Dobruska's Czech summer school is underway

In its sixteenth year now, the Czech language summer school in Dobruska, north Bohemia, is in full swing. With 66 students from all around the world enrolled this year, the program is as popular as ever.

When I found them in a classroom at the Charles University campus building in Dobruska, northeast Bohemia, the students were singing about how life's full of chances, full of coincidences. Yet it's no coincidence that mature students from all around the world are in Dobruska learning Czech at the sixteenth annual language summer school.

This year, the oldest student is from Uruguay, and he spoke to me about why he's in Dobruska learning Czech:

"My name is Miguel Oramas. I was born in Monteovideo, the capital of Uruguay, in South America."

What's your connection to the Czech Republic?

"Well, I have no connections at all except friends in Uruguay. There are about 150 Czech people, and we are a group called Friends of the Czech Republic. I'll tell you why there is such a connection: because we love liberty, the same as the Czech people. You know, I have seen in history that Czechs have been fighting for liberty from Jan Hus for instance, and later on you had [Jan] Masaryk who committed suicide in order to make a strong request to give the Czech Republic—or Czechoslovakia then—freedom. Later on, this young man, Jan Palach, also burned himself in front of the statue of the first king of the republic. So this is what actually unites us—these same expectations to be free. That's very important because if you don't have freedom, everything is lost."

Summer school in Dobruska
You've described a sense of common ideology, or a vision of the world that the people of Uruguay and the Czechs share, but what brings you here to Dobruska to learn the Czech language?

"Through this association of Friends of the Czech Republic, I am related to the Czech embassy, and we started to learn Czech in the embassy because they are kind enough to give us a place. And I like languages. You know, in high school we had to learn—besides our local Spanish—French and English, and I also learned some German at the Goethe Institute. Then I thought that Czech is important because it was a way to learn a Slavic language, which opens the way to Polish, and to the other countries, even Russia, or Yugoslavia. I see that many words are the same, like 'most,' for example."

Summer school in Dobruska
How are you finding the language course here in Dobruska?

"Fine. The best I ever had."

There are also many students at the Dobruska school who have some Czech heritage and want to reconnect with the language of their roots, and others who have taken to studying Czech seriously for other reasons. Susane Paterson from Toronto, Canada, is enrolled in one of the more advanced Czech classes, and she explains what brings her to the summer language school:

"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."

Photo: Libor Kukal
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."