I always struggled with learning Italian at school. Not because I didn’t understand the language, but because I could never grasp the specific syntax and rules. The same goes for English. How many native speakers actually understand the rules of their own language? Past participles, split infinitives, present perfect tense, etc. I’ve got no idea what most of these things mean, but I bet you I can speak and write good English hey! ;)
I’ve been immersed in English and Italian for 33 years now, so I have a sense of how they feel. They have their own melody, their own tone and their own rhythm. When something is wrong it sounds dissonant, it doesn’t feel right.
Io sono, Tu sei, Lui è, Noi siamo, Voi siete, and Loro sono are all correct conjugations of the verb essere (to be). Why it works like this, I have no idea. I just know it’s right because it sounds right to me.
I’ve looked at some Romanian and Spanish to compare with what I know of Italian. It feels similar. With a little vocabulary and more exposure I’m sure I can pick up the basics of those languages without too much work.
My challenge comes with learning a completely different language like Czech … I have nothing on which to base a feel on for this language. I need to become familiar with its melody, its tone it uses its rhythm.
What steps will I take to get the feel of Czech?
Learning vocab is pretty straight forward – except that my memory is crap! Learning a language in this way means you need to learn heaps more words. For example, to learn the Czech verb dávat (to give), I would need to learn six different pieces of vocabulary …
- Já dávám – I give
- Ty dáváš – You give
- On/Ona/Ono dává – He/She/It gives
- My dáváme – We give
- Vy dáváte – You (pl) give
- Oni/Ony/Ona dávají – They give
That’s just for one verb. Czech has a way of changing a word depending on all types of circumstances, the sex of the subject, the sex of the person talking, past/present/future tense, etc. Going down this path is going to be quite problematic for a guy with a very bad memory.
By learning the rules of the language, I only have to learn the basic vocabulary (i.e. some nouns and the infinitive version of the verb) and I should be able to figure things out from there.
Czech verbs are organised into four “classes.” These classes set out rules for conjugating a verb depending on the ending. For example, verbs ending in “at” like dávat are conjugated:
- Já dávám
- Ty dáváš
- On/Ona/Ono dává
- My dáváme
- Vy dáváte
- Oni/Ony/Ona dávají
So by learning some simple rules (and memorising the exceptions to those rules), I should be able to figure out most things in the language. to help me with this, I have purchased Czech: An essential grammar. I will write a review once I have started working my way through it.
I expect this to be by far the most useful technique, albeit the most frustrating to get started with. By listening, reading and speaking as much as I can, I should be able to get a feel for the melody, tone and rhythm of the language.
This is going to be painful because I only understand a few words of the Czech language so far. Benny Lewis has written a review of LingQ. This web based learning tool has a nice feature where it presents sentences and highlights the words you have not come across yet. As you progress, you should in theory be able to understand more and more of the sentence and possibly infer what the “missing words” mean. Unfortunately they do not have a Czech version yet.
So it looks like children’s books, newspapers and Czech pop-punk music for me!