Open question for Pan Scrimshaw (or others)

Discussion in 'General Language' started by MichaelM, Aug 29, 2007.

  1. MichaelM

    MichaelM Well-Known Member

    I'd like to direct a message to Pan Scrimshaw if I may. As a one year novice of the czech language (and self taught), your advice might be very valuable. You seem to know Czech very well. As your on-line moniker bespeaks more of a sea-faring heritage or interest than anything resembling Czech, I was wondering if you are an original english speaker. Perhaps I'm wrong and you grew up on the shores of that well known Bohemian southern coastline (are the hula skirts still the dress of choice?) but to be serious your learning is quite impressive.

    My question to you is this: I can learn the framework of this language and much vocabulary but it seems to be a giant leap to understand the spoken word. Where have you learned all of this? It seems to be one thing to learn the nominitive case of a word (the dictionary version) but then recognize that same word in any other case, particularly when spoken. I have taken on a tutor (found through this website, in fact) but am having the most difficult time understanding even the most simple of sentences he speaks, mostly because I cannot recognize a word that has changed because of case. Do you know of any exercises by which one learns to recognize the nominitive version of a word from its presented case (cases 2-7) either written or spoken?

    I'm sorry to ramble on; it is even difficult to present the question. Any insight you or others may have would be appreciated.
  2. Eleshar

    Eleshar Well-Known Member

    As far as I know, Scrimshaw is American. His ability to discern words in continuous speech is also great mystery and interest of mine... and his own production of the language. I know he writes quite well but what about the other necessary abilities?

    To your problem... perhaps it will help you in time that we came out with an idea to make a multimedia section on this forum, where links to Czech files (songs, videos on youtube) could be find and where there would be a transcription.

    I think in your case it is extremely necessary to communicate and perhaps even to repeat for yourself the grammatical paradigms of words but aloud. You must get different forms of the same word and their sound structures in your head.

    there is the topic about the possible multimedia section... at least there is a post with link and transcription ... 78&start=0
  3. scrimshaw

    scrimshaw Well-Known Member

    Hello Michael, sorry it took me so long to respond to your message. I just found it.
    Eleshar is right. I am American and have no real ties to Czech Republic.
    I undertook learning the language as a challenge, and then a hobby. Always enjoyed learning languages.
    Your noting my signature about ''sinking ships and such'', I've always lived near the water, born near the Chesapeake Bay, and yes, I like that theme.

    About the language...
    I write much, much better than I speak. I'll bet I've been visiting this forum for over three years.
    I like the way the nouns, and adjectives change according to their role in the sentence(case).
    And I underdstand completely your difficulties with recognizing the same word in a different form.
    Pes sedí ve travě. Vidím psa.
    Pes, and psa look and sound completely different yet are the same.
    That's great that you found a tutor. Like with any language, it is repitition that is the key. Having a tutor gives you that chance to speak and get immediate feedback.
    The people here on this forum are extremely helpful and I consider them friends.
    Good luck!! I'd enjoy hearing about how you are progressing.
  4. Sova

    Sova Well-Known Member

    Learning the spoken word, once one has a grasp on the basic framework of a language, involves some training of one's ear. Accents are a funny thing. When learning from a book or other written materials, I think one tends to internally associate the sounds of the word with sounds one is already familiar with; however, often these sounds are not the same as what a native speaker of that language would use. Vowel sounds in American English, for example, often sound to foreigners as diphthongs of two vowels in their own language (e.g. American long "o" would best be represented to a Czech as "o" + "u"). Plus there are regional accents, where individual sounds may vary from place to place.

    Largely, it just takes some time to get accustomed to the sound of a new language. Practice, practice, practice! Scrimshaw is an excellent example of this--he's the top poster on these boards. Of course, aptitude for language and a good ear, which scrimshaw also possesses, help speed the process. Eleshar's advice on the multimedia section is a great idea, particularly where there's a transcript of the text.
  5. scrimshaw

    scrimshaw Well-Known Member

    Sova, you are too kind.

    I do send an awful lot of posts. Hope I'm doing a good job of keeping them only under certain topics. :wink:

    And yes.....practice, practice, is the golden rule.

    I'm sure my 'accent' would hurt czech ears. :lol:
  6. EinBlauerHai

    EinBlauerHai Active Member

    Me too! May I ask what other languages you're proficient in? I grew up speaking German and English, but have studied Icelandic, Japanese, Unami, and now Czech :)

    Do you also like being audited by the IRS and having root canals :lol: I'm still at that early stage of language learning where I passionately resent the complexities of it :twisted: But since I have distant Czech ancestry, it's a bit like coming home ... and Czech is a very beautiful language!
  7. Polednikova

    Polednikova Well-Known Member

    Perhaps my experience will encourage you. Although my father was Czech, this gave me absolutely no advantage when I arrived in Prague at the end of December. His generation of Czechs in the UK - who came over during the war, joined the RAF, married English wives and stayed on - spoke only English to their children. So when I started lessons in January - with the excellent Czech Language Training school in žižkov, for anyone here looking for somewhere to enrol - I was as useless as the other students in my class.

    Now, nearly 10 months later, I would only say that I'm not quite as useless, even though I have the theoretically huge advantage of living in the country. My reading is coming on and I can have a stab at reading the papers; ditto my written Czech. I can even, given notice, work out simple things to say and - this gives me great pleasure - I am often understood. But, like MichaelM, I find it very hard to understand what is said back to me, which limits the possibility of a meaningful conversation somewhat!

    But don't despair. I can see improvements. I remember the first time I automatically said "Dám si becherovku" as opposed to becherovka! After a while, it's the sound of the combinations of words that start to sound natural and a word in the wrong case will sound as wrong as us saying in English "I'll have a gins and tonics".

    I have the radio on all the time, just in the background and I think it's helping. I am starting to identify the verbs in sentences now, which I wasn't able to do a couple of months ago. What I should be doing more of is watching the soaps on TV because I find you can often guess what they're saying, and of course, the sentences tend to be shorter than on the radio. But I wouldn't inflict that on my partner, who prefers sport to soaps!

    Living in Prague isn't necessarily a great advantage when it comes to spoken Czech. Either someone speaks no English at all, in which case it all fizzles out very quickly when I get stuck, or they are fluent, and we fall back on English after a couple of sentences.

    I admire enormously all of you in other countries who are learning Czech, with no motivation other than the challenge and an interest in the country. Given my own experience, if you are in the UK, can I suggest you join the British Czech and Slovak Association? And I'm sure there are equivalent groups in other countries. The BCSA's members are a mixture of Brits who are interested in and admire the country and ex-pat Czechs, long-term and newly-arrived. In London, they have regular informal get-togethers in the Czech & Slovak National House in West Hampstead and I know you will be warmly welcomed by the wonderful Růzena Holub and encouraged to speak the language as much as you can. Tip: my spoken Czech improves enormously after a couple of beers!
  8. hribecek

    hribecek Well-Known Member

    My experience is that living the language is the most natural and easiest way. I moved to CR 2 years ago and immediately started learning the grammar and as much vocabulary as possible, however I couldn't communicate at all. My advantage was that in the town I lived in - Litomerice, hardly anybody spoke a word of English so wherever I went I was forced to search for words and had to concentrate so hard every time I left the safety of my flat or the language school I taught at.
    So I spoke, spoke and spoke in Czech and watched films and TV in Czech and now I think I have a well tuned in ear for the language. My Czech wife's family all only speak Czech and so I've had whole weekends of just Czech and it really helps so much. My speaking and listening are better than my writing and I now feel that I have an instict for a lot of the spoken grammar. It just happens when you're not expecting it. I remember not being able to imagine how it would be to have an instinct for those cases but it happened.
    I still have a hell of a lot of work to do with the grammar and specialist vocabulary and this site helps a lot.
    I too admire those who are learning the language without the onvious motivation, I try with Spanish but can never motivate myself to study consistently and end up going months without studying.
    I also admire people who can speak more than a few languages and all at a pretty advanced level. I know a Swiss guy who speaks 12 languages and all of them above intermediate level. Can somebody impress me with their list of languages?
  9. Sova

    Sova Well-Known Member

    What worked for me was to lay down a few ground rules from the beginning. Be very firm that you are trying to learn Czech, and that you want to speak Czech. Tell them to let you know that you make mistakes, but that the only way you can learn is to practice. Then give them a certain time, say 1/2 hour, when you promise to switch back to speaking English. After all, turnabout is fair play--they will want to practice their English, too--plus my experience was that when I was still a beginner in the language, after about 1/2 hour or hour of non-stop Czech, I was exhausted mentally.
    After your friend with the 12 languages?! Not likely!
  10. hribecek

    hribecek Well-Known Member

    I just know him for that reason, not as a friend. He's about 65 and has been some sort of foreign diplomat or something like that all his life and lived in loads of different countries for long periods of time, plus he's obsessed with learning languages and in his retirement he still studies constantly. He's famous amongst my group of friends but I've never actually spoken to him properly, I'd like to find out what it's like to have so many languages in your head. My friend has seen him in a group of 5 or 6 different nationalities, speaking fluently in each language.
    As far as I know he speaks - German and Romansche (spelling?) as his mother languages, Italian, French, English, Spanish, Portuguese, Czech, Hungarian, Russian, Macedonian and 1 other Eastern European language but can't remember which one. I suppose that means he probably understands more or less all Slavic languages and Romanian too.
  11. MichaelM

    MichaelM Well-Known Member

    Thanks to all who have now responded to this thread - these messages are actually very important to anyone who wishes to persevere in learning Czech. Your experiences and the hurdles you have faced help me to keep going. To add my experience, I not only am being tutored but am also trying to teach another who knows no Czech at all. I believe that trying to teach the basics of Czech help to drive those basics into my mind and there is also a responsibility to be as correct as possible for this other person so I restudy things I have studied previously. I also want to thank those who have initiated the multimedia section; not only are the songs great music but these have been quite helpful.

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