You may have noticed that I like Jewish tourism. So I’m excited to say I’m visiting what used to be Jewish Galicia, a region in modern-day (eastern) Poland and (western) Ukraine, which I learned about from this fantastic museum in Krakow when I was there in January 2016. This region had hundreds of thousands of Jewish residents in large communities before WWII, which virtually wiped them out. Where I’m going – Lviv, Ukraine (Lvov in Czech, Polish and Russian) – had an all-time high population of 110,000 Jews in 1939, and now has only 1,200 (according to Jewish Virtual Library). It has an extremely sad history – what previous Jewish community doesn’t? – where Jews experienced pogroms and the ghetto and many were subjected to public violence and execution.
It’s my mission to learn about this history and spread acceptance everywhere that I travel.
Honestly, I’m absolutely in love with Central->East Europe (by which I mean everything from Czech Republic to the east). I love the traditions, the food, and the warmth I’ve experienced from people. Although my ancestors more likely came from the Polish part of Galicia, I’m so excited to visit a new country and experience all that Lviv has to offer. From what I’ve heard, there is one functional synagogue and a historical cemetery, lots of interesting churches, and very good coffee. (That’s a necessity. If there is no coffee, I am not going.)
So while I’m away, here are 5 difficult translations from Czech into English.
1. Myslet = to think or to mean?
I admit I also had a very hard time with this at first, and sometimes still do. The rule of thumb is:
Myslím, že jo. OR Myslím, že ne. = I think so. / I don’t think so. (Not “I think yes. / I think no.”) We do not say, “I mean that yes.”
Myslím si, že… = I think that… / I believe… / My opinion is…
Myslím, že / Myslela jsem, že… = I mean / I meant. Ex. I meant to say yes. I meant that I would be there at 4pm. (a tak dále = and so on)
Přemyšlím o tom. = I’m thinking about it. Note that this is present continuous.
To znamená, že… = It means (that)… Ex. Dort means cake in English. Her note means that she is sorry.
2. Mixing up subjects and objects
In an English sentence, the subject is doing an action (the verb) and the object is acted upon/receives the action. In the sentence “I am eating an apple,” I is the subject, am eating is the verb, and an apple is the object. Simple, right? But because Czech has “flexible word order,” people tend to make mistakes. Check some very common and funny 🙂 ones I see and hear, below, and fix them yourself.
The computer uses my father. (…that sounds bad.)
The buchta bakes my grandmother. (OH MY GOD GRANDMA!!!)
In these sentences, you need to switch the order of the subject and object.
3. Verbs that don’t exist in English
There are verbs in Czech (like chybět, stačit, pršet) which are not a word-to-word translation in English. With chybět, the translation changes based on what you are saying. For example, if I say in class, Kdo chybí?, I am asking Who is missing? If you say, like Tomáš Klus’s famous song, Chybíš mi, you mean, I miss you.
When the lunch lady at school gives you enough food, you say, Stačí. It took me forever to figure out that this simple phrase actually means, That’s enough. At first I would say, Je stačí.
And of course pršet. When you say in Czech, Prší, you would say in English, It’s raining.
4. “To Arrange” and the many ways to say “Stop”
This verb domluvit is famously difficult to translate. It means to “decide on,” “agree on,” “make up,” or “arrange,” depending on the context when I hear it. Some example sentences you might use in English:
We arranged to meet here at 5pm.
We agreed to/made up to meet at the coffee shop.
Great. We are decided, then? (Super, tak jsme domluvený?)
There are also many different ways to say “Stop” in Czech, whereas we only use one in English!
You can say in Czech, Přestaň –> “Stop it/Stop that!”
Stuj –> “Stop moving/Stand still!”
Zastav –> “Stop the car/train/plane!”
Speaking of which, nechat, which in theory means “to let,” must also be translated on a case-by-case basis. But you can translate two common examples like this: Nech toho –> “Stop it/Stop that!” Nech mě na pokoje –> “Leave me alone.”
5. Svuj/své and other pronouns
Now… I am not an expert on this at all. But one of the most common mistakes I hear is people mixing up this seemingly all-purpose Czech pronoun with the many that exist in English.
For example, I might hear someone say, “I gave it to your brother,” but it’s a student speaking to me, so I say, “To my brother?” No, they mean “to my brother” or “to his brother.” Sometimes I will also hear, “Your name is Honza.” No, my name is not Honza. His name is Honza. 😛
I know it’s common to start a sentence in Czech with “Tak/že,” or especially, “No…“ You can clean up your speaking really simply if you make a conscious effort to say these words in English. We often start sentences with “So…” It’s so easy, just switch it! And remember that it’s often actually a mistake to start with “No” in English, because no means no. 😛
For example, the other day I asked a student, “Do you know anything else about (x person)?” The student responded, “No (thinking)” Of course, this is especially funny because you don’t actually mean “No.” Be careful, and don’t mix this up!