Tuesday, 22 May 2012

I feel it in my fingers, I feel it in my toes...

...language is all around me and so the feeling grows.

As a non-native speaker of a language, how do you know if what you are saying or writing is correct or not? Do you base it simply on what your text or grammar book says or does it go beyond that into the realms of instinct or gut feeling?

Ever since I first started learning languages at the age of 11, I have relied heavily on gut instinct. I think this is mainly out of laziness. I have never been keen on learning grammar and I was lucky enough to be able to feel what was right. After 20 years of learning French and German, (I am always learning, it didn't stop when my BA did) I find myself wondering how much of what I now say and write is based on instinct. 

At the moment I am writing a lot of German, perhaps more than I ever have. My grammar is somewhat rusty, as I haven't used it in a business context for 5 years, but when I write a sentence I can often feel whether it is right or not. If I am unsure, I google it, but more often than not my initial feeling was correct. Where does this come from? Is it some long lost grammar memory tucked at the back of my brain or is it an inbuilt sense of the language and how it should be?

I find that French is easier to use based on gut feeling. Perhaps because the grammar is less complex than German - no cases, fewer genders, no declension. French has a lyricism to it, a musical quality that I can feel. German is more rigid, harsher, but also more amusing. I wrote in a previous post about how comedy can play a role in language learning.

How can instinct come into play in a brand new language, where the grammar is unknown? It has been interesting for me to learn Czech. I can rely somewhat on the German grammar I know, but as for the vocabulary, that is completely different. Interestingly, my teacher gave me a list of adjectives and asked me to guess what they might mean. The first one I guessed correctly. Now, this could have been sheer coincidence, but when I looked at the word, something inside me told me what it meant. It felt right - the sound of the word somehow resonated with me.

I believe it is possible to have an instinct about language use, even if it is not your native tongue. Too many learners get caught up in all the grammar and rules. Language is constantly moving, flowing, adapting. If you bind it too tight it suffocates and you constrict and freeze with it. I encourage everyone to open their minds and start feeling, breathing, absorbing the language. You might just surprise yourself.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

The simple things in life are the best

I was walking up Česká in the centre of Brno this afternoon and saw a lady selling bunches of these beautiful Lily of the Valley. They smell fabulous. When I went over and asked "Kolik stojí?", to my surprise, she only wanted 30 Kč. It is such a simple, yet pretty posy. I have put it in an Irish Coffee glass that I found at the back of the kitchen cupboard and put it in my bedroom. Simply lovely.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Food, drink, more food and drink and naked saunas

On Sunday I turned 32 *blows party horn* - hurrah! And what better way to celebrate than to head down to the local "Wellness" (sorry, I can't bare that word and do not accept it as proper English, so have to put it in inverted commas) Centre and get naked with lots of unknown Czech men and women!

Well, that wasn't my ultimate plan. I shall start from the beginning. Having been away for a couple of weekends, I decided it would be nice to spend my birthday weekend in Brno. On Saturday we went to the Špilberk Food Festival. Sadly, the weather was chilly, windy and rainy so I couldn't take the sort of photos I had wanted to. Instead, I decided to tuck into all the fabulous food that I could and try a good selection of wines. You will just have to take my word for it that it all looked and tasted delicious! This was the first Food Festival in Brno and I hope they put it on again next year, as it was a great opportunity to try small, yet excellent dishes from some top-notch restaurants in Brno.

On Sunday, we had a lovely birthday brunch at home. My OH bought me a nice bottle of Mucha Sekt, which we made Buck's Fizz out of and drank with sweet things to start off with: yoghurt, raisin brioche and melon and later had scrambled eggs with sausages and baguette. Scrumptious.

Fortified with food and wine, we set off on the tram to Hotel Santon. It is situated next to the Lake in Bystrc. From the outside it doesn't look like much (a bit communist-era), but once inside the "Wellness" area is very modern and has clearly been recently refurbished. I decided to book in for a 30 minute massage (bliss), a 20 minute private jacuzzi session (invigorating) followed by 90 minutes in the sauna and pool area (aaah and argh!).

Before we went there, I had of course shaved my legs in preparation. However, it suddenly occurred to me, that it might be customary to be naked in the sauna in the Czech Republic. This only sprung to mind, as I had once had a funny experience in Germany with a friend where we both turned up at the spa only to be told that we could not possibly wear our swimming costumes, "as this would offend others". Sure enough, when we went to the saunas at Hotel Santon (of which there are 4) there was a little "no swimming costumes" sign on the door. You are expected to remove your swimwear and wrap a sheet around yourself, which they provide. Once inside the sauna, you sit naked upon your sheet.

Beautiful private jacuzzi. Image via: Hotel Santon

The saunas are mixed, but personally I don't have a problem with this. Many Brits, and I think Americans, would find it unthinkable to sit naked in a sauna with unknown chaps and chapettes, but you soon realise that there is nothing sexual or seedy about the environment. It is a normal and healthy thing in Germany and the Czech Republic to be naked and have no qualms about it when relaxing and enjoying health treatments.

The saunas were very good: one very hot and very dry one (Finská), one less hot and dry one, one very humid one (Tropická) and another one outside with a big dish of lavender oil in the middle. This one was opposite the ice cold plunge pool, so I braved it and jumped straight in afterwards. Gasp, gasp!

We both had a really nice afternoon at the spa and I would definitely recommend it if you are looking for somewhere quieter and reasonably priced. I was worn out from all this relaxation and promptly fell asleep when I got home - a sleepy but happy birthday girl.