Monday, March 20, 2017

Why Czech Matters: Part I

If it seems I’ve fallen off the face of the earth (or...blogosphere), there are a few good reasons why.

First, I went to this crazy huge conference called RootsTech. It was awesome. And after being gone for a week, my email inbox was like...a mountain. There were so many things to do when I got home.

Also, I started a new job teaching English to little Chinese kids online. I really love this job. It’s basically tailor-made for my personality and skillset.

But the main reason for my absence is not these incidental balls I’m juggling. It’s the big ball, the one that is actually related to all of my Czech family history efforts.

Why am I learning Czech? And more importantly, why should you?

I am really sick of being so reliant on my (very faulty) tools in order to understand my history.

I am not in this field to “collect names.” I want to know these people. And they were real people, as the records continue to prove. People with flaws, hopes, dreams, thoughts, opinions, skills, problems, etc. These records are priceless treasure. They capture hints of humanity. They are really special to me. But how can I access the meaning if the records, and the records about the records, are all locked behind a reverse iron-curtain: my lack of Czech.

So, I rely on really flawed tools like google translator, three screens (three brains!), and Advanced Google Searching 471. I still find the effort to transcribe the texts extremely time consuming and frustrating. I just want to be able to read without it being through this other medium, this foggy glass! I know that every layer of separation introduces some kind of error. I can’t help the separation of time, but I don’t have to compound the transcription errors by relying on reading the language through a translator...if I learn Czech.

Even more significant is the cultural knowledge I lack because of my lack of Czech. Basically, learning Czech is not some incidental, nice, fringe task. It is the key to unlocking this world of knowledge that I am forever seeking.

If you find that, like me, you want to really know these people, and really understand your Czech history and heritage, you might decide that you, too, should try to learn Czech.

But how? Well...that cannot be answered in this blog post.

It's a really, really hard language for English speakers to learn.

Oh Czech. You are also uniquely tailor-made for my personality and skillset. I really love you. And you are uniquely difficult. I guess that is what makes studying Czech so satisfying: it is a really high, steep mountain. But the view!

Basically, I feel an urgency that I cannot explain very well. It’s a strong overwhelming conviction to learn...yesterday! It’s a desire to spend all of my time focused on this one thing. I’ve always had a really advanced level of stick-to-it-ive-ness (aka tenacity), ever since I was a child.

For better or for worse, here I am with this strong conviction that learning Czech is the single most important thing that I can do in order to help improve and expand my genealogical expertise and knowledge. Learning Czech will open up all kinds of new sources, but more than that, it will help me to actually know these people. It will connect me - it already does connect me - to my heritage in a way that nothing else can. Language is so tightly wound to history and culture. It is inseparable. It’s the medium by which these things were recorded, and unlike many other European countries, Czechia's valuable historical and demographic studies remain largely untranslated to English or German.

So, that’s what I’ve been up to lately: trying my hardest for the past ~14 weeks to learn this really difficult language. It’s very slow. But I definitely am learning. I was skyping with my friend Milan earlier today and was really shocked because I understood him! Responding in that’s a whole ‘nother ballgame.

In summary: Czech (the language) matters because it will help me connect with my ancestors in a deeply meaningful way, a way which cannot be substituted by any other technological tool or background knowledge. It is not ancillary. It is essential.

Might it also be for you?

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