (Used with people you don't know well, like cashiers and waiters.)
Labas! = Hello! (Used with people you're more familiar with, like friends, close neighbors, family.)
Labukas! = Hiiiiiiiiiii. (Basically the cute version of "labas." It's my favorite!)
Ačiū! = Thank you!
Ačiūkas! = Thaaaaaanks! (The playful version of "thank you.)
Prašom = You're welcome (PRA-shom)
Kaip sekasi? = How are you doing? (I currently only know how to respond with "Good!" - "Gerai!" - so for all intents and purposes, life is going great!)
Malonu! = Nice to meet you!
Geros dienos! = Have a good day. :) (I'm a friendly American, so I use some variation of this almost every day!)
Living in a new country, I treat learning the language as a sign of respect for the people I'm interacting with. Every time I hang out with Lithuanian friends, they ask how my classes are going, and joke that I'm fluent now. (Alright, we both know that ain't true, Agnė!) But it's important to continue with this work. As a foreigner, it helps to feel more integrated, grounded, connected to nature - more flexible.
If you live in or near Vilnius and you're looking to improve your own Lithuanian, I'd recommend checking out this awesome page put together by Go Vilnius, offering both paid and free options. Or, connect with International House Vilnius - they'll put you on the right path!
Are you learning another language right now, too? How's your Lithuanian? Viskas gerai? I'd love to hear how it's going! (Hopefully you're as fluent as I am!) If you're anything like me, you've been getting into the Halloween spirit this week - check out last year's post on Lithuania's Día de los Muertos-esque celebration, Vėlinės. (It's one of my faves!) As per usual, feel free to subscribe at the bottom of this page to receive a bi-weekly email from me on whatever's on my heart that day! And as always, I'll see you next time here at Into the Forests I Go - iki pasimatymo - see you soon!