Memory, vocabulary, and stress

In the last 613 days of the full-scale invasion of russian forces of Ukraine, I have not come across a single post on Facebook about stress, memory loss, vocabulary loss, or anything like that.

Last year I wanted to share my post, but I wasn’t ready for any advice in the comments (even when I write that I’m not looking for advice, people still give advice).

From February 24, 2022, until August 2022, it was difficult for me to remember words. My brain was coming up with completely different words. For example, instead of “picture” I said “apartment” (in Ukrainian these words sound a bit the same). Or I couldn’t remember the word “brown” (in any language, even though I speak 5 languages fluently, plus 2 at the elementary level). Unfortunately, I can’t remember many examples now.

Somehow, at the beginning of March 2022, I got scared, because it seemed to me that I could not speak English, which, unfortunately, I know better than Ukrainian (my native language), and 95% of the day I use English. [spoiler – everything worked out.] From February 24, 2022, to March, I almost did not speak, because I was always listening to sounds: whether there were explosions, or airplanes, or air raid alerts, or shots on the street. I always texted with relatives, friends, and acquaintances.

I talked a lot with colleagues, teachers, and they had the same problems. However, they speak at least 4 languages fluently.

I remember pausing a lot between sentences/words because I was trying to choose the right words. This experience is similar to any experience I have had with learning a foreign language, especially Hungarian (I hate Hungarian).

These days

…I’m not afraid to talk about it, because it’s already behind me. However, last year the problems with choosing the right words scared me to death.

One of my educations is speech therapy. I know a lot about the loss of vocabulary, the ability to speak partially or at all, etc. I know a million exercises for such cases. But it did not calm me down at all.

I had a thought that I had “lost” all the languages I had had learned throughout my life. Knowing languages describe me as a person, so I was afraid of losing them, even partially, even 1000 words.

Learning all (!) languages was not easy for me. And what people describe as “languages are easy for you, that’s why you know a lot” or “you’re just smart” – it’s not true! I always worked a lot with teachers and studied on my own day and night. And learning a language from the beginning or “from the middle” scared me to death.

I published this post on Facebook and many people shared their experiences in comments and in private messages. Before posting them here, I asked for permission. Here are some of them:

“This happens to me very often, especially with word stresses. I have a feeling as if the sounds in a word disappear in my head. So I look it up in the dictionary. Now I forget a lot in Ukrainian (my native language) or repeat myself. I think it is due to the lack of sleep. It is difficult to build sentences. Another interesting observation — when I’m upset, I’m more focused. This situation makes me angry because I feel like I’m stupid.”

– Nataliya (teacher, speaks 4 languages fluently. She has been in Ukraine since the beginning of the full-scale invasion.)

“It was also difficult for me to speak and communicate. I forgot the words. It printed even with errors. I was afraid of losing my translation skills. It was until June 2022 approximately. Then she agreed to translate the meeting online, and it was already successful. And before that, since April 2022, there was simply constant work with texts and students, so the need to communicate helped to focus attention. But it was stressful.”

– Yulia (teacher, teacher trainer, and translator. She speaks 3 languages fluently and is learning the 4th foreign language. She has been in Ukraine since the beginning of the full-scale invasion by russian forces.)

“I always had a problem with the word “ginger” – do whatever you want, I could only remember it in German or English. This is a problem for me. But this is just one example, I don’t remember others like that. But last year (2022), I often had conversations when emotions boiled over, I didn’t have the words to express these emotions, I just didn’t have the words. In no language, and you want to say something, but it doesn’t work out. Now I understand what “no words, only emotions” means – it’s just shock and stupor for a linguist. How can a person who knows so many languages not say anything? Then I just calmed down, concentrated on what I wanted to say, chose the words, and then everything was fine again. Maybe it was strong emotions that prevented me from thinking rationally or naturally, I don’t know. But this happened to me for the first time. I hope this will not happen again.”

– Mykhailo (manager of international projects, speaks 5 languages fluently. Ukrainian, has lived in Germany for many years.)

“It was very difficult for me to choose words, to hear different sounds. The concentration of attention suffered, etc. But I thank people who understand without words… I thank you for this post and others that so aptly describe the various psychological states and problems during the war in Ukraine. I think the main reason for this is stress. For example, one day when I was at home, an explosion wave blew out all the windows in our apartment building. After this incident, I felt fears, mental pain, despair and other conditions from the nervous system…”

– Tetyana (masseur, cosmetologist; speaks 3 languages fluently. She has been in Ukraine since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, then she was forced to evacuate for 2 months and returned to Ukraine.)

4 responses to “Memory, vocabulary, and stress”

  1. I’m so sorry to hear that! Thanks for bringing this to my awareness. All I can do is pray. My heart goes out to y’all.

    1. Tetyana Skrypkina Avatar
      Tetyana Skrypkina

      It was not easy to write it because this experience hurts. Thank you for all your prayers!

  2. Very interesting post, thanks for sharing your experience and the ones of other language professionals

    1. Tetyana Skrypkina Avatar
      Tetyana Skrypkina

      Thank you, Claudia 🤗

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