28 March 2015

Studying Czech, the Toddler Method

I read an article the other day that claimed the 'formal' way of learning a language was the least effective. Memorising cases and tenses, they said, was terribly inefficient.

I am inclined to agree and I present to you my case.

Me: 'Learn Czech in 3 Months' (ha!) book in hand, studying for....well, a long time.
Smalls: no grammar tables, learning for 3 years.

Whose Czech is better?

Yes, sadly it's true. I recently tried to say something in Czech to a friend and Smalls turned to me with a puzzled, slightly pitying look and I realised that he knew my Czech wasn't right.

And so I am thinking that I need to a) find more time to study my Czech and b) adopt more of Smalls's approach to language acquisition.

While any sentence I say goes through a rigorous (though not necessarily very accurate) series of experts in my head who cross-check my proposed sentence with everything they know of pronunciation, grammar, and intonation, Smalls throws out sounds that maybe sound like a word he once heard.

If it doesn't seem to hit the intended target, he tries again. Sometimes patiently, sometimes with tears, but always with the understanding that he knows what he's trying to say and we should too.

It's so perfect, so simple, so humiliating if you're not three. So, more practicing, less thinking. I will speak Czech one day. I will.

On the other hand, I am finding it rather advantageous to be the main English speaker in Smalls's life. He came home from školka recently and started using a lot of ' Já chci! Já chci!' (I want! I want!). 

'Oh,' I said, 'You need to say that in English to me. In English, we say, 'I would like'.'

And so while L. gets commands like 'I want milk! I want chocolate!', I get the much more refined, 'Mama, I would like chocolate.'

Clearly the next step is to teach him to say, 'Would you please be so kind to get me some chocolate.'

Although if he asked so beautifully, I'm not sure I would be able to say no. Perhaps it's best to leave it as it is.

He's also seemed to have picked up 'tatínek' (daddy) and 'maminka' (mommy) from skolka.

'Tatinku,' he says, 'já chci čokoládový dort.' And then, with a sly look and an even sweeter tone, 'Tatinku' again for good measure.

L. confessed to me that this actually does soften the corners of his heart and make him feel a little warm and gooey inside and predisposed to handing out said chocolate cake.

Me, on the other hand, impervious.

'Maminko,' Smalls says sweetly, stroking my hand, 'I would like chocolate cake, mamiko. Chocolate and strawberries.'

And I feel....nothing. No softening of resolve. No warm glowing feeling. I have no soft and fuzzy childhood memories of some beloved 'maminka'. Maminko-ing has no power over me.

And then, Smalls with his persistent method of trial-and-error discovered my kryptonite.

'Mommy,' he says, looking at me with his most earnest eyes, brimming with love and needs. 'Mommy....'

God help us if he learns to combine it with 'would you please....'