I don’t dance around the subject – I absolutely love learning Czech. Why?
1. It’s the second-most spoken Western Slavic language after Polish.
So, it’s somewhat similar to the language of my own ancestors and I have 10.5 million people to talk to! Compared to Poland’s 38.5 million, that’s way less intimidating 😀
In the pictures is the main square in Wroclaw, Poland, and a few samples of the famous dwarf statues scattered around the city, like a scavenger hunt of adorable things that will trip you if given the chance.
2. With its unfixed sentence structure and 7 cases, it keeps my brain busy.
Exercising your brain can help prevent dementia, but I’m not a fan of Sudoku. Czech is a puzzle of its own, and every-day conversational practice is full of brain teasers to keep me thinking. Really. I can actually feel the wheels turning in there, and all that beautiful gray brain tissue developing.
3. Since many people don’t speak English, I get real practice.
It was a pitfall of learning Hebrew – nearly everyone I’d want to talk to in Israel already speaks English, and they didn’t have the patience to wait a full minute before I’d crank out a sentence or two. Here in Czechia, my colleagues, the waiters and waitresses, the lunch ladies, the supermarket checkout ladies, and the train conductor have no choice. MWAHAHA. Plus they are way too polite to call me out on my language skills.
4. Plus the benefit of true cultural immersion.
I do happen to be a person who wants to learn the language and generally everything about the country where I’m living – no excuses. But when you show the intention to get that deep, you see the advantages even in the first year. Because I speak Czech, Czechs appreciate and trust me much more than if I stayed “foreign” in my foreign language.
Lauren Juliff, one of my favorite travel bloggers at Neverending Footsteps, recently stopped traveling full time to find a home base in Lisbon, Portugal. She writes this about how she relates to the Portuguese:
One thing I will say is that I’ve met many expats over the past five years, and one thing practically all of them have said is that they’ve never truly felt as though they belonged in their adopted home. Let’s face it: I’ll never be Portuguese. I’ll never know what it means to be Portuguese. I’ll never have as strong a connection to Portugal as I do the U.K. I’ll never understand the intricacies of Portuguese culture.
I don’t know if I’m lucky or what, but for the most part I feel really accepted here. Not by everyone of course, and not right away. But I don’t just live here, I live here. I think people really see the effort I put into adapting to my circumstances, bringing my own flavor to the country, my relationships with Czechs, and my teaching, and decided, Hey this girl is alright. I’m not called the Tišnovská Američanka for nothing. (Or so I’ve heard. To my face I’ve only been called Ms. Englishwoman.)
If I couldn’t actually speak to Czech people and only saw them from the outside, I might think they were cold and unfriendly. But I can, and I know how warm and hospitable they are, how they sure know how to throw a good party, and how they make and rock a domácí (homemade) costume better than anyone.
5. I can understand Slovak – FOR FREE!
Czechia and Slovakia used to be one country (I know it’s hard to believe, especially for my parents who have never moved on from the devastation that was the separation at birth of these two conjoined twin countries). The first time I went to Slovakia to the spa town Trenčianske Teplice in January 2014, I could only speak a little Czech and I could not, for the life of me, understand the lady giving me a massage. I mean was she speaking Russian? The vowels were so much softer and cuter than in Czech. She could understand me, but I couldn’t understand her.
Now that’s changed. I was on a Student Agency bus a couple weeks ago and the attendant was Slovak. I noticed the accent immediately and a gave myself a huge pat on the back for accessing the approximately 50% of me which is Slavic.
Slovaks, I appreciate you. Visiting the High Tatras and making homemade halušky at the amazing Ginger Monkey Hostel is one of the most memorable experiences of my time living in Europe (that’s for a future post UPDATE which is here). And it’s so awesome that I can read the ingredients of my shampoo in two different languages (forget about Hungarian though – that language is wack).
Overall, choosing to learn Czech intensively in Czechia allows me to fully live my dream of travel immersion: to speak a language other than English well enough to communicate with, and get to know, its people. This graffiti art I photographed in London says it best:
What other languages do you know? How have they made your life richer?
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I loved reading this! I completely empathize with the language struggles; it can isolate you in very strong but subtle ways. I really struggled in Thailand, because I learned right away that a) tonal languages are not for me and b) five Thai words does not a conversation make 🙂 I learned how to communicate directions, say “not spicy” and ask “how much,” and that was about it. I was very cognizant of the poor impression I was making on local people as a frustrating American. I’m glad you’re really enjoying learning Czech! It sounds like you’ve found a second home 🙂
thanks Melanie 🙂 how long were you in Thailand?
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I was there for a year! I was teaching English in Bangkok.