Today I am finally delivering on my continual promise to write up a post about the Czech language. As I mentioned a little awhile ago, I initially was only planning to learn Czech for a bit of fun. I wasn’t even planning on taking the Czech language class at university, but when everything went to hell with subject registration I decided to enrol. And I am glad I did! I have honestly been really enjoying it. Sure, during class I often feel overwhelmed with the content and crazy linguistic concepts (conjugating whaaaaat?), but after a bit of study it usually comes together. I have even somehow managed full marks on both our mini tests so far! Maybe there is hope for me becoming a polyglot after all!
My only experience with the Czech language prior to coming to Prague was through a friend of a family member who I had met with once, and a language computer program I bought and subsequently failed to fully utilise in the months leading up to leaving for Europe. It is not an overly widely spoken language – it is only spoken within the Czech Republic. So it’s fair to say I had no idea what was going on during my first weeks in Prague! I haven’t really be exposed to enough foreign languages to compare it to anything, but think lots of Z’s.
Pronunciation is quite difficult for me. The ‘r’ in Czech is slightly rolled, like in Spanish, and I physically cannot pronounce it. And just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, the Czech’s have a unique sound found only in their language – ř. It is a combination of the rolling ‘r’ and a ‘zh’ (like the ‘s’ in ‘measure’, ‘leisure’, etc). My Czech teachers try to make us all feel better about this by saying a majority of Czech children have to go to speech therapy to learn to pronounce this sound. Yeaaaaah, no, that didn’t really help.
What’s more, the Czech’s are also notorious for their lack of vowels in some words. There is a famous tongue twister to demonstrate this: ‘strč prst skrz krk’ (the č being pronounced ‘ch’), which translates as ‘stick your finger through your neck’. And no, I have not even attempted to say it!
I am very lucky that due to the vast tourist industry in Prague that most people here at least have a basic grasp of English, or at least the English necessary to serve you in a restaurant, sell you a ticket, or what have you. Whilst travelling through various countries before settling in Prague I used simply ask people if they spoke English, in English. Here, I have been trying to get myself to ask in Czech: ‘mluvíte anglicky?’ The first few times I think people had no idea what I was saying, but as my pronunciation is improving I am generally understood. My other most used phrase is equally as depressing: ‘nemluvím česky’ (‘I don’t speak Czech). I have often had the awkward experience of an elderly Czech lady making some comment to me on the tram, or someone asking for directions, and me having no idea what they are saying!
Whenever I go to the supermarket it is generally a pretty pain free experience. Customer service here is a far cry from what it is in Australia. Having worked in customer service since I was 15, I know the pain of forced smiles, over the top ‘Hi! How are you today? Nice weather isn’t it?’ and cheery goodbyes. Here, you merely get ‘dobrý den’ (good day), the price of you groceries, and ‘děkuju/na shledanou’ (thank you/goodbye). Sure, it took me awhile to get used to, but it has certainly made it easier for me when I am still learning the language!
I think that is enough Czech insights for now! Maybe I will update you all on my progress when I can actually string more than 4 words together to form a sentence! I am actually going to London in a week (sooooooo excited), so it will be a strange experience to be immersed back into an English speaking country.