30 November 2012

Language Acquisition, Oh My!

We have a friend here in the Czech Republic who speaks 8 or 9 languages. Actually that’s only a bit unusual around here. Everybody speaks Czech, of course, but many also speak German, Russian, English, and one or two others. But, this friend is an American! That’s what makes it somewhat remarkable.

Sandra and I have been attempting to learn the local language, which is, not surprisingly, Czech. It’s not easy. On the 5-pointscale of the Foreign Language Institute of the American Foreign Service Institute, Czech is ranked in the 4th tier. That’s the next-to-hardest for Americans category. 

Add to that the fact that we are both a few decades beyond the optimal age for the introduction of a foreign language. While some “experts” dispute this, the general understanding about this is capsulized this way

The earlier children begin learning a foreign language, the greater the foreign language skill set they obtain. Children that begin learning at an earlier age, and then continue the foreign language study in years to come, have a better chance of developing the secondary language at a higher level of proficiency.
To see more on this topic go here.
So, undaunted, Sandra and I have taken on this task. We want to be able to, at least, have simple conversations with our neighbors and shopkeepers. After all, I get upset when in America and I am surrounded by people who have lived in the country for years and still don’t (or won’t) speak English.
We both started having some success in commerce-related Czech before we began the lessons, of course. Just going to the grocery store encourages a little bravery in speaking the local tongue.

But, it really is a somewhat difficult language. Some examples:

  • I used the word zmrzlina in a FB post recently. Nobody asked the meaning. I assume some folks looked it up.
  • Are you hladovy? (hungry)
  • Checking in? Tell them, reservoval jsem pokoj.
And be careful about the accents. We learned (the hard way, of course), the difference between paliva and pálivá. One (unaccented) simply means “fuel.” While the other (especially when applied to papriky) means “whoa, hot.”

Then there are the famous tongue-twisters, such as:

  • Třistatřiatřicet stříbrných křepelek přeletělo přes třistatřiatřicet stříbrných střech. 
  • Pštros s pštrosicí a malými pštrosáčaty.
  • Strč prst skrz krk 
Go here to hear the pronunciations and see the translations.

So, friends, if you have any compassion, please pray for us as continue to work at the task. And děkujeme.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous12/04/2012

    dekujeme sounds like a professional wrestling term.
    We miss you and are praying for you.