Written by Kylie Fuller (Johns Hopkins University)
Central European Studies in Prague, Student Correspondent, Spring 2013
Part of the requirement for being in the CET program is that all students in Central European studies and Jewish Studies must take Czech twice a week for the entire semester. This class is to be preceded by a weeklong intensive Czech class. I have taken Spanish for most of my education career, so how hard could this be? It turns out that Czech is very hard. We sat down our first day of intensive Czech to meet our teacher, Jiří. He was tall, friendly, and extremely good at Czech.
Only half of us were in this room, while the other half met their new teacher on the other side of the building. We were handed our new Czech workbooks, and began right away. Although the letters were the same as the English ones, they had funny accent marks on them and made sounds we swore our mouths were physically incapable of making. Stressed, we tried to pronounce words with three or four consonants in a row. It would be an understatement to say it was unsuccessful. As hard as it was, after a week of class 4 hours a day, we could count to 100, say hello, and order food. It doesn’t sound like much, but it was a HUGE accomplishment.
As the semester went on, our class grew closer over the hardship of learning this language. We finally got to the point where we could say a few sentences, so I tested them out on my Czech Buddy, Denisa. She could not understand a word I said, and when she replied it was a similar situation. Frustrated, we decided to stick to English.
Although that attempt was unsuccessful, when my mom came to visit over Easter I got to show off a few of my new skills. I ordered food for them in restaurants, and pretended to speak to a guy at one of the booths at a farmers market. I say pretend because I had no idea what he was saying, but just continued to nod and smile and say “Ano” which means yes. Although it probably didn’t fool him, my mom and my brother stared at me with wide eyes of amazement. My brother asked me what I had said, so I had to make up an elaborate story. Luckily they were only in town for the week, so I was never caught!
When finals came around, everyone started to panic about the Czech final. Although we had now been taking the language for over 4 months, it still felt as like all we could do was say hello and order food. I can barely even count to ten anymore! Students were furiously studying the week before the test, worried that once we began to take it that everything we learned would disappear.
Our class was lucky that we only had a written test, and it went much better than expected! It turns out I remembered more than I thought I did, which was a huge relief. The other Czech class had a written and an oral exam, and they were not happy about having the latter. I’m not sure how my grade would have turned out if my class had had an oral component. I have tried a few more times to communicate with my Czech Buddy, all of which have continued to be unsuccessful.
I am glad I have learned another language as difficult as this one, but it leaves me wondering if I will ever have a need for it again!