I’ve been taking the time to write down words this week that I either don’t know or can’t define. Yes, these are different. To not know a word is to need to look it up; context isn’t enough. For example, “novation” was in my readings this week. It means “the substitution of a new contract in place of an old one,” by the way. Words I can’t define are much more common, and much more frustrating. These are words I hear with some frequency, or words I know I’ve looked up before, or even words I sometimes use – only in the same context I’ve heard them, of course. And yet, somehow, I don’t know them. This week, this category included “exogenous” (external), “atavism” (recurrence, reversion), and “concomitant” (naturally associated).
I find it interesting to note that the decision to record novel vocabulary has been associated with an increased level of complexity in my daily speech, as evidenced by this sentence. It’s like the big words come out of a spigot – I can turn them up or down depending on context. For example, I used “magnanimous” in conversation with my professor (yes, that professor) and “ostensibly” while speaking to a good friend in Poli Sci. But I don’t talk like that at home, and I clearly don’t write like that here. (Do I?)
Sometimes I wonder if writing down all these words (and looking them up, and attempting to incorporate them into my vocabulary) is worth it? I’ve had conversations with a friend about the fact that she gets constantly called out by her housemates for using words that are too large; we sometimes wonder where the “egotistical line” is. But there were a few words in the 59 I wrote down this week that were worth it:
- Obsequies: (not the same as obsequious) Plural of obsequy: funeral rite; usually used in plural. [Side note: I have NO IDEA why this was on my list – it came out of a political science/sociology reading, but I didn’t write down the page number, so I have been unable to find the original sentence. Regardless, the fact that funeral rites were mentioned in my reading is humorous to me.]
- Exult: rejoice [intransitive]. Not to be confused with “exalt.” (to glorify something [transitive])
- Sedulous: assiduous, diligent. Assiduous: sedulous, diligent. I’m serious. (Okay, I was judicious in paring down the definitions for these to make a point…) These words were on the same page in one of my readings; I don’t think I ever knew they were different words until that page. The connotations, however, are different. Sedulous implies constant and unwavering commitment, persistence, while assiduous can be temporary, but no less intense.
- Convolve: entwine. Not only a math term, although I did read it in a physics reading, so it probably hasn’t escaped the sciences. Yet.
- Puerile: trivial, childish. I think that someone, somewhere in my past should be despised for having described me as puerile…
In case it wasn’t already clear, I like words. I like derivations. (The linguistic ones, and the computational ones to a lesser extent.) I listen to a podcast – A Way with Words – every so often that answers questions about the history of words and phrases, which is wonderful. I discuss etymology over breakfast, psychology over dinner, and nuclear physics over lunch. I’m a weird one.
[By the way, if you or someone you know is taking the SAT sometime soon, (baby brother, I’m looking at you!) or even the LSAT, they should probably read this post. Words in bold and words in italics are probably all on those crazy-long word lists kids are supposed to memorize in order to prove they’re “smart”.]
I’ve now had two days of classes, and I’ve had at least one class meeting of every class but one. (That one is just on Mondays…) I couldn’t be more excited about them; I’m pretty happy with that fact, since I can’t really drop any of them or anything like that. I’m already learning oh so much, but I can’t help but sharing the few things that I’ve learned and really enjoyed.
First of all, I’ve installed a dictionary app on my phone, which means when I’m reading or my friends are reading, I look up the new words. Not only new words, but also words I know in context but have never actually looked up to get a sense of the nuances. Just today, I’ve looked up five words. Think of it as GRE studying (even though I’m not taking the GRE). Or just living life.
- Ineffable – too great, powerful, beautiful, etc. to be described
- Heady – causing feelings of excitement or dizziness
- Lumpen – of or relating to dispossessed and uprooted individuals cut off from the economic and social class with which they might normally be identified
- Trenchant – very strong, clear, and effective
- Chicanery – actions or statements that trick people into believing something that is not true, deception or trickery
In addition to the words, and the Chinese and Japanese history, (interestingly, I am currently studying Japanese history in my Political Science class, where we are looking at the beginnings of Japanese-American interactions, but I am also studying general Japanese history in my Japanese class in Japanese, of course) I am also learning little pieces of African wisdom in my Dance class. Like these:
Energy is like wisdom – the more you use, the more you get.
Listen now, hear me later.
I’ve also been reading a lot (60+ pages so far today) and setting up my house. I’ve discovered that the necessary steps to living an independent life, like making and cleaning up after meals, keeping the house clean, etc. take more time when you don’t have parents and siblings to fall back on. Life is a lot easier when one person cooks and someone else cleans…
Life is busier than I expected, but I’ll continue posting as much as I can!
We’re finishing up our first week of the two week Czech Intensive portion of this semester. Which means, of course, I’m making my way through the second first week of Intensive Czech. In some ways, this time around is more intense, but in others it is much calmer.
On the more intense side:
- We speak basically only Czech. This surprises me and amazes me simultaneously. If you had asked me when I got here if I could survive four hours a day speaking 95% Czech, I’d laugh at you. But here we are, and this is the reality.
- We have a new, and intense textbook. I like it though. Yes, it freaks me out to see all the instructions in Czech and the sheer size of it (~200 pages), knowing we’re going through the whole thing this semester. But it also excites me to see how much I’m going to learn, and some of the grammar is already instantly simplified because of the professional presentation of it.
- We’re learning dozens of new words a day. This happened first semester, but the words were usually related (like, all the numbers, or a series of logical and important verbs). This semester’s words are more random, dependent on where the conversations take us. New words from today included, but were not limited to: mluví o (speak about), puberták (teenager), přijemný (annoying), obsazeno (taken), čiše (decanter), vrchní (head waiter), přát (to wish), drobné (coins, change), česněk (garlic), zelí (cabbage), kulajda (a specific type of traditional soup with cream, eggs, and mushrooms), potok (brook), krájet (to dice), štouchane brambory (mashed potatoes), žizen (thrist), and švýcarsko (Switzerland).
On the calmer side:
- We know each other. Basically everyone in my class I knew from last semester, so it makes personal dynamics less stressful. We know each others’ quirks, and we already have the inside jokes that get us through the long days of studying.
- We know what to expect. It doesn’t come as a surprise that we get lunch one day and not the next, or that just becaue the schedule says x, y, and z doesn’t mean that we’re sticking to it; in fact, chances are pretty high that lunch gets shifted up one day and back the next.
This isn’t to say that Czech right now isn’t intense. Because it is. We have pages – pages! – of homework each night, and my brain literally hurts when the day is done. But I’m loving it. Because it means I’m learning, which is what I’m here to do, after all. And I feel like I’m on the verge of really being able to communicate in Czech. It’ll definitely take a lot of hard work, but I feel like I’m right there. Like there are only a few more things to learn and then I can say anything I want to say. The declinations that just a month ago seemed so incredibly impossible are coming to me now. I don’t have to think so hard for them to pop into my head, and more often than not the ones I let pop in without thinking are right. More and more, I’m able to understand a word, or words, from context, which means I have to look up words less and less in day-to-day conversations. I’m starting to consider at what point trying to listen and understand conversations on the trams becomes eavesdropping. I sometimes even find myself looking forward to conversations all in Czech, because I feel like I’ve accomplished something significant in terms of the language. Like this morning’s interactions with Emma:
Emma HATES it when I ask her Jak se máš? (how are you?). Hates it when anyone asks, actually. Because their last homestay, Jorge, who was only in Prague for 10 days, never learned anything else. So he’d ask her all the time. Let’s just say they didn’t get along.
Sometimes, we ask Emma how she is as a joke. To make her angry, because she’s cute, and it is funny. But she’s been sick, and I was genuinely curious to know how she was. So I asked her, this morning, Jak se máš? And she scowled. But I didn’t laugh, or give up. I knew what was going on, so I told her (in Czech, of course!) that I’m not Jorge, but that I actually want to know. And then I asked again. And she answered. And it all happened in Czech.
Maybe next time I ask her, she’ll know I really mean it right off the bat.
It is the second day of February, which means that my month of Czech is officially over. This is a very strange feeling for me, because in a lot of ways January wasn’t any different than December was, or February will be. I spoke more Czech on a daily basis during January than I had in December, which was my ultimate goal. I intend to speak more Czech daily during February than I did during January. This could be because I’m going to classes every day and will be able to speak with my Czech professor, other professors (who are Czech) and all the staff and buddies at CIEE.
Nonetheless, I feel like I need to look back at my goals from January and see how well I did.
1. Learn 1,000 new words. Well… my success here depends on your definition of learn. If we’re going by the “I didn’t know the word January 1st and know it today” definition, I failed. There is no way I can claim that I memorized 1,000 words and could recite them to you today. If, however, we consider learning a word being exposed to it, remembering it for some period of time, and writing it down, then I definitely succeeded. I wrote down more than 1,000 new words over the month of January, and for the most part remembered them for a few days at least.
Even though this isn’t a success in the way I first expressed my 1,000-word-goal, I think this was successful. In my experience learning new vocabulary in Japanese, I never really remember a word the first time I learn it. But the second time, for whatever reason, it really clicks. So I’m thinking of these 1,000 words as round 1, and round 2 will be highly successful.
2. Memorize the 7 noun declinations. Easier said than done, it seems. I have been working on them, and I’m definitely a lot closer than I was at the beginning of January. But I’ve still got a way to go. Interestingly, though I struggle with them during normal day-to-day conversations, I almost always get them right when I’m drunk. (As evidenced by various Czech friends complimenting me for my mastery of declinations while at the bars in the past few days.) This tells me that I’m absorbing the declinations and I need to stop worrying so much about them during normal (sober) conversations.
3. Conversation in Czech every day. This definitely happened. Whether I accomplished what I hoped to accomplish by setting this as a goal is questionable, but I had these conversations. I ordered coffee/tea/cake/whatever, I bought stamps, I had conversations over lunch and dinner and instead of studying. I learned about what it is like to be blind or deaf in the Czech Republic, and talked about the different types of bullying. I explained American drinking games and learned some Czech history. Most of these conversations were completely in Czech; the more complicated ones were often interrupted by asking what a word means, but always asked and answered in Czech. I’d say this one was a total success.
4. Read Matylda. I can also check this box off. I finished reading Matylda, I read other books to my host siblings, and continued listening to as much Czech (reading, conversations on the trams, TV shows) as I could.
In addition to these, I discovered this month a host of English TV shows that have been dubbed into Czech, and started watching them. Most notably, I’ve been watching Gilmorová Děvčata (Gilmore Girls) online, and Castle na Zabiti (Castle) and Pan Času (Dr. Who) on TV with some regularity. Also on TV in Czech sometimes: Friends, Full House, and The Big Bang Theory.
Was January successful as a month to forward my Czech knowledge? Yes. Did I learn as much as I wanted to? Probably not. Did I learn more than I expected? Yes. I’ve gotten to the point where I can sit at the table and understand the majority of what is happening around me, even if I can’t understand every single word. When I’m on the trams, I no longer try to listen for a word I recognize, I now am trying to comprehend entire sentences at a time. Next up, hopefully in March or so, listening to entire conversations. (At what point does this action go from desperately trying to learn the language by practicing in every way possible to awkwardly eavesdropping on people’s conversations?)
Intensive Czech starts Monday morning, which I’m certainly looking forward to. I have a suspicion that the amount of work and effort this semester’s class is going to require will be much greater than last semester; the textbook we’re supposedly going to use looks awesome, but we’re also apparently going to go through all 20 chapters…
I’m setting for myself another language-related month long task (although only one for February): I will ONLY speak in Czech to the CIEE staff and buddies. This includes whoever is at the front desk, everyone working upstairs, and any flat/dorm/homestay buddies that may be attending any event. I cannot get out of this by not having conversations; I will have at least one such conversation every day that I am at CIEE (which means at least 4/week.) In addition, any emails I send to them will be in both Czech and English.
Once again, wish me luck!
There’s no doubt about it – traveling to Prague means a new culture, new customs, and a new language. A lot of people in Prague speak English, and you can get away with just a smattering of Czech if learning the language is low on your priorities list. If that’s the case, here are the words current students in Prague suggest you commit to memory. Sometimes, knowing how to tell someone to go away comes in useful, after all…
- Ahoj – Hello/goodbye (it can be used as both!)
- Bez lepku – Without gluten. Very useful if you’re gluten free.
- Dekuju – Thank you.
- Dobry den – Hello. (Literally, good day.) Use this when speaking with someone you don’t know, or someone older/more important than you. Ahoj is for friends.
- Kolik?/kolik stoji? – How much/How much does it cost.
- Na schledanou – Goodbye.
- Pozor – Watch out/attention/be careful. Used in many different situations.
- Prominte – Excuse me. Pardon also works.
- Prosim – Please.
- Pryč – Go away.
- Zatim čau – See you later.
- Zmrzlina – Ice cream.
Learning your numbers is also very useful in any situations. Buying things, arguing with cab drivers over the cost to get home late at night, asking about getting the right tram, you know…
Also, a note about CIEE’s language classes: They are what you make them. I know people who have gotten through the Czech class with a reasonably good grade and literally don’t know a single word. (When asked for words for this list, they responded with “I don’t know anything in Czech.”) But there are also a good number of people who can carry out simple conversations if they wanted.
The intensive Czech course is two weeks of “oh, crap! What have I gotten into?” but you come out with a solid base, with which you can survive if you want to. If you’re really interested in learning Czech, definitely sign up for the Fast Track course. I’ve talked to so many people who say they wish they’d taken Fast Track. Yes, we get homework. Yes, our tests are a little bit harder. But we also learn more about how the language fits together that makes it a bit easier to understand. Obviously, do what you want with Czech, but if you have anything more than a glancing interest and are willing to put in a bit of work, I’d personally recommend the Fast Track course.
Also, if you’re interested in learning Czech in the comforts of your own home, the Pimsleur Czech language course is a great beginning. I did all 30 of their lessons before I came to Prague, and I definitely felt like I had a grasp on the world around me as a result. Even just the first five lessons give you a good idea of the language and some useful phrases if you want them.