There are some things that come naturally to Britons – standing on the right on escalators, mentioning the weather in every conversation, mentioning the world wars in conversations with Germans, that type of thing. Seemingly we are born with these gifts.

Learning Czech is not one of them.

Whilst there are loan words in Czech deriving from English, the structure of the language is fundamentally alien and there are limited connections with English or French. That means that for a Briton with a classical education (languages: English, French, Latin and swearing) building a foundation is hard.

In essence the difficulty is the cases. I know that Latin has a somewhat similar structure but I was never taught to speak Latin. That may explain why I can read Czech better than speak it. It has taken me a long time (largely, it must be admitted, through arrogance and indolence) to get into the cases but I feel they are the key to understanding and progress.

I have only one real tip for those setting out to learn this challenging language.

You have to spend time to digest the basics. There is no other way. You need to write things out, play with the words, grammar and syntax, work out for yourself how it works, take one step forward, two back, one forward etc.  You need to create your own reference phrases, which are your lifeboats in what will be an occasionally hostile and frequently bewildering sea, create your own vocabulary, and then try to think in Czech whenever possible through the day. For someone like me, with no external Czech influences save through lessons, you need to create them, through radio, video, music etc. I suspect rather faster progress can be made with a Czech boyfriend/girlfriend or similar but absent that you have to try and create way of submerging yourself in the language.

Those (like me) who think (in my case, thought) “I can breeze this, a difficult language, pah, what a load of old tosh” will come badly a cropper. Essay crisis style learning (a speciality of a certain type of public school educated Briton) will not work for Czech. I think I came to this realisation when after about 20 lessons I was still on lesson 6 in the teaching book…

It is a ferociously difficult language, even with a wonderful teacher.

You need to respect it, and approach it with humility.

Through doing so, you will realise that to learn it is also richly rewarding on an intellectual level, because of its difficulty, and perseverance is therefore worthwhile.

It has become a great joy, even if the learning has only really just started.

 

SPJ