Learning Czech: Michael’s journey (part III) / Hodina cestiny: jak to vidi Michal (3.cast)Learning Czech: Michael’s journey (part III) / Hodina cestiny: jak to vidi Michal (3.cast) | Czechmatediary
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Learning Czech: Michael’s journey (part III) / Hodina cestiny: jak to vidi Michal (3.cast)

images1thumbnail1.jpgJust a ‘simple’ day in the life . . .

. . . of a Czech language student. Lots of conditionals, imperatives, and motion verbs to think about and memorize; no big deal, just the simple life in a second level Czech language class. But, then there is that certain special day that puts it all into perspective; in fashion terms, gives it ‘bling’.

Our class is taught by a young ?eška graduate student. The university Slavic languages department is searching for a permanent faculty position in Czech language and literature. Each of the four candidates for this position has had to come and teach our class for one session with the search committee members looking on. The other day, we had our last candidate come to our class. I say ‘we’ and ‘our’ but this would be misleading. On this fateful day, of six students, only one showed up (a particularly poor comment on student attendance). That would be me.

So, to picture this, the entire class consisted of one distinguished professor of Czech visiting from Heidelberg, Germany, two search committee members (senior faculty), my instructor and, at the low end of the totem pole, me. In American idiom, this was the classic case of too many chiefs and not enough Indians. My editor of great note may need to explain this idiom to native Czech ears. I know this because I used this idiom in class and no one understood me. I turned to my instructor sitting next to me and said “this is going to be trouble”. She assured me all would be well. Ha!

After waiting some time for other students to appear, I spoke up (foolishly) and said that I (if no others) was ready to learn. Unfortunately, they don’t make heroes out of Czech language students. So, I spent the next 40 minutes being grilled (translate that as intense one-on-one instruction) about motion verbs. This would have been ok if I could understand a full sentence of Czech longer than three words. I certainly liked this visiting professor but his use of English was sparing in the extreme (translated as ‘he didn’t say much in English’). The man stood three feet (one meter) from me as I sat there cowed and abashed by my lack of understanding. Oh, it was a deliciously painful session along my path to master this language.

Taking pity on me, the professor noted that we had 10 minutes left for the class. “Would I like to continue the motion verb drill or would I like to hear a bit of Czech music, listening for those verbs as spoken by the singer”? Guess which I picked? Music, please, says I. So, we listened to a wonderful piece of melodic singing (in Czech, of course) and I strained to hear those same motion verbs he had questioned me about so intensively). I was about finished for the thinking part of the day and it was only 9:45 in the morning!

But, that mild mannered hero-type in me rebounded for a brief moment. The words of the music stop; the instrumental part begins. I note that the music is a foxtrot; after all, I’m a ballroom dance afficionado (sorry Tanya – don’t how to translate that) so those musical beats make my feet move. I turn to my instructor and ask her if she would like to dance.

She smiles, thinking that I’m just joking but no, I’m not. I stand, move chairs around and extend my hand to her and say “smim prosit”. My very able editor has already informed me that young Czechs are taught basic ballroom dancing (deportment training) so I know my chances are good that she knows how to dance. She cannot help but accept so we dance a couple of stanzas. That made my day, if not hers. I’m not sure I learned any Czech that day but I got to be just a little bit of the hero. The visiting Heidelberg professor noted dryly that “he has never seen that in a class of his in his life”. One of the search committee members told me as he left the room that “I have as much Czech in my feet as I do in my head” which made me feel good until I realized that he had just watched me show off how awful I was in Czech (in my head). Oh well; to je život “that’s life”.

By the way, the visiting professor got the job.

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3 comments… add one
  • Tanja March 30, 2008, 3:19 pm

    That was a great idea to make your instructor dance! What a excellent ice-breaker – even for the Germans:)

  • MichaelM April 1, 2008, 4:55 pm

    Not sure I would have done that if my brain had not just been fried by that time. BTW, the professor was Czech, just teaching in Heidelberg.

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