April 09, 2013

Learning a new language: Czech

"To know another language is to live another life." - TG Masaryk, President of the First Czechoslovak Republic

Seven days ago I began a Czech language course. I opted for Pimsleur's digital package with thirty 30-minute audio lessons and have progressed at the recommended 30-minute lesson a day so far. I like the method and think it is good value at $129.

It is not the first time I considered trying to learn this language spoken by about 12 million people. For now I am simply focused on finishing the Pimsleur beginners' course, though I have already discovered other great resources.

It takes time to learn a new language; it is not so hard to pick up a few words here, a few sentences there. Becoming fluent, however, takes years of enthusiastic and committed effort.

Even in our mother tongue--mine is Dutch--we can always discover fresh words to add to our vocabulary.

I grew up with snippets of Czech as my mom was born in Czechoslovakia, the country that existed from 1918 until 1992, when it split into the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic. I never learned more than the odd word, sentence and expression, though the Czech sounds are familiar.

As a native Dutch speaker who became an Anglophone journalist, copy-editor and author, I am well aware of the effort ahead. The key is to take it one step at a time and to enjoy the journey.

Of course my mom was enthusiastic, addressing her emailed response in Czech, "Ahoy Marketa".

I asked my friend Graham Fuller, who has studied more than a dozen languages including Russian, Turkish, Persian and Japanese, for general advice.

“Czech is not all that easy, like other Slavic languages lots of (unnecessary) endings and irregularities. I don’t really know it, but know Russian well. It is mildly harder than Russian I think due to a few added grammatical demands, but there is much encouraging arts and music in it, including great Dvorak and Smetana and Janacek operas,” Graham said.

He also gave me a copy of How to Learn a Foreign Language, the first book he published (1987).

"By learning a foreign language, you are in a way getting into the mind of that Frenchman, that Russian, or that Chinese," he writes in How to Learn a Foreign Language. "You are starting to share with him the way he 'dresses' his own thoughts and expressions--in linguistic clothes very different than your own."

He recommends recording yourself in the language you are trying to learn so you can compare the sound of your pronunciation with that of the native speaker. 

I also found some neat Czech online resources like www.surfacelanguages.com and www.locallingo.com.

And I discovered that the Squamish Public Library offers free access to Mango languages including Czech to all its members.

So for now I have plenty of material to study and I am very excited about it.

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