by Nina


How I started to speak English

Posted by Nina Hanakova |


When I was 11, the Iron Wall came down and the Czechs could finally travel abroad. Well... to the West. I used to spend all my childhood vacations in Bulgaria so I couldn't have been more excited to cross the borders to the colourful world called Western Europe, 21 years ago. 

But unlike most of my schoolmates' parents, mine didn't take me just across the borders, to Vienna. We went all the way - to the British Isles. In my dad's old Škoda 120L :). And that's where my English Without Books journey started...

I still remember the moment the other Wall came down - my own wall of being shy to speak English. I had been listening to English my whole childhood, coming from the old LPs my dad used to play and friends from abroad who were allowed to enter our communistic world once in a blue moon. But I had never dared to speak.

So when I finally entered the land of The Beatles, in 1990, my dad did the cruelest and, at the same time, the best thing he could for my future EFL journey. He dropped me in his friend's home for two weeks and left for Scotland. Here was my chance to start swimming in the sea called "ENGLISH".

My dad´s friend was Bob Porter. He worked as a proffesor of Czech and lived with his Danish wife and two kids my age in Bristol. Bob was no stranger to me - he had been coming to Brno since 1967 - and his Czech was fluent. However his Danish wife and kids spoke nothing but incomprehensible British English, to me anyways:). And it seemed the kids weren't particularly excited about having yet another girl in their home. So those were tough times for me. But they gave me the push, like everything else in life, to finally start speaking. Until this day I remember the moment of opening my mouth and eventually uttering a few English sentences. From then on it was a given. I´d never returned to Bristol, however the door to the English-speaking world finally opened and I was free as a bird! London, Boston, New York, Chicago, Amsterdam, Paris, Barcelona, Rome,...

Now 21 years later I found my way to Bob's house in Bristol again, and it felt so good to be back, with a family of my own. No need to fuss about silly kids' stuff with Bob´s daughters since we are all giving it a good try to act like adults. And I understand everything Lissy, Bob's wife, says, which is probably the biggest reward after all these years of learning English.

And Bristol is such a pleasant city to visit on a summer holiday. The wonderful history, culture, architecture, the port and the numerous parks where you could spent your whole life picnicking... We didn't wan to leave. It's comforting to know it's only 2hrs away by plane, instead of 30hrs by car.

This time I had a flip cam on me and thought it'd be pretty cool to shoot a short film in Bristol. So here you go... (You can also see Anita Adnan and her family in the video. Anita is my fellow EFL colleague whom I met 7 months ago on Facebook and now for the first time in person. She is such an inspiration for me.)

And Bob is such an interesting man to talk to. He likes telling stories about Bristol, explaining the origin of English expressions and genuinely loves foreign languages. He speaks fluent Czech and Russian which is quite odd for a Brit. He befriended Milan Kundera back in the 1960s when Kundera still lived in Brno and the road to the realms of Czech literature less travelled by Brits was on offer, so he gladly took it. Ten years ago Bob published an Introduction to 20th Century Czech Fiction for his students and, although retired, gives lectures on Czech and Russian literature all around the world. Here is the first part of the interview:

The second part where he talks in more detail about his love of Czech literature and language was unfortunately recorded on my mobile phone instead of the flip cam which stopped working halfway through. So I'm sorry about the quality.

Would you like Bob to be a guest blogger on EnglishBrno? Please, leave a comment with suggestions what you'd like to read about.

Happy speaking!

P.S. I´d like to note that I wrote this blog post in my favourite Brno café Kavárna Locus, enjoying a  blueberry mojito and French chansons. If you are from Brno, you simply must come, enjoy the atmosphere and taste their drinks, pastries and meals. And maybe to meet me there one of these days? Let me know.


Brad said...

Hey Nina, what a great way to share your path. Seems like quite the linguist adventure !

I think for students it's really important to see how we've grown in a language too. It can be such a hard process that sometimes we feel we're up against a wall, but it just takes persistence.

Lastly, I always love hearing more etymology stories, so it could be interesting to have Bob share that with your audience... but that's just me ;-)

Cheers, Brad

Frank said...

Hi Nina,
I wish I had as interesting a story to tell about my adventures in English as you! When it's your first language you may not see it with fresh eyes... you just speak it... there's not much to say about your growth... it's always just been there. I'm envious!

I really enjoyed your story. Thoroughly. I don't often read blog posts, even if I subscribe to them!... but I'll definitely be looking forward to your next.

I'd like to hear some anecdotes about his early years learning Czech, and a mistake or two he made because of the confusion of translation, as happens to all of us learning a foreign language. I know absolutely nothing about Czech, so maybe he could give us a mistake he used to make and explain why it was funny and what he should have said instead... that would be awesome.

Thanks a ton!

Frank said...

... also, you need to put a share button below your posts so I can share them!

Nina said...

Brad and Frank,
thank you so much for your support! I am very happy to have you commenting on my blog, what an honour for me!
I am a total amateur and this whole blogging html is hell for me. Frank, I have managed to manually add my FB and Twitter buttons (for some reason blogger doesn´t take my settings to have them automatically below the posts, must have messed something up) and I´m also looking into adding the .pdf versions of my lesson plans. I wasn´t actually expecting this interest so need to polish my blog a bit :). I am working on my new website now with a very good webmaster so once my website´s up and running, I will ask him to help me here with my blog as well. Thanks for caring!!

You have some great ideas for Bob´s blog post, I´ll forward them to Bristol :)


Frank said...

Okie, if you need some help with blog HTML give me a shout...

Anonymous said...

Hi Nina, it is fantastic article about your childhood´s first experiance about English. Sometimes I feel like you when you were alone in abroad but you were more younger than me but the first steps in English are for everyone same:-)The life is very interesting- in your youth have you been thinking that you´ll be teacher of English when this (not so happy) time is big step for your job and another experiances.


Nina said...

As a child I never wanted to become a teacher because I thought you can only teach children, at school which I didn´t find so attractive at the time. I became a teacher by accident. But that´s for another blog post :)

Both of my parents used to work as school teachers, my mom taught arts and Czech language to 5th - 8th graders in a small village school. My dad studied to become a history teacher but only taught for one year, he refused to become a communist so he couldn´t do his job, same as many other people in communistic Czechoslovakia.

Dinesh Sibal said...

Absolutum wonderfulum.
Such easy flow.
Your writing style is captivating and non-taxing.

It is because you have been a very good student of the language, you have to be a very good trainer/teacher too.
I salute you Girl.
Mighty Impressed.

Nina said...

Thank you so much, Dinesh, for your compliments. I am trying to be the best teacher I´d like to have myself. My motto is: Learn with love!

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