I'm at the end of my rope with the way I can't speak Czech.
Yesterday, I went out shopping for nabytek (furniture) with my friend Leona, and she refused to do any of the talking in shops or restaurants, so I had to order for us, ask the ladies at the hoisery store to get me my size, etc. Leona was my first Czech teacher, and is a good friend, so if I sound retarded in front of her, I don't mind much, and I felt happy, because I successfully communicated my needs to people in Czech several times over the course of the day. It's a good feeling to speak sentences usefully in what I can only describe as a uniquely impenetrable and mystifying foreign language. I'm great!
Then, last night, I went out with this man I teach English to. It was a lovely, cool, windy, Autumn evening. We climbed up to the top of Petrin Hill, to the sweet little Eiffel Tower of Prague. The trees were rustling in the wind, leaves and acorns were falling, and the view over the darkening city was beautiful and romantic (I feel I can safely say that, because it was my friend who came up with that analysis of the situation, not me). I like him a lot, so it was an unmitigated pleasure to see him outside of the conference room in which we usually meet for our lesson. Again: great! I was delighted!
Then, there's the part -- inevitable! -- when he says, "So, what can you say in Czech," and the answer, just as inevitably, despite my fairly extensive Czech vocabulary, ability to count to 300, and total mastery of the language needed to read menus, is a whole load of stupid, useless things like: "I like hairy legs," or "where is the toilet?" In other words, I can say NOTHING. Not great! I suck!
In fairness, I am capable of dozens of sentences that begin with "it is..." and end with an adjective. Likewise, if the sentence begins with "I like...", "I want...", "I need..." or "I have..." and ends with a noun, or even an adjective/noun combo, I can accomplish it with reasonable accuracy. I can even accomplish those feats when the subject of the sentence is the familiar or formal "you"! I can conjugate the verb "to be," and I know personal and possessive pronouns! Still, if someone says "the moon is shining in the sky" to me, I am stumped after the word "moon", which I do know. Again: not so great.
And, JESUS, people, THE PRESSURE! On the one hand, trying to learn Czech is an invaluable experience for me as an English teacher, because it makes me respect my students enormously for their very impressive ability to communicate so clearly in languages other than their own. It also gives me a more immediate sense of what they're up against. However, I am beginning to think that every one of them is WAY cleverer than I am, because every time a Czech sentence has to come out of my mouth, even if I totally know what I want to say, and how to say it; even if have rehearsed it in my mind a hundred times before I come out with it; I still feel like a TOTAL IDIOT when I do say it.
There is nothing that has the power to make you feel like a bigger tool than not knowing how to say something extremely simple in a foreign language, especially when you really, really want to, and when, after someone says it to you, you realize that you DID know it, but you could not dredge up that information from the thick sludge of your sluggish, stupid brain. I absolutely despair of myself in those moments, and sometimes I think I'm about as likely to ever learn Czech as I am to become a billionnaire, or grow to be 6 feet tall and have the body of a swimsuit model.
To make matters worse, Czech people are lovely! Many of them speak good English, and are very proud of it, so if they see that you speak English, they are all too happy to switch. Now, I can often understand what people are saying if I'm not all tensed-up about it, and am given the leisure to listen to several sentences, letting context and expression reveal the meanings of words I don't know. What happens though, is that people say one sentence to you, and then look at you expectantly. If you ask them to repeat it, even if you ask in Czech, they translate. That's very nice of them, but I need them to keep speaking to me in Czech.
Sometimes, too, they try to teach you the words they are speaking -- also, completely lovely of them -- but Czech words are so incredibly foreign to my mind that remembering them, with all their little diacritical marks and unpronounceable combinations of consonants, is really impossible without, at the very least, seeing them written. At best, I also need something memorable to tie them to; some situation, need, or desire that will make them stay in my sieve-like brain. The situation in which you've just totally failed to understand something very simple, something you might have understood with more context, or a slower, more clearly enunciated repetition, is often one that makes you feel like a jackass to whom a deep and intractible insufficency has been revealed, and after which one desires nothing so much as forgetfulness.
As I mentioned previously, I went out with this man I teach English to last night. He's an intelligent person who has definite thoughts and strong opinions about many, many topics that are of great interest to me. Everytime I talk to him, I enjoy it more than I did the last time, and it would be my dearest wish to be able to understand more than what I can't help feeling is the bare sense and shape of his thoughts. So much of what we communicate is conveyed by subtleties of word choice and nuances of language, and the result of my inability to field Czech is that my student/friend remains a complete mystery to me, despite the literal HOURS I have spent talking to him. Frustrating!
On top of that, there's something very uncomfortable, for me, about the balance of power of a situation in which someone, most particularly a man that I genuinely like, has to speak to me all the time in MY language, instead of ever being able to tell me his thoughts in his own. I don't like it, and at that point, I JUST WANT TO BE ABLE TO SPEAK CZECH. I swear, if I thought I could have Czech installed into my brain like they installed Kung Fu in Keanu Reeves's brain in The Matrix, I would fully have myself fitted with a goddamned jack in my goddamned head.
I have a lot of lovely friends here, and even more people I would really like to know better than I do. So many of my students are such interesting people. I want to understand them with the fullness that can only be achieved when listening to them in their mother tongue. I want to be able to hear the subtlties of what they are saying, and not just the broad strokes. Because of that, learning Czech is at the top of my list of priorities, but sometimes I'm afraid that I NEVER WILL, because I am clearly mentally deficient.
In conclusion, ARGH!!!
Of course, the second most frustrating thing is my absolute inability to speak Man-Language. Seriously, gentlemen, what are you all about? What does it all mean?! If only my interlocutors would see fit to TRANSLATE THAT.