Saturday, 12 July 2008

Learning Czech

I really must learn Czech - it is getting more important for me to do so. Okay I have tried, believe me I have. It is a very difficult language for someone like me who has always found that the only way to learn a language is sheer hard graft. I have a vocabulary of several hundred words, but in Czech that is not enough. Each noun has six declensions (seven if you count vocative) and each noun has a plural form which also declines. It is this more than anything else that makes busking your way through the language so difficult. Add that to the British reticence and I find it very hard to open my mouth for anything more than a familiar phrase.

But I sometimes think that my inability to learn the language is somehow more complex than simply the fact that it is so hard. I rather like the detachment that not speaking the language gives me, it is the perfect excuse to not engage, to stand back and watch. My working life is all about communication and engagement. My job has been to help people express themselves and to negotiate peace in divided communities. And yet in that world of work I never express myself, I give and I do not get back. Here in my Czech home I am under no such obligations, I have the perfect excuse I cannot speak the language. One reason for buying here has been to allow me space for myself. Ironically in this country where the language is denied me, I find myself writing and communicating as I am doing right now.

I know I must learn the language now, if as I plan I will be working here. I know too that my failure to learn in the past has seemed to others, especially my friend, a denial of everything Czech, a refusal to commit. And I will learn, I promise, but I am afraid that it may change how I feel about my Czech homeland, that it will cease to be a release for the poet in me. We shall see.

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