Temperance—maybe that is what I’ll name my first prospective daughter. Being named after a virtue myself, I am constantly confronted by the question of whether I am a proper namesake. In addition to wondering whether I really am a person of charity, I have also come into direct contact with my lack of temperance—or my intemperate exercise of temperance. Before I delve any further, I should probably clarify that I’m not talking about alcohol. Rather, I am talking about the way I approach many tasks in life. I am a big-picture thinker, discarding details as irrelevant and favoring where they point. I can often recall results of major studies or themes of articles, but I don’t remember statistics or methods. Moreover, I don’t like doing activities in small increments; I much prefer throwing myself headlong into a task for hours. (Hence the surge of blog posts today.)
These character traits manifest themselves in various ways. Take reading, for example. I absolutely charge through books. I want to know how the character will transform and how the story will resolve. I take in books in deep draughts. I consume them so quickly that I often forget their resolution. Many of you know I’m a knitter, and my knitting follows the same extremes. I may go months without knitting and then suddenly be knitting in every possible situation—while chatting with friends, watching films, waiting in line, reading books, and so forth. I’m a fast or famine kind of gal.
The pitfalls of these characteristics are obvious. Learning anything that requires cumulative knowledge is problematic. I want to be able to understand the entirety of something rather than just learn details. Fortunately, I am also a rule-follower by nature, so deadlines and syllabi have been indispensable aids in my life. All of this leads to the real reason I’m here, click-clacking away. These character traits and learning styles are very ill suited to my present study of the Czech language. When I sit down to study, I don’t want to memorize just five verbs or some declension pattern, I want to conquer the entire Czech language. I might look up some word in the dictionary like “content.” My Czech dictionary tells me it’s spokojený. Goal accomplished. However, it’s against my nature to stop there. Instead I look at the next entry which is společenský (social). I remember the word spolu (together) and I think it’s an interesting relationship. Before I know it, I’m reading through the entire column of words, enjoying the relationship incurred by the common root.
Společnost- society, company
Společný- common, joint
Still considering the word spolu, I skip down to find it and am delighted with yet more related words:
Spolucestující- fellow traveler
Spoludědic- joint heir
Spoluhráč- fellow player
. . .
I must stop before I lose you all. Anyhow, such meanderings are common for me because I delight in seeing these relationships played out. One reason I love grammar is that it reveals the system by which everything operates. In my present Czech-learning situation, I am taking a free public course. As such, it does not have any homework, testing, or accountability structure to keep me memorizing the details. I must accomplish things by way of independent study, which usually means becoming awed by the structures of the Czech language without retaining any vocabulary.
This brings me to my present situation. Minutes ago, I was reveling once again in various grammar patterns and vocabulary without actually retaining anything. I have considered drawing up a contract with myself or someone else just to keep me accountable, to keep me learning minutiae along with the larger structures. I haven’t any resolution for you, but I am at a crux, and I know I must change my means of study if I am to actually gain some fluency in the language.