16th annual summer school in Dobruska

The variety of people found at Charles University's Czech summer language school is vast. Some have a Czech parent, but live in faraway countries and return here to make a connection with their heritage, while others found their way to the Czech language and culture through other means. When I found a classroom full of intermediate students singing a song typically sung in a pub, or around a campfire, it was obvious that these students are learning, and that they're having fun. In this week's Special, we introduce you to some of the people who studied in Dobruska this August.

Summer school in Dobruska
Many of the students, like Michael Klimes, are from the US. Mr. Klimes is from a Czech family with deep roots in Spillville, Iowa, and he told me why he's at the summer school:

"The reason for coming to Dobruska was to improve my Czech language skills so that I can pursue my research better, and to just get some better understanding of Czech today, and the Czech past."

What does your research involve?

"I do specific research on Dvorak in Iowa, and additionally on Czech immigration to northeast Iowa. The Czechs in our part of Iowa came from a fairly concentrated area in south Bohemia."

How do you feel about the course and your progress here in Dobruska?

"Well, I feel my progress is important to me. Large parts of the course are a tongue-twister, but I keep working at it, and I think my writing is probably progressing better. Overall it's a very good course and I'm very glad I was able to come."

And the prospects for returning?

"Good. The longer I'm here, the more I think about coming back and coming back soon."

Susane Paterson has different reasons for enrolling at the summer school:

Czech language school for foreign students,  photo: Libor Kukal
"I have a very strong interest in languages. I teach French immersion in Toronto, and I thought it was time for me to start to learn a brand new language at a certain point in my teaching. And I chose Czech because my sweetheart is Czech, from Moravia. It's been very interesting studying this—it's changed my whole approach to teaching language in Toronto."

How long have you been studying Czech?

"I studied for six summers in Olomouc at Palacky University, and now my seventh summer is here in Dobruska."

How would you describe the teaching methods here compared to those that you use yourself in Toronto?

"Well, the way that it's changed my teaching is that I saw how difficult it is as a beginner to learn a language, and how much more practice children need to actually speak, through language drills and that sort of thing, just to develop their facility. We do that sort of thing here."

As we were waiting for the students to return to class after a coffee break, Vladka Korenova, one of the school's teachers, told me about her experiences with the summer program in Dobruska:

Photo: archive of Radio Prague
"I'm here already for the fourth year, but teaching only the second year. Each summer school is completely different. I like my students very much because they put their efforts towards learning the Czech language, which is very hard so I really admire them for coming here for four weeks and trying to learn the Czech grammar and pronunciation. It's so difficult for them, so I really admire them and I like them very much. I like their questions about the grammar, or about the culture here. I like when they attend the aerobics classes with me. Or also, I enjoy their company during the various trips. They are very, very nice personalities and overall, it's just very nice."

How did you become involved with the school?

"Well, first through my sister, because she's a teacher of the Czech language and she started to teach at Charles University with the director, Alenka Opstova, and then she also started to teach here in the summer school. My mom is involved as well—she used to teach here along with my sister. I started to help them, first with translations into English, then with the sports activities and during the trips. I was given one bus full of students to chaperon, to inform them about what they are going to see, to visit. And then when I finished my studies at Charles University last year, I started to teach instead of my sister because now she is in Australia."

Do you think you'll continue with your roll during the summers?

"I hope so. I like it very much and I'm really satisfied with my role here."

Summer school in Dobruska
"I come from South America, from Venezuela; it is a Spanish-speaking country. It is not difficult [to learn Czech], but I think the people from the United States are very, very confused. But we have the same letters of the alphabet, and they don't change, you know? I think it's easy, but we do have trouble with the accusative verbs. It's the same, but we have to be careful. So when you asked me, 'What's your name,' I became very nervous! I think that you have to be calm when you are speaking, and be very careful about the use of the accusative verbs and the singular, plural, feminine, and masculine. But it's beautiful. When you love something, you do it with passion—and I'm always doing things with passion."

Ailin Machado, who you heard there, is a chef in her native country of Venezuela, and she plans to open a restaurant where several international cuisines will be featured, including Czech foods—with Ailin's personal touch, of course:

"I will make a little blend of styles, pan-American and pan-Asiatic, and I want to give an opportunity to Czech cuisine in my menu. We have a small Czech community in my country, and it's very representative with many people whose skin colours are black or brown, and they speak Czech. I think it's a beautiful idea to have people try the wonderful flavours found here in the Czech Republic, but I will work on the construction, presentation, and textures of the meals. I hope that it will be quite beautiful."

And so what does Ailin plan to do once the summer language school in Dobruska finishes?

"My plan for the next month is to work in a typical restaurant in the Czech Republic. I will spend that first month in Prague, and then I will be in another place, a different restaurant, for another month. Then I want to visit many other places like Budapest, Hungary, and Vienna. And I'd love to be in the Krkonose Mountains, to enjoy the environment that you have here—it's so wonderful, and I love it. I love the people of the country."

While most of the students at Dobruska are wrapping-up their summer vacations and packing to return home—with a lot more Czech under their belts—many of them told me they'll be back next summer.