Why you do not NEED to learn Slovak

Why you need to learn Slovak - slovak flag

If you are of a leisurely disposition i.e. lazy, it may be useful to have a few good reasons, excuses, for not learning Slovak.

All the usual suspects apply that we casually trot out to excuse ourselves when acute lethargy attacks. I don’t have the time, I’m too busy at work, I’ve got to water the plants every night or they’ll die. A million and one better things to do. Who knows, you may actually be telling a small amount of truth.

However, there are also some better excuses that I can let you into. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, food, drink, shelter and security are man’s basic requirements. This sounds an awful lot like the Irish Pub. ‘Jedno pivo prosim.’ Damn. That doesn’t help my argument at all.

Okay, back to food and drink. Let’s try a restaurant shall we? ‘Prosím si jedálny lístok po anglicky.’ How did that get there? You can’t read the menu in Slovak and this is all about not needing Slovak so there is nothing left to do but order blindly. Did you really want Wiener Schnitzel with chocolate ice-cream? Vanilla maybe, but chocolate? You’ll die if you don’t eat something soon, but where can you go where the food is the same regardless of where you are and you know what you’ll get when you order? McDonalds. Mmm? But how to order? And where’s the ice cream? ‘Zm..zmrz…zz.’ This isn’t working.

Thank God for Tesco. Off-the-shelf food requires no negotiation skills to buy, people don’t expect you to engage in scintillating conversation and large displays at the checkouts enable anyone who is numerate to get the right money out. You need never talk to another human being again. But, it would have been nice to reply to the girl on the checkout with a little more than your dazzling smile. No! Don’t weaken. You don’t need it, remember?

Great, this is getting better. Food and drink courtesy of Tesco, indigestion courtesy of your culinary skills. You need a pharmacy. This isn’t like at home, you’ll have to ask the pharmacist. ‘Hovoríte po anglicky, prosím?’ You see, everyone speaks English but are you sure you really have to swallow those tablets?

So you don’t need Slovak to eat and drink. Well, at least you won’t starve to death and no one ever died of eating boil-in-the-bag noodles, but then no one ever ate them for every meal.

Another good reason for not needing Slovak is travelling on public transport. A friend told me the story of a friend of his living in Taiwan. This girl didn’t speak any Chinese when she arrived but started to learn it while she was there. After a while she could understand some Chinese and this soon meant that she had to leave the country. The reason? When she was travelling by bus she could finally understand that her fellow passengers were discussing how ugly western girls were compared to the Taiwanese girls. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.

Furthermore, it is somehow less annoying to not understand the guy next to you telling the person on the other end of his mobile, and the rest of the bus, that he’s ‘on the bus’.

Great. Two really good quality reasons there. But how will you explain to the ticket inspectors that the ticket machine is broken on the bus or that you left your travel pass in your other jacket. Okay, okay just don’t travel by bus. Or tram. Or trolley bus.

Now that I think about it, there are some more good reasons not to learn Slovak. Have you noticed the number of canvassers and people carrying out consumer and other surveys? Now, if you spoke the language, you would invariably have to engage in some complex form of verbal escape plan, but once again a swift ‘nehovorím po slovensky’ usually puts them off. But, there again, you’ve used Slovak. Okay it’s just two words, but the premiss was that you don’t need Slovak. My argument is failing.

Telephone sales. Yes. Here you can just pick up the phone and as soon as the sales pitch starts you can just say ‘Sorry, but do you speak English?’ the poor commission paid slave on the other end of the line will soon end the call. Mmm. But then how do you know it was a telephone sales call and not the national lottery telling you that you had won the SKK 25 million jackpot?

And while we are on this train of thought, what if those canvassers in the street are really offering free holidays to Croatia for the first ten people to answer their questionnaire?

Which leads me on to some more uncomfortable thoughts. How will you know when someone is not just waving hello, but indicating the tram hurtling towards you as you cross the tracks? How will you find out that the girl you are talking at drunkenly is telling you about her seven foot tall, insanely jealous, psychotic, kickboxing boyfriend who has just popped to the toilet?

To go back to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and the shelter element, wouldn’t it be so much nicer to greet your neighbour with a ‘dobre rano’ rather than just a typically English nod of the head and a smile (not compulsory). And then once you’ve mastered the initial greeting, wouldn’t it be nice to have … a small conversation? You know, things like the weather, and other things that neighbours talk about. But no. This is all going the wrong way. You don’t need Slovak, you don’t need Slovak.

Okay so my premiss has been somewhat turned on its head it seems. Yes, you don’t need Slovak, but then again that is only if you want to eat tinned food, ignore the neighbours and get hit by a tram whilst the ticket inspector berates you for travelling without a pass which is in your jacket which you left at the pub when that nice Slovak girl’s psychotic boyfriend took exception to you amorous advances towards her.

You don’t need Slovak, but it’s a bloody good idea.

Author: Sean Vernon
(IH Bratislava archive)

Slovak courses