I don’t like making New Year’s Resolutions. I think they’re stupid. If you want to make a change in your life (actually want it), why wait until the first of January? But that doesn’t mean I don’t make them. I do. Every year. One or two, and I almost always fail to keep them, like the vast majority of the world. I always say I’ll exercise more – in the beginning of 2012, I kept that all the way through the end of February. In 2012, I made the only New Year’s Resolution I’ve ever kept – to read 52 books over the year. I did that in 2012, and I did it again in 2013, and I plan to do it again in 2014. But not as a resolution, but because now I’ve gotten into the habit of reading a book a week. Obviously, when it comes to finals week and show week and other stressful weeks, I don’t find the time to read an entire book. But then there are times, like summer and Christmas, when I’ve got more time than I know what to do with and I read a book a day. And, obviously, some of these are re-reads, or children’s books, but sometimes they’re Murakami novels or classics like Pride and Prejudice or nonfiction about wars.
This year, I’m not making any big year-long resolutions, but I am making a little year-long resolution and a giant January resolution.
1. 2014 – Learn something you want to share everyday. It doesn’t have to be big, it doesn’t have to be academic. It just has to be something I find exciting and want to share with someone. It could a single vocabulary word that is funny, or some new theory about the origin of the universe. It could be something silly about our favorite TV shows to share with my friends from home, or something intellectual to ponder over dinner with my dad. It doesn’t matter, but it has to exist.
I’m already full of random facts, that I share with people all the time. Sometimes in appropriate contexts, sometimes not so much. So maybe I’ll have 365 new facts at the end of the year. (In reality, we only remember about 1 in 10 things we learn, so maybe I’ll have 35 new facts to share.)
The impetus for this resolution is simple, really. I have always thought of myself as a learner. As I get older and people ask me what I want to do with my life, I don’t have any good answers for them. When I ask myself, I decide I want to learn every day. What better way to make sure I am doing that then to make sure I’ve learned something to share with someone every day? I don’t know what I’m doing with my life at this point, I don’t know what I’m going to be doing after I graduate, or even next summer. But I do know that I am in college to learn, and I’m in Prague to learn, and so that’s what I’m going to do. And that brings me to my second resolution – my January resolution
2. January – Learn Czech. I am making a resolution to learn Czech this month. Which sounds silly, because I’ve been learning Czech for the last four months, and will be learning Czech for the next five months. So why am I making it such a big deal for the month? There are a bunch of reasons. For one, I don’t have classes for the entire month, so I might as well give myself something to study. Two, I came to the Czech Republic to learn Czech. I came for the year so I had a better chance of learning Czech. If I’m not going to do it now, then when? Three, I feel like I’ve stalled a bit in my learning of the language. As if I got to a point sometime middle of last semester when I said “I can survive. I speak enough Czech to get my basic needs across, and if there is something more complicated that I need, there are always English speakers close enough to help me.” Which is not the attitude I want to have. See reason #2. So I’m spending the month of January learning Czech. I’ve broken it down for myself into four tasks, which will hopefully bring me closer to the fluency (or at least conversation abilities) I desire.
My first task is to learn 1,000 new words over the month. It sounds like a lot, but the reality is that 1,000 words isn’t that many. 1,000 words represents approximately the vocabulary of a 3 year-old, and approximately 1/30 of the vocabulary of a native speaker. Plus, it means memorizing 32 words every day. Which isn’t that hard.
My second task is to memorize the 7 noun declinations. I keep putting it off, because it is plain, old, boring memorization. But not knowing the declinations is a problem when it comes to speaking, and though some of them are coming to me, the process is too slow. So memorization it will be.
My third task is to have at least one conversation entirely in Czech every day. It can be as simple as ordering coffee (as I did this morning) or talking about what I’m studying (as I did around midnight on New Year’s Eve). The goal here is to not limit my learning to reading and writing, but to practice it in real life. And, ideally, I’m able to have the shorter conversations – especially ones that happen every day – without the native speaker knowing that I am not a native Czech. Hopefully, as the month goes by, my conversations can be longer and less nerve-wracking. I’ll be using the network I’ve set up over the last four months – of family and friends here in Prague – to try to have more complex conversations as often as possible, especially in the second half of the month; this will help me start to learn new words from context instead of the dictionary and to understand and speak at a more native (aka, quicker) pace.
My fourth task is to finish reading Matylda. I have the book in Czech and English, as well as the audio book in Czech, so I’ll finish it in Czech first (I’ve got about 50 pages left) and then read it while listening to the audio book over and over again. Here, again, the goal is to get used to a native speaking speed, but also to work on my reading-out-loud fluency and my pronunciation – all with the goal of sounding more native. Because the reality is that imitation is the best way to learn.
I know that these are big goals for one month, especially since I’m planning a week-long vacation to Switzerland and orientation starts the last week of January. But when the new CIEE students show up in January, I want to feel like I’ve accomplished something when it comes to the language.
Wish me luck!
Also, seeing as today is the second of January, it seems appropriate to share what I learned worth sharing yesterday. When Czechs do fireworks, they do fireworks right.