Tuning into Czech

Last Saturday I went out with some Czech and Slovak friends, and was pleased to discover that I could get the gist of what they were talking about in Czech and Slovak. Although I could only catch the odd word and phrase, this was enough to get a basic idea of the subjects under discussion.

Before I started studying Czech, it just sounded like a continuous stream of meaningless sound. Now I can distinguish individual words in that stream and even know what some of them mean. My brain is gradually tuning into the language, a process that will take quite a while. I’m in no hurry though.

14 thoughts on “Tuning into Czech

  1. Simon- How would you compare “tuning into” Czech to tuning into Mandarin, e.g. length of time required and contributing factors such as youth vs. experience?

  2. Ben – I studied Mandarin intensively for 5 years and was able to have basic conversations after a year and a bit. It took me another 4 years to become fluent. I’ve been studying Czech for just over 6 months and spend about 15 minutes to half an hour a day on it.

    For me the most difficult things about tuning into Mandarin were the subtleties of the pronunciation, especially the tones, the relatively small inventory of syllables, and the vocabulary.

    With Czech the most challenging aspects are the grammar, particularly recognising different conjugations of verbs and declensions of nouns, and vocabulary. The pronunciation isn’t easy either.

  3. Russian no longer sounds like a meaningless stream of words to me. Hooray! But, even when I recognize a word as one that I know, I still can’t get to the meaning fast enough. In the time it takes my brain to retrieve the definition from storage, the conversation already moved on.

    A point on etiquette: How rude to speak in an unknown lanugage in your company. LOL!
    Actually, I’m sure that it was at your behest that they conversed in their native tongue.

  4. ekill – nerozumím!

    Polly – they were switching regularly between their languages and English for the benefit of those of us who didn’t understand Czech or Slovak (I wasn’t the only English person there). It didn’t bother me that I only understood part of what they said – I saw it as a opportunity to practise my Czech listening.

  5. I wish to get fluent in Japanese, which I am learning at school, Dutch, German, French, and Russian and maybe Luxembourgish.

    I have been learning Japanese at school for about 2 years and a half now and am easily able to understand Japanese people when they speak. My teacher makes sure we have at least 1-2 lessons a week where we practise conversation and our listening skills. Dutch on the other hand, which I am learning at home is not that good with listening skills and conversational skills, as I am only learning basic reading and grammar skills, but I hope to get better at that in the future.

    And good luck with your language aspirations!!

  6. @Simon:
    Oh, I’m sure. Just as I would be very happy for Russians to speak Russian amongst themselves while I try to “tune in.”
    For anyone else besides a language lover it would normally be rude, but for a lingophile(?), it’s an opportunity. 🙂

  7. Have you ever heard a language you know, but aren’t fully concentrating or catch it at the wrong point, and then you fail to “tune in” to what’s being said? In my experience, from a distance North Walians can sound a bit like Spanish, Italian or other Romance language, and then you suddenly realise they’re speaking Welsh!

  8. I’ve had this experience with English. But, as far as I remember it was only when the speaker had a non-English accent, that is they were not natives of any English speaking country. But, not long enough for it to sound like some other language.

    One person told me that English sounded “choppy” to them beofre they learned it. That it sounds like a lot of single words being spoken one at a time in quick succession.

    This is surprising as every other language sounds just the opposite, i.e. a continuous flow of sound.

  9. “Tak to se nedá než zatleskat a říct jen tak dál :-)”

    I don’t know the proper phrase for that but I’ll give it a try.

    I can only applaud and say “keep going” (or go on or don’t stop or whatever, these phrases are tricky 🙂 )

    “to se nedá než” I would usually translate as “there is only one option”, because the situation in question is either so good or so bad.

  10. I would kill to have little French and Japanese guys babbling in my head.

  11. @David
    If you need help with Dutch, I’m glad to help you.

    Mail/MSN: tommie22 [at] hotmail [dot] com

  12. I am 13, but am extremely interested in language. the moment i found out what a polyglot was (maybe lets say- 24 hours ago?) I was crazy about finishing my courses in Spanish and teaching myself Czech. My Great-grandmother came over from Czechoslovakia and my family is sorta crazed with never being able to hold on to the language. my grandmothers maiden name is Hruska (pear). I was wondering is you had advice on helping me learn languages. I lack the life experiences that most have. Also, how do i make my keyboard type czech letters?
    Dobre vecer, Roselyn

  13. also, how well do you have to know the language in order to maybe say now that your bilingual, etc. I know you never stop learning the language, but when do you “check it off” and chill out a bit?

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