If you had asked me this six months ago I would have said (or at least thought) “Very. Duh.” After all, isn’t being able to communicate with the people around you an important part of building connection? Not to mention navigate the city. But here I am, two weeks shy of six months and my Czech vocabulary consists of about six words.
There is no doubt that my life would be easier if I spoke Czech. Among other things I wouldn’t be at the mercy of questionable translations while shopping for my groceries online because I am too overwhelmed to go to Tesco. At the same time, speaking Czech really isn’t necessary in Prague. I know people who have been here for years who speak only a handful more words than I do and they seem to have adjusted just fine. The city is full of English speakers, both Czechs and expats. And it is questionable whether the bulk of the notoriously unfriendly Czechs would give me the time of day even if I could speak the language. Not to mention the fact that even if I was diligent in my language studies it would be years before I could have a meaningful conversation with anyone. So while there are plenty of reasons to start studying the language when we get back (like finding something to fill my days) building connection really isn’t one of them.
I’ve also questioned how important it is for my toddler to learn the language. It’s very unlikely that we will still be in Prague when he is ready to start school and with fewer than 500,000 speakers outside of the Czech Republic it’s not exactly a marketable skill. That said, I hired a Czech nanny for him and if I were to put him in preschool I would want one where the kids mostly used Czech amongst themselves even if there were a number of international kids. Ultimately, while it is not that important in the long run that he be able to speak Czech well, I want him to integrate as well as possible even if only for a short time and even if his parents don’t do so. I also want to send the message that it is important to at least try to learn the language of wherever you are living and truly interact with the local culture and people as much as possible.
When we get back to Prague next week I do plan on starting Czech lessons. (I’m even going to send some FB messages as soon as I post this so that I can hopefully hit the ground running and not wait several more weeks to get started.) But the reason why I think it is important to learn the Czech language is different than it was before we moved. I understand now that basic language ability (the most I can really hope for) isn’t going to help that much if the goal is to build connection with people. But I hope it will help me understand the people and the culture just a little better. Most importantly, doing so means setting a good example for my son so that as he grows up and moves across the world to a new country (or even just across town to a new neighborhood) he has an easier time letting go of his old ways and becoming part of his new home.
Be honest. Am I just trying to rationalize my laziness? (After all, we still don’t know if those lessons are really going to happen…) How important do you think it is to know the majority language where you live and why? Tell me in the comments below.