How to Talk Like a Native Speaker: Marc Green (Full Transcript)

Marc Green

Marc’s passion is the study of languages, their manifestation in local dialects, as well as their expression in poetry and folkloric song. He has acquired a near-native proficiency in six languages and their sub-forms and has given various musical performances.

Marc Green – TEDxHeidelberg TRANSCRIPT

My story starts in Moscow. I was 15 years old. My best friend and I, we were part of a group of Westerners, visiting the Soviet Union. This was in 1987, a few years before the fall of the communist regime.

We were given an official tour guide who was assigned to us. And the tour would start in the morning, and we were checked in to our hotel rooms for the night. My friend said to me, ”Let’s go outside and look at the city.” I thought it was a great idea. Dumb idea.

So we grabbed our coats, and we snuck out past security and into the street. We found the entrance to the metro. The Moscow underground transportation system is the deepest one in the world. The ride down the escalator took a full minute.

Once we were down there, my friend headed right to an open train, and I pulled him back and said, “Wait! Let’s write down the name of the station so we can find our way back.” So I had a notepad, and I took a notepad, and I wrote down the letters of the station, and we hopped down the train and went on train hopping. And that was fun because – Well, actually, it was weird.

There were a lot of people, probably all coming home from work. They were all dressed in brown and gray clothes, and it looked very, very different from what we were used to at home. But the stations were lovely. There were stations with statues, with paintings on the wall, and glass displays. It was really like museums. We would never have expected that.

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And everything was perfectly clean. Well, what was weird though is that the people – nobody seemed to speak, and everyone seemed to be looking at us and it kind of weirded us out. So after about 20-30 minutes, we’d had enough and we wanted to go home. I showed my note to someone and they directed me over there.

Then over there, I showed my note to another person, and they directed us to the other way. And then a third person directed us sideways. That was a little confusing. Aw, then I saw it. Over the stairs, the sign. It turned out I had written down the Russian word for “Exit.”

So we headed upstairs and we found a taxi. That was great. And we told the driver, you know, “Intourist Hotel,” and then he was willing to take us. And I remember sitting next to the driver, handing him 50 rubles. And he looked at me and he said, (Russian) No, dollar! Fifty dollars? That was like I don’t know 20 times that amount or something.

That was not an option for us. So we had to get out of the taxi, and he drove away, leaving us standing there. It was a cold night, and you know everything was strange for us, and we were teenagers, and we were pretty nervous, didn’t know what to do. Well, we started walking. We walked to the end of the block.

We turned the corner. And 200 yards in front of us, the Intourist Hotel. Well, this experience affected me in two ways. The first is that anytime after this trip that I would hear anyone speak Russian, I was just cringe. And the second one is that it taught me the importance of understanding the local language when you’re traveling. And it actually led to me learning another four languages fluently over the following years.

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Now, before I go on, I’d like to know in the audience – Can we have a little bit of light maybe in the audience? I’d just like to know who’s – By a show of hands, who is not a native English speaker? It must be 99%. Anyone who doesn’t speak English, stand up! All right, so I can assume all of you have, you know, gone through the process of learning a language.

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