Thursday, September 23, 2010

Zacam slovensku literaturu

[I take up Slovak literature]

Okay, the title's definitely tongue-in-cheek... As we shall see.

I'll start with all the stuff I meant to include in the last post but forgot:
In the District, the Inbounds are mostly American, and then Mexican, and then Brazilian (Ruth says it's the same distribution every year). There are three Canadians, three Taiwanese girls, and one Thai after that. Guess who was the wildest and craziest? The Brazilians and Mexicans, of course! And when we had the dance party, guess who put everyone to shame? But of course. I've always wondered if that's cultural or somehow just hereditary...

I had a fun experience in that I got to talk to a Mexican boy for about twenty minutes. He started off in English, which was hard for him, and I told him it was fine if he just spoke in Spanish. So he did, and that was a lot nicer for both of us... I've found, in learning Slovak, I've lost so much of my ability to speak Spanish. Before coming here, it would be so natural to just talk to myself in Spanish. The words rolled off the tongue so easily. But now, if I force myself to think in Spanish, it's awful. It comes out at least half in Slovak! And I search for the Spanish word, words I know so well, and all I come up with is Slovak. (I even have grasped for "tener," thinking "mat' " instead. Oh God.) I guess this is a good thing, in that it means I'm really getting into my new language, but I find it very painful.

So, the cool thing in talking to this Mexican boy, was when he started speaking Spanish, I realized it was still there for me. It was such an incredible feeling. He was speaking normally, and I understood every single word in the fluent sense, in that I wasn't directly translating, but was just letting the meaning wash over me. It felt so second nature; I couldn't imagine even trying to try. Interestingly, it felt much easier than even when I was in America at the peak of my Spanish. So I'm definitely still good on that front. As far as speaking back to him, that was harder. When I didn't think about it, I spoke very quickly and it just popped out. Like, when I turned off my brain and just refused to think in English, I said everything perfectly and at a very fast speed, faster than even I'm used to. But when I actually considered what I was going to say, it would start off in my mind in English, and then automatically get translated to Slovak, and then I'd have to figure out how to translate it into Spanish... yuck. It was slow and very unpleasant, and half the time I'd end up saying something in Slovak without meaning to... I don't know what I'm going to have to do when I come back to America and need to take placement tests in college. Not looking forward to that...

Okay, switching gears, yesterday was free bus day in Nitra. Once a year, buses all day throughout the city are completely free. Since no one was aware of this, I think they keep it a secret and make it a random day, so people won't plan trips or something. But it was a nice surprise for me to get on the bus and instead of being verbally harassed by the bus driver, as is often the case, he refused my money and waved me on.

After school I decided to buy some flowers for Erika to thank her for the wonderful cookie lessons. School ended early anyway, so I took the bus a little further to the marketplace, and I started price shopping, when I realized I only had 2 Euro on me. Okay, that sucked. So I bought some ice cream (super cheap-- .30 Euro a cone), since it was a lovely, warm day, and decided to take a nice walk in the stare mesto, since I was out anyway. La la la... I went back home, and realized it was only 2 o'clock. I guess school had gotten out really early. I had tons of time. So I grabbed a 20 Euro bill and headed back out to complete my mission.

I found a beautiful, miniature rose plant in a pot, and decided it was the right thing (Erika would like it more than cut flowers, since she has a huge garden and loves to grow things). I bought it, and then I got talking to the two young women running the stand... Sometimes, someone says something and I don't understand it at all. Sometimes I understand half. Sometimes I understand enough to get the meaning. And sometimes--I understand everything. When that happens, it's magical. And so it was with the flower vendors! We had a long conversation entirely in Slovak (they didn't speak English), and I felt so good about it. I especially love when this kind of thing happens, and then they invariably ask, "so, how long have you been here, then?" It's fun to see the reactions when I say "jeden mesiac..." (one month).

So, rose plant in tow, I walked onwards to Erika's. I rang the doorbell, and then when she came out and I gave her the gift, she was so incredibly delighted. After gushing over the beauty of the roses, she sat me down and had me wait while she made up a huge bag of produce for me! Apples and pears from her own garden, and then the sweetest green grapes I've ever had-- not from Nitra, from somewhere 30 km. away, but she'd clipped them herself, if I understood correctly. And then there were also the last batch of cookies I'd made, finally dry! She is such a kind, wonderful person... I can't believe how good she is to me!

I got home, and it was only 3 o'clock. I had a long afternoon ahead of me with no plans to fill it. Since I'm still sick, I decided to take a nap. Hmmm...

Well, I woke up and it was 9 o'clock. Seriously. I fell asleep around 4, so that makes, what, five hours?? I certainly felt good (though still sick). I took the dogs on their last evening walk and ate a little dinner, and then I went back to bed. I didn't fall asleep until 12:45, but I wasn't tired in the morning!

At school today, I had three fun experiences. One, English class: I got a B on my test! I found that pretty hilarious, though I of course should be getting an A... The test was on the Past Perfect, which is so much different in British English than American English. On all of the test questions, I would never have used the Past Perfect! So, even though I knew the rules for British English Past Perfect usage, I second-guessed myself and ended up using it too often. Stupid mistake. But funny... Actually, I still ended up with the second-highest score in the class; everyone got C's and D's, except one boy, who got an A. Yep. But now we've moved on to articles, and I can definitely do that! (Just have to remember the Brits say "my grandmother is in hospital"--no article.)

Second, Math class: I can actually understand it now! Before, we were doing some place value thing that I didn't get at all-- lots of tables and decimals and I think significant figures, but who knows. But today, we started algebra. We're talking quadratic equations and factoring. Oh, I can definitely do this. I made sure after class to tell my math teacher (in Slovak), "Um, I know how to do this. So, you can call on me and whatever." She said, "What?? You do?" Me: "YES." (politely.) Ahh, the beauty of math, that it transcends language. Interestingly, they don't label different levels of math here, at least at the Gymnazium level. It's all called "math," and everyone takes the same class. So, I was trying to ask my classmate if they call this algebra, or what, and she said, "No, it's all math. All of it. Only one name." Call it what you will, I know how to do it. This is exciting.

Three: The title of this post. In Slovak Language class (i.e., "English" class, except it's Slovak) the teacher passed out a paper with a few short (single paragraph) selections on it. I started reading, and realized I could translate the first sentence, which was "It was winter, and though it was cold, and a sharp wind blew, behind the doors in the house it was warm and good." (Yes, I do remember that verbatim.) I got very, very excited. Unfortunately, the rest faded into words I didn't know at all, enclosed by a few basic words I did know ("and", "so", "then"). It came time for the teacher to collect the pages back. I went up to her. (In Slovak) "Please, can I keep it? I want to read it." She was extremely delighted and said of course. So, I spent the day wearing my thumb raw from thumbing through my pocket dictionary, which I always keep in my bag. And I got the page translated! Save a few words that I'll have to look up in my bigger dictionary later. I was so proud of myself. And written work is so much more helpful than if someone says a word and expects me to memorize it on the spot from hearing it once. Plus I can see how things are declining where. Not that I'm understanding a fourth of the declining rules, but everything helps and is progress. So, not exactly Slovak literature. But it's something!

Okay, one last frame: In P.E. today (abbreviated in Slovak TSV, though I have no idea what that stands for), the big thing of the year... Running for 6 minutes. Not even running; everyone walked after two minutes, and then when the time was finally out, collapsed in heaps on the ground, clutching their chests and coughing or lying as if dead. It was very dramatic. Yes, some things are different here...

Tonight Ruth and I might be going to a disko party at her school. We'll see!

Much love!

P.S. The Fudge Quickies turned out perfectly, and were a big hit. There's only three left... scratch that, two. ;)


  1. Rhiannon I am amazed & amused, but not surprised by your language acquisition, as I am continually by the quality & (especially) the quantity of your blogs. Your writing brings your experience to life for me; I'm living Slovakia vicariously. One double irony concerns your B in English: After praising your language, I still must point out the egregious lie/lay error in your penultimate paragraph. (Lay is trans.; lie is intran. "Lay" is the simple past of "lie," while 100% of English verbs are regular as present participles.) I know you know, but your native language seems also affected. Let's call it a joke.
    Love, Dad

  2. Oh God, Dad, I do know... I wrote "lying," and then I second-guessed myself, because it's past tense, i.e., "they lay," but it sounded wrong at the time, too...So painful. Sorry.

    Thanks for the very nice words. Love you.