Brain Shock: Foreign Languages Have Words That Make Sense

By admin

You Can Exercise Your Brain by Sticking Out a Foreign Tongue

November 14, 2010

Prepare your “brain”; for the challenges of aging.  

The message is everywhere; in magazine ads, on the radio, on the internet. It even shouts at you from the back of your mind.

The advice for keeping the brain “in shape” is endless:

Play Sudoku; take up new “game”, take a class in something “different”, walk, study a completely new language, jog, read, learn to play a musical instrument (a new one), walk and then, jog, play video games, jog and then, walk, make new friends, meet old friends, jog, breathe and then, walk, play ping-pong, study Aztec, buy this book, don’t mix walking and jogging, and—– turn off the TV.

The advice is overwhelming. The underlying message is not.

The best, all the brain cramming, game-playing and memory jostling can do is to maintain your level of mental fitness. You have to work and sweat just to stay in place.

That is, aging and the brain works like middle class finances.

***A True Personal Story: I’ m Not Getting Any Younger Either***

(Anym Tarde: Banana News)

As the age of sixty draws ever closer, I have decided to learn a new language. That is, squeezing numbers into Sudoku squares has lost its zip. Ping-Pong only keeps my hands fast.

And video games—even if it keeps my brain young, it probably will make me feel a century too old.

So today, I started learning Azeri.

Azeri is the national language of Azerbaijan.

I deduced that learning Azeri may be a good way to exercise my brain since I now work and live in Azerbaijan.

That is, I recently moved from a “colonial” house located on a cul-du-sac in Oakton Virginia, to a walled compound—-across a dirt street from a half-acre of mud, piles of big yellow blocks, loose tin, and from which a meandering wailing music, occasionally emanates,—-located outside the city of Baku, Azerbaijan.

Don’t ask why. These things happen. Some people get window offices, some get promotions, others, get sent to Baku.

For background, Azerbaijan is country that doesn’t like being called a “former” Soviet Republic.

The capital city, Baku lies along the Caspian Sea. The air often smells like oil, both physically and in money sense. Occasionally strong winds race down from the Caucus Mountains blowing away the smell of gasoline and leaving behind weirdly flavored breezes that leap about the compound walls and the twirly laced window curtains in our neighborhood.

People who grew up in the Soviet period speak Russian; albeit with a Baku accent. This is fine with me. I lived in Moscow for four years, and speak Russian; albeit with an American accent.  Accent to accent it’s a wonder taxi drivers get me to the right location.

However the “young” people and the sheep herders and country-folk pouring in from the Caucus Mountains, only speak Azeri.

Well, not quite. Everyone in Baku has mastered the art of saying “you must pay more” in English.

I started Azeri language class “this morning”.


Thumbing through the back-pages of “A Tourist Guide to Azerbaijan.” I came across a section with the title: “useful expressions”.

There was a column of Azeri words, a Russian column, and an English column.

You got to start somewhere.

Let me backtrack. I have been in Baku for five weeks, charging up the Russian, subdirectory of the brain, and firing up old neurons, and chatting away with old soviet-educated Azeri’s. This brought back memories of the horrible taste of borsht. It made my brain, feel—older. Like somehow, my time in “Russia” was a century ago. It had actually ended ten years ago.  

In short, the Baku experience was not making my brain younger.


The tourist guide book said the Azeri word for the number one is: “bir”

“Bir”—bir bir bir, bir—one”

I whole new dimension of my mind, opened up. Fresh, young brain cells twirled.

Iki-two. Iki, iki, iki

Uch-three, uch, uch, ouch—

I looked up. I went to the fridge. There was nothing worth risking a stomach over.

And back.  

It was time to test the aging brain.

What is one? 

What is one?  



It was in one ear and out the other.

No, not even that.

Such an expression, assumes, that a thought or concept, penetrates and crosses the brain. I had no proof of penetration.

I decided to make the first day of Azeri class, a cursory “preview” and started thumbing pages: “Greetings. Place names, Days of the Week….”  

“Friday”, now there was a word to remember: “juma gunu”

“Juma gunu”.

I had to check out Saturday.


OK, but a bit of a letdown.

I jumped to “greetings”.


Hey, I heard a taxi driver say that. I actually recognized the sound. “Necasan: How are you?” Wow progress.

OK, but what was Friday?



The appendix of “useful phrases” from the tour guide book wasn’t making my brain feel any younger.


I found a word to remember. “Bad.”

It worked. I remember “bad” Even six hours later, after going into Baku, playing ping-pong at the Baku-table tennis club, talking in Russian to a taxi driver for twenty minutes, almost throwing up from “the food“, again, I retain, in my aging brain, the Azeri word for “bad”.

Bad:  “Pis”

By some unfathomable subconscious association, my aging brain, had found a “useful phrase” in Azeri which stuck.

But Friday? 

Guuuuum a jam. Or something.

The tourist book also had a good section on place names. The suffix “abad” translates to “ville”,

 “col” to “field”,

“bag” to “garden”.

And, of course, there is the place-name suffix:

“batan”—which means—in Azeri:

“get stuck”

Apparently, in Azerbaijan whole towns can be created if your car or horse-cart—“gets stuck”

Yet, the Caucus mountains would not be a bad place to “get stuck”. Azerbaijan has scores of mountain people, who have lived past the age of 120. No one has ever witnessed any of them playing Sudoku. But they appear to remember their whole life in great detail.

I am only fifty seven, and can’t even remember how to count to one in Azeri.

If I work hard enough, I might be able to remember what happened today when I’m seventy.


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