So, are you visiting Czech Republic or here to study?”
“Oh, I live here”
“6 years? Wow! How
is your Czech?…”
“Your Czech must
be very good?”
We’ll get to that.
First I have a confession to make. Ready?
I enjoy the
Ok, so reading it
sometimes feels like I’m trying to crack the enigma code, and yes,
sometimes, I do feel like I’m in a badly dubbed movie when i
attempt a sentence.
When I first started
practising Czech years ago, I had this joke I told myself:
“Czech. A verbal
and mental workout that could get you abs in 30
There’s a smile on my
face but the pain is real, folks! In spite of all that though, I do
enjoy the language.
So what do I enjoy
about it? The sound of Czech. Personally, I think it sounds a
bit musical. Picture yourself as a maestro and your tongue is the
baton conducting a symphony of words to life. Only the music is
classical hip-hop and your tongue has a few dance moves to pull
off… On that note, Czech Republic, your r’s? Not. A. Fan.
Still, funnily enough,
I don’t find it to be a hard language. Complicated? Yes.
Downright confusing? Yes. Czech words can sometimes feel like they
change into other words after a certain number. The first thing that
popped to mind when I heard all the forms of bude? “Czech
words are like Pokemon.. They evolve.” But
still not hard. Here’s the reason.
Having been born in
London and raised in Africa, I was fortunate to be exposed to the
joys of language from a very early age. For example, in Nigeria where
I grew up, we have over 500 languages spoken throughout the country,
although our main language is English. My regional language, igbo
(also pronounced ‘Ibo’ to many) has over 25 dialects
alone. So naturally, as a child I picked up the language and a couple
of dialects along the way and hence pronunciation and intonation of
other languages I met later came easily to me.
Whenever I listen to
the Czech language or find myself attempting to speak, normally
through the help of liquid courage, I am reminded of an old saying I
picked up while learning my own native language. To paraphrase:
“What you say is
as important as how you say it..”
One to adhere to when
picking up a new language. It is a lesson I learned early in my life.
However it was a lesson I got to experience first hand living in the
Back in 2013, my
girlfriend and I took a bus trip to visit babicka. It
was a week day, so naturally the bus was half full of grannies
and grandpas, and quite a few primary school kids and their teachers
on an educational trip.
We had gotten into a
lovers’ tiff a few minutes prior to boarding, so by the time we were
sat on the bus, it had escalated somewhat into a pretty heated
exchange of words… well, sort of an exchange. She was angry, and
reaching what I dubbed over the years “Sefova level 3”,
in which I was caught in a storm of English and Czech
vulgarities and logic, also known as “Death by Czanglisky”,all the while trying to get a word in. Then I saw a chance to
retort and seized it.
“Yeah but ..”
Too late, she was back
with the volley. I did notice one of the older ladies glance at me
over the top of her newspaper. I was used to the glances and the
looks whenever I spoke English, especially in those beautiful further
parts of the Czech Republic, so of course I thought nothing of it.
The verbal sparring
continued, with me on the defensive, trying to get my argument in,
but managing to get no further than two words at a time:
“Yea but lasko..”
“Yea, yea but..”
“Stop saying that!”
she suddenly hissed.
“Saying what babes?”
I replied, “I haven’t said anything yet! I’m trying to speak!”
I felt a little shift
in the air around me and looked up to disapproving faces from
the elderly and teachers covering the ears of the kids with their
What is going on?!!
The rest of the journey
was silent as I tried to wrap my head around the glares around me.
Was I being too loud? But all I could do was return to the same
answer.. I didn’t say anything!
We got off the bus and
started towards granny’s house. Finally, my girlfriend broke the
“Do you understand
what you were saying?”
“Of course not!” I
replied, “because I didn’t get to say anything!”
“Well, what did you
say?” she asked again, a smile twitching the side of her lips.
By now, I was somewhat
exasperated so I just blurted it out..
“All I got to say was
Her smile broadened.
Then she explained it
Safe to say, I find it
Which brings me back to
the beginning. Whenever I get those questions that rear their head in
every new conversation that I have, I’m reminded of my side of
the conversation on the bus, with the added bonus of pauses and
breaks making me sound like a perverted DJ, and my many encounters
with language in general over the years. Some wonderful, some
awkward, some serious, some funny. All educational. And isn’t that
the beauty of language? Learning about cultures through the power of
communication. Engaging and connecting with each other. Building,
growing, sharing. Go for a drink with a friend, new or old, and I’m
sure you’ll find each of us has a story like this to tell. But the
lesson is the same all round. No matter how well we know a language
or dialect, it’s easy to miss the basics. Don’t forget the small
things. As someone famous once said “check yourself, before you
As for me, the reply
is an easy one..
must be very good?”
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