I might be a bit biased in saying that Czech is one of the most fascinating languages of the Slavic world. But it is. In fact, my visit to Czechia (as we call it now) got me so interested that I immediately wanted to experience it first-hand. So a couple of years ago, I embarked on my first ever Slavic challenge: replying to a friend’s letter in Czech. Almost three years have passed and I still don’t speak any Slavic language. In my defence, however, I have since been listening to a lot of Czech music and have familiarised myself with the nitty-gritty of Polish grammar – so there’s been a slight improvement in my Slavic abilities.
So here’s story in a nutshell: in the summer of 2014 (wow!) I asked my pen pal Kristýna from Olomouc to write a short and simple letter to me in her native tongue, and promised to try and reply to her. Despite the fact that I’d never had anything to do with Czech before (with the exception of learning a few standard phrases), I was pretty excited for the challenge! It wasn’t until I received her letter that I began to realise how much of a pickle I’d got myself in.
Alright, conjugation wasn’t too hard to get my head around, but I must admit declension proved to be much worse than I’d expected it to be. As Wikipedia kindly informs us, “Czech has seven cases: nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, vocative, locative and instrumental. This essentially means that a word can have 14 possible forms in singular and plural.” And on top of all this, Czech has three grammatical genders. The concepts of declension and the case system were familiar to me from Hungarian, which happens to be an agglutinative language. But combining all this with gender seemed a bit too much to me, despite having had considerable practice with this kind of stuff when studying Modern Greek grammar. Anyway, here’s the letter I received:
“Ahoj! Jak se máš? V Česku právě začaly prázdniny. Já a moje rodina poletíme v sobotu do Řecka. Já se moc těším. Užij si prázdniny! Hodně štěstí s českým jazykem. Čau!”
“Hello! How are you? The holidays have just started in the Czech Republic. My family and I will fly to Greece on Saturday. I’m really looking forward to it. Enjoy the holidays! And good luck with the Czech language. Bye!”
And after about a week of diving into Czech grammar and sweating blood trying to construct a handful of basic sentences, my reply followed:
“Ahoj Kristýna! Mám se dobře, děkuju. Řecko je krásná země a Řekové jsou velmi milí lidé! Moje rodina přišla z Řecka, proto strašně se mi líbí jazyk a kultura. Čeština je velmi těžky jazyk! Je to skoro tak těžké, jako maďarština. Užij si prázdniny!”
“Hi Kristýna! I’m fine, thank you. Greece is a beautiful country and Greek people are very friendly. My family came from Greece so I’m obsessed with the language and the culture. Czech is a very difficult language! It’s almost as difficult as Hungarian. Enjoy your holiday!”
Well, Kristýna congratulated me on my effort and claimed that my paragraph appeared to have been written by a native speaker. Yet for some reason I doubt that a thorough search on the internet could provide me with an inexplicable divine power to converse in Czech without mistakes. So if you speak this awesome language, feel free to point them all out!
Have a great weekend,
(Balint – Georgian script)