It feels strange enough when I spend a few days speaking and hearing mostly English (although that happens all too often)—on the one hand, the conversations feel quite natural since they are with friends, and on the other hand it makes my brain feel slightly turned around and wrong. To spend two days doing nothing but reading and writing English felt completely wrong now that I am accustomed to looking at large amounts of Czech almost every day. It gave me the dreadful feeling that I could become one of those people who live here without ever using more than a few words of Czech.
We would like to think, of course, that I am gradually become fluent, and not merely developing a strong reading knowledge of the language. As a rule I don’t feel as though this is happening with suitable speed.
Some people—many people, in fact, and both Czechs and others—like to claim that Czech is too difficult to learn properly. Personally, I think this is ridiculous. Every human language is quite learnable. Some languages are easier for native speakers of certain languages than for native speakers of other languages, and the US government has actually come up with guidelines for telling how difficult a language will be for a native English speaker who doesn’t know a closely related language. Some of the things that factor into this are grammatical complexity, cultural similarity, and use of the Roman alphabet. I’ve forgotten what all the criteria are, but it is considered pretty easy to get started in Spanish and (I think) Tagalog, and somewhat harder to start Russian since it’s written in Cyrillic and uses grammatical structures that English lacks. Considering how many Americans learn Russian, which is closely related to Czech and uses a different alphabet, I see no reason that Czech should be any harder. The main difficulty is that there has not been much attention paid to how best to teach Czech, and that there aren’t many opportunities to practice speaking it in most of North America. The only way most of us get past a certain point with any new language is if we have to use it, which is where most of us are lazy or timid. I am often one or the other, but at least I’m not both all of the time, so as a result I can grasp certain kinds of information quickly (others not at all) and engage in some kinds of conversation quite animatedly (others extremely haltingly).
Oh well. There are always days when one feels particularly skillful and other days when one feels generally mute.