Saturday, February 4, 2017

8: Meta

Well, so I have officially been studying Czech for two months now. I feel like it is going very well. I feel like this week was really successful. I asked for a test from some of my language learning buddies (I don’t really love the word buddies - so maybe instead I should call them my “cadre” - everything French is cool, after all). My friend Tomáš gave me a really good (and easy) test which I would have aced if I had remembered like 2 or 3 vocabulary words, and thankfully he gave lots of extra credit points to assuage my pride. This basically cemented the necessity for me to go over the vocab over, and over, and over, and over. I really like the flashcard app that I’ve been using here, but I wasn’t really optimizing its potential until this last week when Tomáš so kindly recorded himself saying the vocab words there. That was more helpful than anything else. And as dumb as it seems, listening to him say the words over and over and over and over was very helpful for me.

But of course it was. I know myself. I am an auditory learner. I learn be hearing, and then by speaking.

Which is probably why I feel so good about my progress this week. Although I did not have a lot of time to write (and even less time to work on my beloved genealogy), I spent a lot of time speaking with my Czech friends. Not only is this really fun, but it’s also really emotionally satisfying to me. Maybe it’s because it feels good to know that somebody else in the world is interested (or at least has a really firm understanding of) this beautiful, awesome language.

I also realized that Kladno is NOT in the middle of the Czech Republic this week. This whole time I thought it was somewhere about dead center. In my defense, literally all of my Czechs are from Ostrava or Frenštát/Trojanovice, so I have had very little cause to study the surrounding areas. It’s interesting to branch out. For example, today we transcribed a Slovakian matriky record (which was written in Hungarian!), but I digress…

I have to say, that my job teaching these little kids Chinese is such a contrast from the way I am trying to learn Czech. In pretty much every way. For example, my work has a really thorough (sometimes too thorough) curriculum. It is fun because I have to think of fun and interesting ways to make it interesting by using TPR. I used this all the time in my Arabic classroom.

And I have to say, I very strongly prefer to teach kids ages 9-14 than the younger kids who don’t know how to circle with a mouse, or who get really distracted, or who - I kid you not - don’t even know how to read yet. For example, what am I supposed to do with a 3 year old who doesn’t know how to decode letters, and I’m supposed to teach him Big A and Small a? ugh.

Whereas, on the other hand, it feels absolutely ridiculous to use TPR in my Czech skype sessions. We just...can’t do that. It’s too stupid. Also, of the six people I’ve been working with consistently now (Tomáš, Tereza, Andi, Milan, Petr, and Martina) only one of them is a teacher by profession. Well, he was a teacher, but it turns out you can make a way better living as a software developer in the Czech Republic. This is something which American teachers can totally relate to. The first article I ever read about the company I work for now made the following headline: “If the U.S. Won’t Pay Its Teachers, China Will.” It would be funny, but both of my parents are teachers, as was I, and it really just isn’t. I know that my sister in law totally disagrees with the idea that teachers are underpaid, but 30k/year for a full time job where you put in long, thankless hours is not a lot of money at all. I don’t know how we would live with a family for 4 kids on that amount, frankly.

Anyway, I couldn’t really start by using a textbook because all the textbooks just jump in way, way too fast. It’s like all of a sudden, you are confronted with a wall of text in which the letter k is highly represented. But it turns out that I’m about at Lekce 2 of one of the books - I’ll probably try to work my way through them. It’s good practice.

But what is the most meaningful and the most fun is to just spend time talking. It is better when we have something to talk about, or a plan. It’s really hard to be the planner AND the student. It’s a really awkward position because I don’t have “control” of the situation. But I’ve decided to just let that go and appreciate whatever I get - which has been quite a lot. The better my plan is, the better the speaking appointments go. This week, they were great.

I think that 3/day should really be the maximum number, though. I feel guilty if they go shorter than an hour with most of these people because we (well, most of us) spend about half the time doing English, the other half Czech. I don’t want to cut them short of their English time. Twice this week I had 4 speaking appointments in one day, which basically took every second of my discretionary “free” time. It was worth it - but it meant I wrote less Czech. But on the other hand, I think I have improved.

Maybe the improvements will be a little bit less dramatic going forward. But I made a huge discovery this week, that makes me feel like a really big idiot.

i/y =/= í/ý

And this Czech phoneme is not the same as our short i. It’s kind of somewhere in the middle between a short i and the “ee” sound. Which is not “long i” - in English, “long i” is the diphthong “ahh-ee”. This is going to take a lot of practice to decode correctly, because my whole life, whenever I see the letter y, I think “ee.”

I also discovered that Czech says their H’s like a slightly less strong Arabic 7a. So that is really interesting. We don’t have this sound in English at all.

Next week is going to be a “Lite” Czech week because I will be gone. I think what that means is I am not going to make myself a full “unit” - it’s kind of like I’m piecing together my own curriculum, but heavily relying on textbooks, as well as my own intuition about what I need to know next.

Because let’s face it, you can’t have an hour long meaningful conversation with another adult about, “where are your eyes?” With a five year old Chinese kid, absolutely. But it’s only 25 minutes. And it’s really only about 1 minute on that one concept.

But I can talk about more abstract things like having time, being busy, going on a date, having a good mood, and my favorite writing thing from this week: “Proč máš krášný život?” It was really fun to write that from the perspective of my ancestors.

I’m still trying to figure out when/how to upload my writing to my blog. There’s just a lot of stuff to do!

I am feeling really confident that I will learn this language. At the moment.

Small Victories! Success! Woohoo.

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