Shared Joy is Twice the Joy, Shared Pain is Half the Pain

Domácí Úkol = Homework

Today was day #2 of our intensive Czech course, and when we say intensive, we mean it. We are learning easily 100 words per day (and trying to retain them… I think I’m running around 50% retainment, if that), and a lot of them are confusing. For example,

  • Být (pronounced beet with a long “e”) – to be (vocative/dictionary form)
  • Byt (pronounced beet with a short “e”) – flat or apartment
  • Bít (pronounced byeet with a long “e” and a slight “y” sound) – to beat or hit.
  • Bit – ?

We’ve practiced our pronunciation and word emphasis a lot, meaning I’m a lot closer to being able to correctly pronounce “ř.” Also, I’ve learned about not only the Czech emphasis on the first syllable of a word, but also the almost sing-songy way in which people speak. I definitely thought at first that this was just Anna speaking to her kids, using a more child-friendly tone of voice, but it’s not. She may emphasize it more than other speakers, but I’ve heard it all over the place. I desperately want to learn the language, so I’m trying to practice everywhere I go and listen to as many conversations as I can. So if I come home at the end of this year and I sing instead of speaking, now you know why.

We had our first real homework assignment tonight, which consisted of a half-dozen worksheet pages of Czech. They mostly dealt with the different conjugations of “to be/být,” as well as jmenuje se and studuje. The bad thing about Czech conjugations is that there are six of them, including informal you (singular) and formal you (singular), which is itself the same as you (plural), regardless of formality. We haven’t yet learned past or future tenses, and I’m glad for that (for now).

  • já jsem – I am
  • ty jsi – you are (singular, informal)
  • vy jste – you are (singular, formal)
  • vy jste – you are (plural)
  • on/a je – he/she is
  • to je – it is
  • my jsme – we are
  • oni jsou – they are

It looks like there are eight forms, but the two vy jstes follow the same rules, and he, she, and it follow the same rules as well. The nice thing about having all these different verb conjugations is that you don’t actually need the pronouns. Já, ty, vy, on, ona, to, my, and oni are used only for emphasis when desired; the majority of sentences are written or spoken without these pronouns. Additionally, negations in Czech are super easy. With only one exception (není: he/she/it is not), you merely need to add “ne” to the beginning of the verb. jsem becomes nejsemjsi becomes nejsi, etc.

The homework itself wasn’t that difficult, because Hannah and I worked on it together. This afternoon, everyone with the last names between N and Z had to go to a Charles University student office to pick up our student identification cards. The rumor mill was buzzing – yesterday, it had taken some students more than two hours to get their ID. Since our class got out a few minutes after the rest, Hannah and I ended up in the back of the line. Instead of just chatting for two hours, we bailed and found a café nearby. We ordered tea and cake, and spent a half hour or so working on our homework. After finishing all but one page, we paid and went back, to a much shorter (but still not short) line. So we sat at a table to finish, instead of just waiting around. And then the magic happened.

We finished our homework, and a woman about our age came up to us, asking what we were doing. We explained that we were international students here to get our Charles University ID cards, and we talked to this very nice girl for a while. We got to practice some of what we had learned – Jak se jmenuješ? (What is your name?) and Co studuješ? (What do you study?). She explained to us the difference between ~ete (formal) and ~eš (informal), and when it is appropriate to use which one. In typical Czech (aka not totally politically correct) fashion, she said it was nice to see Americans trying to learn a language other than English, and she complimented us on both our vocabulary and pronunciation. Even though our professor (profesorka) and my host family have both told me that, it was nice to hear it from someone whose job is not to make me feel comfortable. 

By the end of our conversation, the line was much shorter, we got our ID cards, and took the Metro home. It felt almost as if we really live here – we knew where to go, how to get there, and even parted ways with a friendly “Na shled!”


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