EVS Diary

On learning a new language

Here in Slovakia, I had to start learning a new language from scratch. Slovak is a slavic language, so the vocabulary is very different from English and from French. That makes it hard to learn because you can not get by with pronouncing an english word with a slovak way (first of all you need to figure out what is the slovak way !) because it would mean absolutely nothing as the vocabulary between English and Slovak are so different. Here you have to learn your vocabulary like when you were at school learning English: list of vocabulary to repeat again and again. And it’s hard to keep yourself motivated because a lot of words are similar to each other, sometimes only a longer vowel can change EVERYTHING (i.e. the meaning).

The "zmrzlina effect"

Speaking about vowels, Slovak don’t like them so much. And at first it’s really disturbing to see words without vowel until the middle of it. A friend of mine call it the “zmrzlina effect”. Zmrzlina means ice cream by the way. In Romance languages or in English we’re used to have vowels regularly appearing in the words so it feels like it’s easier to pronounce. When learning Slovak, you realize that vowels are useless. You can pronounce a word without vowels, it can also be a sentence : strč prst skrz krk. This famous tongue twister means “stick your finger through your throat”. It takes quite a long time to be able to pronounce it for a non slovak speaker though.

Learning a new language is an accumulation of little victories. The first time you will understand something when people will speak in the street, you’ll feel like you’re a genius ! The first sentence, the first conversation, you’ll tell your friends because it’s an achievement. And you will remember it. Learning a new language is both frustrating and rewarding. I really like trying to speak this language eventhough I make tons of mistakes. I’m trying. And when I say a sentence or have a simple conversation with someone, I’m proud of myself afterwards.

Slovak as a window on an unknown world

Of course it’s not the most “usefull” language as it is spoken by only 5.5 millions people in the world. But I see it as a window on the Slavic world. Before coming here, I read that Slovak is a good start to understand other slavic languages such as Czech, Polish, Serbian,… I like learning languages and I like that here I learn without noticing it. One of the first word I learnt here is lekareň, pharmacy. This one is easy and everywhere, but for any other words, I need to repeat it over and over. Eventually it will stay in my head. Or not, and I will mix it up with something else and feel frustrated.

But for me, it’s a must to learn the language of the place I’m living in. Learning the local language changes the relations you have with local people. In my case as I heard I have a good accent, people think I’m fluent and it is also a problem. A different one.


Claire Billon-Grand

Photo : Marek Bennett

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