Monday, July 5, 2010

Living a Czech life in Multilingual Britain

One of my favorite things about our town, other than the parks, the trees, the children’s centres, and the ten minute walk to Starbucks, is the Slovak community that has mysteriously gathered here. In our previous town, twenty minutes away, there were no parks, few trees, no playgroup (or Starbucks!) within easy walking distance, and no Slovaks! Well, just the one. Worked in the bakery. Recognized me by my “Česká republika” shirt. I am nothing if not subtle.

Then I move here, and hey! Slovaks! And playgroups! And parks! I felt like I was being let out of prison. Plus, there's a semi-active Slovak playgroup that meets at our local children's centre. And a Czech group that meets once a week in a nearby town. And a Czech Saturday school in another nearby town. If we stayed here long term, we would have more opportunity to take advantage of these resources, too. I just kick myself for not moving here in the first place so I could have had two years of Slovaks and playgroups, not just one. I met one Slovak mother at our local playgroup (overheard her speaking to her son) and she tipped me off to a particular park where a lot of Slovak (and some Czech) families go. Once I made an acquaintance or two, I was in! I am currently refraining from making a comparison to the mafia.

It is really great to have a friend or two who speak Slovak to their kids. It hasn’t magically taught my daughter Slovak, but she gets to hear more adults speaking the language than just her father, which does count for something. It has also been a lifesaver for my ability to string together a coherent sentence. My first year in England was very hard on my language – apparently talking to my husband when the mood strikes just isn’t enough. Having a friend to talk to, and bumping into the occasional mom in the coffeeshop or the park, has got me nearly at an acceptable level again.

And it isn’t just Slovaks in this town. I’ve met families from all over Europe and the world at our local playgroup. Even some of the mothers I thought were British later turn out to actually be from Spain or Finland (etc). I remember at one of our early visits getting into a conversation with a Slovak and a Portuguese woman with a British husband about raising our children with two languages, and I noticed a couple of other mothers were sort of edging their way closer. “Aha,” I thought, “you’re intrigued by our bizarre bilingual lifestyle.” At a second look, it struck me that one woman was Indian and the other was German. They didn’t think we were freaks; they were facing the same issues themselves! To me, that is just fantastic. I love that my daughter has friends from different language backgrounds, with parents who speak fluent English AND their home languages, too. That sort of integrated diversity is one thing really lacking in homogenous Czech Republic as well as our part of USA.

It’s funny how much difference a 20 minute drive makes. We couldn’t have predicted that this particular area would be the one where we can make Slovak friends on the playground. We just got lucky on the second try, I guess. Our town isn’t ideal, but the parks and the playgroups and the Slovaks make it worth it for us. We will actually miss it when we move back to Prague.


  1. Music to my ears! My whole life in Spain changed as soon as I found an English speaking playgroup. But the great thing was that it wasn't full of just American's and Brits, but Germans, Russians, Latvians, you name it! Now, if I could just find a starbucks...

  2. I can relate to this post. A year ago I had no friends only hubby's family and few of his friends (all Croatian) but then I began my croatian lessons and now I have a friend married to a Venezualan raising a trilingual 2 year old,also a gal from south africa, france, and spain. Having friends from similar backgrounds has helped me with the transition of leaving my dear home of Denver behind.
    Although I do miss Starbucks!

    Happy you found a new group of friends!

  3. Rea, Elisa - it makes a big difference, doesn't it? I'm going to have to start from square one when we move, but I hope to find some people in our neighborhood in Prague. K and I need to socialize!

    Also, to my everlasting delight Starbucks has come to Prague in the last couple of years. That was the biggest entry on my list of "Things keeping me from being truly at home in this country" - a list that keeps shrinking year on year. Yay chai lattes :)



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