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Adventures in Writing, Reading & Book Culture

The English Page

The English PageIn a few select publications, you can find news features printed in English. One prominent place is “Metro”, the daily info tabloid handed out in the early a.m. as people make their way into the subterranean travel portals. People are so intent on getting their Metro that they’ll flock around the distributors like pigeons to a bread-toting tourist in St Mark’s Square.

I don’t get a Metro, so these Czechs are basically in my way as I’m trying to get to my train. But one day a few weeks ago I noticed while looking over a commuter’s shoulder that the Metro has “The English Page” … one page devoted to teaching Czechs English by offering a tidbit news-feature piece (or two). This is an interesting phenomenon, I think. You don’t find a Korean Page in the NYC subway, or a Czech Page in Chicago’s subway.

While many Czechs don’t know English and will likely never even think about learning English, the two youngest generations are learning this all-important language (someday to be supplanted by Mandarin, no doubt) that help them get any number of important jobs. There are many foreign-owned companies employing a goodly percentage of Czechs. Some of these companies are owned by US co’s, other by the French, Duth, Germans, and Polish. The common language in Europe now is English (thus my presence in CR), because international companies always-always-always do business with the US, and so they already know English; which means that the best way to do business throughout the EU is by having one common language, thus relieving people of learning seven or twelve different tongues.

Oddly, the Czech’s Metro English Page is written at an upper-intermediate to advanced level. Phrases such as “in lieu of” and “a way to brush up on their skills” are not easy translations. In fact there are many English phrases, I’ve heard my students point out, that are difficult to understand the concept. It takes a bit of explanation, and then I’ll see the light shine in their eyes. Usually, there is an equivalent phrase in Czech (as is found in so many languages), but they chuckle at how English phrases are given, sometimes.

For the record, my acquisition of Czech is going poorly, as I have little time to practice, and it’s just a very tough language, not just to pronounce, but to remember.

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