Jana’s introduction to Growing up Cesky (part I) received A LOT of response from the CMD readers. I guess a lot of people can relate to her “hybrid” life (including me). Today is your lucky day because the part no. 2 is here! Enjoy the ride….
CZ: Janino vypraveni “Growing up Cesky” (1.cast) obdrzelo od CMD ctenaru dosti ohlasu; hodne lidi (vcetne me) se s jejim “krizeneckym” zivotem ztotoznuje. Dnes je vas stastny den, protoze druhy dil jejiho pribehu je tady! Tak si to uzijte…
2/You have shared with me that you speak and write Czech fluently – that is very admirable. Is it all because of your constant communication with your Czech parents? Or do you have to be proactive and do some “maintenance” activities such as actively searching out Czech company, taking classes or reading/listening to the Czech language?
“Mluv cesky ne anglicky” was phrase I grew up hearing a lot. I grew up speaking not Czech but a Moravian dialect. Now when I travel to northern Bohemia people think I am Ukrainian and they laugh at my accent but I do not care. As a child, I learned English from watching Sesame Street or just being around people. My mother did not speak English at the time and it took some time before she spoke it fluently and my dad was afraid I would pick up bad linguistic habits from him. I do not really know how but by the time I started kindergarten I spoke English and never had any trouble making A’s in English. I was very shy and knew that my family was different from an early age. We did not have as much money as other people but that did not matter until junior high/middle school. As a result of starting school I lost or began losing the ability to speak Czech and my family was constantly telling me “Mluv cesky ne anglicky” They could not do anything until November 1989 so May of 1990 I was on a plane with my grandmother, spent the month of June attending school with my cousins answering questions about cernosi (African Americans) and life in America and going on school trips. July was spent with my mother’s family and going to summer camp with my other cousins. Needless to say when I got back, the whole trip from the DFW airport to our home was 1 ½ to 2 hour drive where I spoke Czech nonstop 100 miles an hour and my family was in disbelief.
As I got older, some Czech people would point out that I did have an accent and sometimes I would forget a word and it would take me awhile to remember. I cannot hear the long accents á, é; have trouble with my I and y endings. I read blogs, newspapers online in Czech and do translations. I have started a Meetup.com group to have Czech conversation maybe once a week in my area. I have to continually work on my language.
I do not agree with the way the Czech language is taught to non native speakers. Native speakers think they need to teach foreigners a different way than from the way native Czechs are taught. By writing textbooks differently for foreigners, it makes it harder and they do not do a good job explaining the logic behind the Czech language. Every language has its own logic and by teaching the Czech language in this way you do not get that sense of logic. We are intelligent enough to learn just as Czech school children learn.
It also does not help that the Czech language is hard and complicated with many exceptions/rules which have not been updated/streamlined since the time of Palacky. The differences between spisovna (proper) and hovorova (spoken) Czech also make it difficult and I had trouble learning Czech grammar because I first learned hovorova. But it is not all hopeless, Czech can be learned by non native speakers but it is tough.
In the United States we have English as a Second Language and it is assumed that non native speakers of English attend these classes to learn English. We describe them as immigrants not foreigners so when I took Czech language classes in college my textbook was called “Czech for Foreigners”. I was disturbed by the title which was very cold. Even my family in the Czech Republic does not understand how Czech grammar is taught to foreigners. If and when I go and teach English or Czech I will have “English and Czech as a Second language”, I will not have the foreigner label anywhere.
3/ You said once that you sometimes felt like you were too Czech for the American culture and not Czech enough for the Czech culture; can you elaborate on that a little?
It took me until I was in my 20’s to see how unique I was to live in two cultures. I wanted to belong, be like others and wanted parents who were like other kids. I grew up in a small town and the only immigrant kid. Maybe if I lived in a larger city such as Dallas/Ft Worth, Austin or Houston I might have had a different experience. Now I am jealous of children who go to school with so many different ethnic backgrounds. Since I was the first born my parents experienced everything new about the American school system with me and I grew frustrated with them for not knowing anything. I did not meet other émigré kids until I went to college and after meeting and sharing our experiences I no longer felt different. I started a group blog group called How do you wear your šortky? on MySpace myspace.com/janamvaculik just so that individuals like me who may not know how to get in touch with their inner Czech/Czechness would get some ideas and share their experiences in a constructive manner.
All the things which I mentioned in question 1 made me different from other kids but now I feel I was very fortunate. I have my Czech habits which I really do not think about. Some of them have been mentioned by Tanja when exchanging emails.
When I would go to the Czech Republic, I would feel that people do not often see women who are outspoken and able to defend their beliefs. I was taught in schools to not be intimidated and to go for it. Since we do not have family around to help us, our family is independent. I have heard of Czech college students visiting home every weekend. I visited once a month, did my own laundry, cooked my own food, and was coddled to that extent. It is hard for my parents to let go but I think it is harder for Czech mothers as they like to hover about their children.