Learning Czech

So I have very pleasant czech friend who is giving me lessons. Much of what we discuss is based on a textbook, but she’s now bringing in extra exercises to force me to speak in complete sentences. I’m getting better, if I have a long time to compose my sentences.

As an exercise for myself I started translating the first part of The Fish, which I’ll share as a blog entry when I get a few more sentences done. I think that story will translate well into czech, if the book by Ivan Klima is any indication. Quiet, introverted, and not terribly optimistic.

One thing I noticed yesterday is that even after several lessons I still don’t know how to say “I am going to the store.” I can say Kde je obchod? (“Where is the store?”) and I can say Jdu na proch├ízku (“I am going for a walk.”). But I haven’t learned “to” yet. Why not? How can this important little pice of language be pushed back so far?

The answer lies in the nouns. Whereas learning czech on the street is about getting enough words that you can string together and be understood, the textbook has to defer “I am going to…” until you can say it correctly. That means using the genitive form of the noun, and I haven’t got there yet.

The translation of The Fish should be hilarious to czech speakers, if they can make sense of it at all. My little dictionary tends to the formal and sometimes even obsolete side of things, so it should have an old-fashioned feel to it. I’m sure some of the expressions will not translate either. In the end it will probably be more like Mock Czech than an actual language. It’s a damn slow process, since the rather floral language in the story is not well-reflected in my lessons. I have to look up each work, then look the translation in czech to make sure it translates back with something resembling the same meaning. I love it when the Czech word given as a translation doesn’t even appear in the other half of the dictionary. Finally I take a shot at conjugation and pluralization, take a whack at the preposition, and move on.

My plan is to keep on it though, and get feedback from my teacher. We’ll see what happens, anyway. I’ll post the first few sentences later today.


5 thoughts on “Learning Czech

  1. I have noticed that when MaK has something to say on this blog or any other, it comes across as especially poetic, partly because of the non-Englishness of the syntax, partly because of the alternative words used to describe something where the exact vocabulary isn’t available.

    So the question is whether Czechs might find your language poetic for the same reasons, or whether an English speaker attempting Czech might have the reverse problem of an unpoetic language structure being translated into a poetic language.

  2. BTW, on your main page, the “Leave a comment” function seems to be dead at the moment. Everything else seems to work, and I can click on the “Idle chit-chat” thread, where I can leave a comment as usual.

    The first time I clicked on “Leave a comment,” the little page-loading thingie in the upper right (on the new version of Mozilla, the little dots running around in a circle) was active for about a second, and then nothing else happened. Subsequent clicks resulted in no action whatsoever.

  3. So, you’d need the genitive and not the locative or accusative to say that you’re going to the store? (Not that I have any idea what I’m saying.)


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