Today’s post is just a summary to keep you updated on my progress in this summer’s experiment (No language learning tips today, sorry!!)
I have been in Prague for a total of 2 months now, in my experiment to see if it is possible to become fluent in a language starting from scratch in just three months. I chose Czech very randomly and it’s worked out nicely since I’ve been greatly enjoying my summer in Prague!
At the end of my first month, my level of Czech was “OK”, but still not so impressive since I was relying a lot on learned-off sentences from my phrasebook and general conversational connectors. I was basically as good as a trained parrot, definitely ready to speak whenever I could, but not so great for an actual conversation.
Since my translation work was greatly reduced in the last month, I decided to take advantage of the free time and finally did some studying. I really dislike studying and avoid it in my language learning projects whenever possible. But I didn’t want to have to worry about grammar in my finals weeks, in which I’ll be perfecting and improving what I already know, so I gave Czech grammar some time.
Still don’t appreciate studying grammar!
What a boring month!! After this, I have been further discouraged to focus on studying grammar so much in future experiments. After my first month I would speak immediately and get my point across. However, in recent weeks, while I was studying grammar I kept stopping myself to mentally calculate the case of a word and come up with its ending, or piece together the right verb formation for the particular situation. This slowed me down… I can complain all I like, but at the end of the day, it’s a necessary step to get through. I hope to find a way to get through it quicker or enjoy it more in future experiments (and if I do, I’ll let you know how!!), but for the moment I had to sit down with a grammar book and do written exercises (sigh). The good news is that I had enough time to get through my entire (detailed) grammar book and basically understand everything!
Sorry to all the purists out there, but Czech grammar is not hard if you have the right attitude towards it. Czech’s inherent “difficulty” will never be an excuse I use if I don’t reach fluency in the 3-month time limit I’ve set myself. I find it very logical to be honest and the theory is straightforward! I’ve had no problem writing emails in Czech when I have the time to analyse the sentence and think it out before I write it. When someone argues its difficulties to me I have several retorts about how Irish Gaelic and even Latin languages completely outdo it in complexity in many situations. No language is difficult in itself, it’s just more different to other ones you may learn. There’s an important difference and accepting that will help you approach it with the right attitude.
But it is trickier applying it quickly on the go. I had gotten used to romance languages’ grammar quirks quickly after the 2nd or 3rd time, so learning another one was not that much of a challenge, but I have to make an adjustment for Czech’s different grammar. This is precisely why I chose Czech, despite it being a less important language internationally. I’m hoping that the grammar and vocabulary similarities with other Slavic languages will help me learn them a little quicker later on. I’m seriously considering learning either Polish or Russian next near!
The good news: I can speak Czech!!
OK, so the good news is that after studying all that grammar and learning enough vocabulary I can actually make the “arrogant” claim, that after only two months I CAN SPEAK CZECH! My last month will be focusing on improving on my current level, since I definitely do not speak it fluently yet. You can hear that my accent is pretty good, and I can and have had natural conversations with natives about a wide range of topics without ever relying on English. I am extremely pleased at the level I have reached after just 2 months trying and even if I don’t reach fluency I will proudly remember not using English to have a social life with locals here in Prague.
But it isn’t fluent yet! Will I make it in just 4 weeks?
The bad news is that I have a long way to go!! I can only have a conversation with someone who is very patient as I stutter and pause mid-sentence to do some mental gymnastics to get the right word. Despite having enough vocabulary to say lots of things, I’m still relying on a small set of words that I am way too comfortable using, so I have to force myself to use more synonyms and express myself better. I can understand the other person quite well, but only if they speak slowly and clearly and if they are speaking directly to me. When following conversations between two natives I get lost and only rely on recognising words here and there. Sadly, I still can’t watch TV and understand it enough to enjoy it without (Czech) subtitles applied. So I’m under no illusions – my Czech conversational and understanding skills are still quite bad!
So I honestly don’t know if I will make it to fluency! My last month will be focussing on meeting up with natives regularly to practise and converse (although I have to confess that these “meetings” may be giving preference to one gender in particular… ), and the Czechs are definitely helping me and encouraging me! I will also continue to do some side studying to make sure I am clear about the grammar and try to get some more words in my head to use when I need to.
I am still aiming to reach fluency in time, but if I don’t, my excuses for not reaching it will be very simply not being focussed enough this summer. I have invested a surprisingly little amount of time in Czech this summer, since I love speaking other languages with my Couchsurfers and have tried to work as much as possible whenever I received any. Frankly, I’m also just generally lazy :P. I never wanted to see if I could become fluent in 3 months; I wanted to see if I could become fluent in 3 months with very little work and only part-time attention!
I am also quite distracted as I am hugely looking forward to my next 3-month language mission, which will be completely different! (Not just learn another “hard” language from scratch) I’ll introduce the actual crazy mission itself when the time is right, but those following me on twitter already know where I’m going.
Oh by the way, thank you so much for all of your votes in the Top 100 language blogs!! I was amazed to see that this very young blog has reached the honourable position of number SIX out of hundreds of entries from the best sites across the Internet!!! Being in the top ten is much better than I ever could have hoped!! It wouldn’t have been possible without all of your clicks I intend to try to keep the posts interesting and useful so I deserve to stay in that position I am also very glad that I’ve got over 350 subscribers! Welcome to everyone new!! I am a very new blogger, and not such a good writer yet and I still have a lot to learn (sorry that my posts are always so long!!) so please contact me if you have any tips and encouragement
So, do you think I’ll make it to fluency? Should I be pleased with my progress so far at least? Let me know what you think, and if you have any advice for me in my last month in Prague, write me a comment!!
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This article was written by Benny Lewis
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