Saturday, September 11, 2010



Breakfast this morning with Tibor (Ruth wasn´t up yet) was entirely in Slovak, on both sides! I was so proud of myself. I understood everything and could respond correctly. It´s such a good feeling. I had a bit of a breakthrough yesterday and the day before that. The day before yesterday, when I was having dinner with Ruth, I got her to explain the past tense to me because I wanted to finally be sure. Amazingly, it seems like it must be the only thing in Slovak that´s simple! (Though I don´t know if Slovak has two past tenses, like Spanish does.) There´s only a masculine (and neuter) and a feminine form of each verb in the past, and then you just tack on the right conjugation of "to be"! It´s so nice to be able to use it now, when before I could only throw out a guess. And then, the next afternoon coming home from school on the bus, I saw an ad. I realized it must be in the conditional, because I was remembering way back to Pimsleur Czech and Czech conditionals. And, ta da, I realized conditionals ("I would like...") use the same principle as the past tense! So when I got home, I used a conditional sentence where it would be appropriate, trying out my theory. Ruth did a double-take. "Hey! That was great!" I´m feeling very good about this.

Yesterday (Friday) after dinner, Ruth and I looked at each other. What was there for dessert? The last of the snickerdoodles was eaten the day before. (And I never mentioned the second batch of peanut butter cookies I made before that.) Time to get cooking! It´s easy to make American recipes since Ruth liked the American measurement system of cups and spoons so much, she bought sets of them and brought them back to Slovakia with her! Slovak recipes, you have to weigh things like flour in grams... That sounds like a lot of trouble.

So, I found the "Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookies" recipe on Ruth had bought a bar of chocolate a week ago for whenever we decided to make these-- they don´t have chocolate chips here, so we had to make our own by cutting up the bar. I was worried the chips weren´t going to really work, since this is real chocolate that melts in your hands, and so it was probably going to turn liquid in the oven. But oh well. We whipped them up, substituting baking powder for soda, as recipe reviewers had suggested, and then put them in to bake in the super-oven (everything bakes in half the time in it, though we don´t know why). The came out perfectly. Somehow the chips didn´t melt at all! And they taste exactly like you want them to taste. Mhmm...

Okay, that´s not related to language at all, but what happened next was. We left at 9 for Mlyny, where as part of the mall´s one-year anniversary celebration, they were showing two movies back to back. We were going to see Sex and the City at 9:30. We got there, and Coco Chanel, the earlier film, was still playing on the big screen they´d erected in the entrance hall (Mlyny doesn´t have a movie theater). As soon as I started listening to the movie, it sounded wrong. Different. "Yeah, it´s in Czech," Ruth told me. It was such a big difference to my ears! And that made me happy, because they´re such similar languages, and I actually made the distinction instantly. Czech sounds to me so much sharper and jagged, while Slovak is all rounded. Sex and the City was also in Czech, and for whatever reason I really didn´t like the sound of it, when months ago I loved how Czech sounded. Maybe just because now it doesn´t sound like what I´m used to. I could pick out words, but I didn´t understand most of it. However, I understood the movie perfectly, though it definitely helped to have watched the series so I knew the plots (late night television....). It´s worthy of note that here in this public place they were showing a very rated-R movie-- sex scenes and frontal nudity galore...

When Slovaks get things dubbed or with subtitles, it´s (almost?) always in Czech. So Slovaks understand Czech well, since all the movies (mostly imported from America) and TV shows they watch are in it. But, I was talking to Natalia about this, a lot of Czechs have a very hard time understanding Slovak, since they never hear it! She was telling me that her father does some business in the Czech Republic, and he has Czech clients who actually don´t even understand the Slovak numbers, even though they´re so close to Czech ones! So he has to use Czech for them.

One more incident: Yesterday I went to TESCO--aka the Walmart of Slovakia--to buy some cheap art supplies. The other day I had nothing to do so I decided to draw my window in my room-- the window frame and curtain themselves, and the view. It turned out so wonderfully! I just love it. So that inspired me to want to draw more city scenes here in the stare mesto. So, I´m wandering around TESCO on the third floor, and I finally find what I need, but for some reason there are security detectors at the entrance to the third floor, so you can´t leave the third floor without paying. But that place is like IKEA, in that it´s a total maze, so I wasn´t sure where I could pay. I approached a desk. "Ahh, you´re ready to pay?" the man said in Slovak. I nodded. And then he gave me directions to the actual cashier, all in Slovak, and I understood perfectly! It was like, "Go straight to the end of this hall, turn right, turn right again..." Directions in another language isn´t easy! So that was cool.

On a different front, it´s been interesting learning English as a foreign language in school. They´re currently studying the Past Perfect (i.e., "I had gone"), and it´s been cool actually learning the structure of it, since obviously I´ve never have to think about correct usage. The teacher explained it´s for when something happens in the past before something else. Like, "He hadn´t escaped when the police came." And that makes sense!

And now I´d like to recognize the authors of learn-Slovak books, who all, unfailingly, note cheerfully that "Pronunciation is easy since the stress always falls on the first syllable!" Well, pronunciation is one of the easiest things about the language, but this is not the exception-free savior they make it out to be. They should know better! When a vowel is accented, it becomes longer, and sometimes it happens that the stress in the word becomes that syllable. Like, to say goodnight, you say "dobrú noc." The accented "u" there is extremely stressed! This doesn´t bother me, just the presumption on the textbook writers´parts.

That was just an interlude post. I´ll probably post on Sunday after the exciting things planned for the weekend have come to pass. I´ll pack it in next time.

Much love!

1 comment:

  1. I'm so pleased to hear you announce that you're Slovak is coming along so well! One question: do you and Ruth speak in Slovak most of the time?
    You're turning into a baker! love, mom