Understanding Czech (or not understanding Czech)

For your enjoyment (maybe), here's what I hear at church:

Now ... something something something ... we can ... something something something something ... God ... something something something ... maybe ... something something something ... amen.

I feel like the dog in that Far Side comic:

blah blah ginger by Gary Larson (Far Side comic) photo blahblah.jpg

The missionaries translate sacrament meeting and Relief Society, and there is a whole Sunday School class for English speakers, so I'm not missing anything really. But I want to hear the Czech, so I put one earbud in and leave the other out and try to understand as much as I can. I think I understand more in Relief Society than in sacrament meeting, and I think it's because in Relief Society, someone's teaching a lesson and there's more repetition. (I'm really enjoying Relief Society, partly because the Czech ladies crack each other up and I love to hear them laugh, even if we English speakers don't get the jokes.)

Being in Prague and hearing Czech is not quite like when I arrived in Germany as an LDS missionary 20 years ago. I did great in the MTC, because I'd taken two years of German at BYU. Then I arrived in my first city, Chemnitz, and I could not understand anyone! I remember one of the APs counseling me to write down unfamiliar words, and I thought, "But I don't hear any words! It's just a stream of nonsense sounds!" Here in Prague, I can hear some of the words I know, so it's not as bad as Chemnitz was. This is probably because there's a pretty distinct dialect in Chemnitz and the rest of Saxony that I didn't learn at BYU or the MTC, while we've been studying Prague Czech.

Of course, I don't know nearly as many words in Czech as I did in German. I think I'm also not recognizing some words I do know, because of their cases. Czech has seven cases, which change the endings (and sometimes middles) of words depending on their function in the sentence. I understand the concept of cases (German has four) but my practical knowledge of Czech words and cases is nearly non-existent. I'm working on it, but very slowly. The other day, Michal taught me how to say "with Seth" (s Sethem), "with Lillian" (s Lillianou), etc. Yes, Czech declines names, too! It's kind of cool. Actually, our Pimsleur audio course claimed that Czechs don't decline English names, but we've experienced otherwise. For example, when Michal wanted to get Jon to stop (he was way ahead of us), he yelled "Jona!" (pronounced with a "y" sound for "j" and a longish "o"; and, yes, "longish" is surely a technical linguistic term). I think that's the vocative case.

So my Czech learning is going slowly (although I have said a few times in Czech "I don't speak Czech"), but I'm plugging along. I might learn more cooking and food terms than anything else. Today, Jon and the boys started a two-week intensive course at a local Czech language school (three hours a day for two weeks), which I hope will rub off on all of us. Lillian and Seth know an awful lot of vocabulary, and the younger three and I continue to have private lessons at our apartment with Mrs. Vitvarova. I'm afraid nothing can really compare to the intense language teaching and learning that goes on at the MTC, though. And then, of course, you're immersed suddenly and completely in that language, talking to people all day long. There's nothing quite like it!

On a different note, last night Lillian and I went to the evening mass at St. Margaret's Basilica at Břevnov Monastery just so we could hear the organ. (The monastery has a website but it's only in Czech, French, German, and Latin.) It's a beautiful Baroque cathedral, but not very well-lit inside at night, so I didn't take any pictures (probably would have been rude to take pictures during their worship service, anyway). It's not heated, and it was cold enough inside that we could see our breath. There were plenty of worshipers there, and I admire their devotion. The organ sounded wonderful and I think I will be visiting several more churches in the same way.

And here's a picture of the inside of St. Vitus Cathedral. It's spectacular and the photo doesn't really do it justice.

From Europe 2013


  1. I love the picture of that Cathedral! Soooo pretty. Glad to hear your Czech is coming along...even if it is at a slow pace and you feel like the cartoon dog...lol. :-) Tell everyone we said Hi!

  2. I can't even imagine understanding any of it! I think missionaries have a bit of divine help as well. :) I would get lonely in a place where I don't understand anyone and they don't really understand me. I'm a talker. Wish you were there longer than 2 months - you probably feel pressure to learn it too quickly. I'm sure it takes missionaries a couple of months to much of the language too.


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