Look! I found mushrooms! Perhaps my soul is Czech after all! Anyway, this post isn’t about mushroom picking, popular Czech autumnal pastime though it is. At least not exactly.
I spend a lot of time listening to Czech people speak English. It is my job after all. Patient, professional and courteous as I think I am (99% of the time at least), there are a couple of common errors that Czechs make which really grate on my nerves. In the interest of – well, I’m not really sure what exactly – helping others? having a bit of a moan? – I’m going to share some my pet hates with you all here.
1. Notebook. This is a small item made of paper. It has pages. It cannot be plugged in nor hooked up to the internet. Notebook means blok, in British English at least. Please *stop* using this word when you want to say laptop.
2. Meeting, appointment. You do not have a meeting with your friend at the cinema tomorrow. Or an appointment. You have meetings at work. Equally, you make an appointment with your doctor. Or your hairdresser. Or your accountant or chiropodist or tax inspector. An appointment is not a social arrangement. Ok?
3. Schoolmate. This word does exist in English but we never use it. We would always say, ‘someone I was at school with’ not ‘my ex-schoolmate’. It sounds very weird – perverted almost – to listen to a fifty year old man talking about how he’s going to have dinner with his schoolmates, former or otherwise on a Friday night. I imagine them all sitting around their local hospoda in school uniforms acting out bizarre fantasies. Stop it. Now.
4. Fantasy. Speaking of fantasies, avoid telling someone English that you have a lot of them. Unless you find them overwhemingly attractive. The word you’re probably looking for is ‘imagination’. ‘Fantasies’ in this context has unfortunate sexual connotations.
5. Pick up mushrooms. You do not pick up mushrooms. Unless you managed to collect so many of them that a couple of fungi fell out of the basket onto the floor and you had to bend over to retrieve them. You pick them. ‘Pick’ is the verb you require. Given how it’s even more of a national sport than hockey you should learn to discuss it correctly.
6. SMS. Although this acroymn stands for Short Message Service, unfortunately, native speakers of English *never* talk about sending each other an SMS. We send a text or even just text each other.
7. THE Czech Republic. I know articles are difficult. The more I teach here in Czechland, the more pointless I think they are. However, if you miss them out, you’ll sound like you’re speaking some kind of ‘You Tarzan, me Jane’ English. Which I’m sure you’d rather avoid. So while confusing most countries don’t take the article (the turkey being the animal rather than the place) please, please, please remember that it’s always THE Czech Republic. And don’t even think about saying ‘In Czech’ , when you want to talk about your native land unless you really want to upset me.
I know how difficult it is to try to learn another language – hey, I spend everyday at the moment battling with your four genders and seven cases – but just by making some very, very small changes you can instantly make yourself sound less alien to a native speaker and let’s face it, we’d all like to find that magic shortcut to sounding less foreign if we can.
Apologies if I sound like a grumpy pedant today and thanks to everyone who has replied to my Czech language related queries in the comments section. Quirkier, hopefully more amusing posts will soon follow. I can feel something brewing about Czechs and their sense of style (or lack of…) Here’s a little visual taster…