Monthly Archives: February 2010

Learn Czech with Grandma: five conversation starters to use U Babičky

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Being a native speaker of English has its advantages. First, wherever you find yourself in the world, the vast majority of the time you’ll find someone who speaks your language.  Secondly, should you find yourself with itchy feet once you become a college graduate or empty nester, you can earn a crust (but not much more) by teaching your mother tongue to the locals.

However, there is a time when being English is a real disadvantage and that’s when it comes to making any serious attempt to learn to communicate in a language other than your own.  Why?  Because everywhere you go, everyone seems desperately keen to show off their knowledge of the international language of communciation: English. 

Fear not though, fellow learners of Czech!  There is a place where you will be able to show off your mastery of the locative plural without having the rug pulled out from your feet.  Adopt a Grandma and try out your burgeoning language skills on her.  Let’s face it, if she has mastered a foreign language, it’s much more likely to have been Russian than English.  And you’ll probably get tea and cake too.

Here are some conversation starters to kick things off:

1.  Dobrý den!  Jak se máte? (Good morning/afternoon!  How are you?)

“A very unimaginative start Ms Girl!” I hear you cry in unison.  “Of course we know how to Dobry Den! ”  Perhaps, but you must take care to use the polite “vy” form with Grandmas: they need to be treated with respect.  Czechman’s own mother still doesn’t use the more familiar “ty” with her own mother-in-law despite having being married to her son for well over thirty years.  As for saying hello with a seemingly innocuous  “Ahoj”, this is a real faux pas: in fact, this is the equivalent of greeting Babi with a high five.  One of Czechman’s grandma’s is still recovering from the time when I tried to interject into a conversation with a “Hele!” rather than “Vite že…”

2. Jak snášejí slepice? (How are the hens laying?)

Only try this one out if the Grandma in question keeps chickens of course, otherwise she’ll think you’re nuts as well as foreign.

3. Co jste měla dneska k obědu? (What did you have for lunch today?)

In my experience, most Grandmas love discussing food.  Be warned though, Babička might think that you must be hungry and try to ply you with her copious stocks of knedliky (dumplings), palačinky (pancakes) or huge bars of chocolate.

4. Byla jste dneska na procházce?/Kam chodíte na procházku? (Have you been for a walk today?/Where do you [normally] go for a walk?)

Czechman’s grandmas are fortunately still sprighty enough to take a daily constitutional although recently they’ve been having to steer cleer of falling snow and killer icicles.

5. Jak se mají sousedi? (How are your neighbours?)

Most Grandmas like to have a good gossip about the goings-on of those living immediately adjacent to them; one of Czechman’s Grandma’s spend practially all day by the window observing any comings and goings.  You’ll know your Czech has really made progress when you begin to understand the answers to this one which tend to be more complicated than an episode of “Desperate Housewives”.

So fellow students of Czech, as my fellow blogger Benny also advises, do not be deterred by the scare stories of how difficult this Slavonic tongue is to master!  Go forth and communicate!

P.S  Czech readers of this blog: please do let me know if I’ve made any mistakes/typos in this post.  I’m sure you would though anyway…


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