Thursday, November 3, 2016

Language Frustration

This is not a wallow post. This is a vent post. I am not miserable. I am furious.

My Vasicek grandparents were extremely interested in the education of their grandchildren. It is in large part thanks to my immigrant ancestors, Joe Vasicek and Agnes Steffek, that I have this education. My own Grandpa Vasicek went into the oil business and financially set up his posterity for a bright and hopeful future. It is the reason that I was able to attend a private school, live abroad twice, go to University without going into debt, learn two foreign languages, etc. As I have studied my own ancestors, I have discovered that my Czechs cared more about my education than any other side of my family, more than any of my other ancestors.

If they cared so deeply about the education of their posterity, why did they fail so utterly in preserving the Czech language? Did they consider it useless/worthless? IT IS NOT USELESS. IT IS NOT WORTHLESS. IT IS PRICELESS. Why must I face this enormous obstacle -  český jazyk - alone!?

The very first time I saw this word (jazyk, “language”) was in a used bookstore in Prague. I remember feeling confused. I thought we were in the language section, not the music section. What does Jazz have to do with Czech? (It turns out, actually, Czechs love Jazz just as much as us Americans, and why wouldn’t they? Its great!)

Of course I bought several Czech language books when we were there. One of them is a grammar. But it is literally as if there was some kind of key missing: I can’t even access the basic information without a little bit more of that obnoxious meta-speech: “learning about how to learn”, “what do these labels mean,” etc.

I try to parse my way through an extremely dry wikipedia article on Czech grammar, and my brain nearly explodes because everything is from a different perspective. It’s like suddenly finding out that you can see the world from a different dimension. Really, your parts of speech and sentence structure fit together that way? This is how you Czechs understand the world?

There has never been and never will be the possibility for me to obtain any kind of formal Czech language education in person. I have looked into it, many times. If it were not for the internet, I would never have this opportunity at all.

Our good friend who served his mission in Slovenia told us that the miserable pathetic Czech 301 class offered at BYU to returned missionaries turns out to be a seminar that has nothing to do with languages and everything to do with people presenting about different pieces of Slovene, Croat, Slovak, Bulgar, Hungarian, Czech culture. Then they take a nice test and merrily skip away with a nice new feather in their GPA if they did well.

I never served a mission in the Czech Republic. I have no access to this language. My way into the castle is barred all around by a giant reverse iron curtain.

I feel overwhelmed by the patheticness, the humiliation, and the frustration. And, frankly, the anger directed squarely at my (otherwise) beloved Czechs. Why?! Why the hypocrisy!? Why couldn’t you have left me a linguistic legacy instead of forcing me to attempt this alone? And it is so lonely. I want to have this access now.

Is the block that I feel facing the prospect of learning Czech the same feeling some others get when they face the handwriting challenge? Am I just being a big, whiny baby?

I need to channel this intense fury in a positive direction. I need to make a plan. How am I going to gain the Czech language proficiency I crave?

Fortunately, my major is in foreign language education. Fortunately, or providentially?

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