Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Life in the Classroom

Czech class continues in its accustomed fashion. The locative plural has been our most recent endeavor, which some of us have done before and which is entirely new to others. I'm never sure what to think of this sort of thing since it is very familiar, the review does cause more bits to stick in my mind, and all that. This evening, however, we suddenly had a bit of review of the accusative and genitive, since along with the locative, they can all be used to deal with going places. (Which is why our class has been talking about travel a lot and I have learned all sorts of terms relating to tours arranged via travel agents, something I am unlikely to need to know unless I book a trip to China from Prague.)
The horrors of the combined accusative, genitive, and locative cases make clear to me why my active knowledge of certain things is so weak. Not only does one have to remember whether a particular noun or situation requires v, do, or na (that's not getting into the use of u, k, or od and z), but na treacherously takes different cases to provide different meanings. The case used with na tells you (if you are alert, which I am not particularly) whether you are at the post office, going to the post office, or are on top of the post office. Therefore, it's no use that "na poštu" sounds correct, because perhaps what you really mean is "na poště." (I hope I'm recalling all this correctly, because I don't feel like looking it up. I avoid talking about the post office because the thing that sticks in my mind is that it's troublesome.) And let's not forget that certain words have more than one correct ending in a given case. It's not enough to keep track of whether the thing is masculine animate, masculine inanimate, neuter, or feminine, and whether it ends in a hard or soft consonant or some other thing, there might be a choice of endings. This gives me a strong preference for saying something like I'm going to grandma's, because while babička turns into babičce in the dative and that seems kind of bizarre, once you get "jdu k babičce" into your head, there is not much it can be confused with. Regrettably, my grandmothers are both long dead and I have no reason to discuss going to grandma's.
On the bright side, however, our Czech teacher got the idea of having us do little presentations. I'm not sure what prompted this, as the first one planned (which has yet to be delivered) is Žana's talk on a historical topic. Everyone except the two of us seems destined to do a presentation about travel; while I like to travel, the idea of a presentation on it did not interest me much, so I indicated I could do an art-related presentation.
I considered actually writing something out, but while this might result in marginally more correct grammar, it would not do much for my ability to talk. Instead, I threw together some PowerPoint slides from a previous talk on Toyen, added a few quotations, and there it was. At the end of class, when I was worn out with all these cases and realized that I had gone brain-dead from lack of sufficient nourishment, I got to give my talk.
Other than that the laptop screen was probably almost as hard for the others to see as for me, it went pretty smoothly. I got to introduce my classmates to Toyen and a selection of other Czech avant-gardists, and we had a longish detour onto the Romantic poet Mácha, who according to Irina died of dysentery rather than from helping the people of Litoměřice put out a fire. (Learn something new every day.) Our teacher pointed out that Nezval was a Communist, which I had failed to mention in my abbreviated remarks on his output. I could have said a lot more about Comrade Nezval than that he wrote poetry, novels, plays, and other things, but one has to stick to the basics in this sort of talk. After all, I also left out the fact that he developed a spherical physique and is buried at Vyšehrad (as is Mácha, who was reburied there).
My classmates appeared rapt and seemed to find it interesting, so I believe I succeeded in sparing them another ten minutes on the niceties of location-related noun endings.

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Blogger P'tit-Loup said...

Wow, what a challenge to give a presentation in Czech! Good thing you picked a topic you are comfortable with, then you could focus on the language. I always hate how language is taught to non-native speaker. I think that using all of this grammar information is more difficult than hearing and speaking a lot of the language. Even though errors will be made, I find it is faster to learn this way. After all, none of us learned our native tongue by learning grammar first!

April 18, 2007 6:10 AM  
Blogger Karla said...

We are agreed on the grammar issue!

Actually, I don't mind giving presentations so long as I have something reasonably interesting to talk about and know about it in advance. In my German review class, we all did quite elaborate presentations that everyone enjoyed a lot--one woman described how to bake a pie and fed us the excellent result, one guy told us about the children's book he had written, I gave an illustrated overview of one of my fiction projects, and so forth. Expectations were somewhat higher in that class, although I don't know that our ability to speak was any better (or worse).

April 19, 2007 12:15 AM  
Anonymous bikerbar said...

I must congratulate you on your Czech .. mine is languishing from neglect. I get easily fed up with the difficulties. I really should work on it more. For example I found Arabela, an old Czech serial, on youtube, and I'm listening to that.

From my understanding Macha died of dysentary he caught while putting out the fire in Litomerice. He drank from some pail with cowshit on the rim, and that was that.

I've been meaning to ask your take on Pachmanova's writings on Toyen. Maybe you could do a post on it .. :)

April 20, 2007 4:52 PM  
Blogger Karla said...

I don't see how your Czech can possibly be languishing when you live in Prague and have a Czech wife...

As for Pachmanova on Toyen, well, maybe one of these days...

I think I'm retaining the locative plural to some degree this week. It's not that it's hard in itself. But class ends next week.

April 20, 2007 8:50 PM  
Anonymous bikerbar said...

well we mostly speak English at home. I understand what's going on around me most of the time, but I have become a quiet type.

I know a few American Dads here who make their kids translate for them .. I don't want to end up like that. But I imagine Dominik will speak Czech better than I do by the time he is three or four

April 21, 2007 9:20 AM  
Blogger Karla said...

Well, then your Czech can't be any worse than mine, we're probably in the same boat, pretty good but never good enough.

It will be nice to have a bilingual child, though. It may take him longer to learn to talk, but once he does, lucky boy!

April 21, 2007 11:31 AM  

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