Preservation of Czech Heritage through Czech Language Instruction in Nebraska

Katya Koubek, University of Nebraska, Lincoln

Czech was once widely spoken in Nebraska thanks to different waves of immigrants from the Czech land. Nowadays it is hardly heard. Although a majority of Nebraska Czechs from different generations still identify themselves as being Czech, their attribute to the Czech ethnicity is based on the cultural events such as festivals in Czech Nebraska towns and monthly gatherings of Czech associations. The Czech language is hardly spoken there except for formulaic words and phrases for greetings and special occasions.

Can Czech heritage be preserved without knowing the language itself? What can be done to make Czech heritage flourish for many years and generations ahead?

Czech heritage can be preserved not only through ethnic culture but also through the language itself. As an instructor of Czech I always ask students of Czech to write their goals for each semester and turn them in to me either signed or not. Many of my students indicate that they want to be able to speak to their grandparents and other relatives in Czech as their main goal. When asked who they are, the answer is usually the same: "we are Czechs."

Being Czech means more than being able to cook and eat the Czech food, to dance polka or to participate in ethnic festivals. It requires to know the language and to promote its usage as much as possible. However, as Mila Saskova-Pierce (1993) stated: "Nebraskans of Czech origin seem to continue to consider themselves to be Czech-Americans, even in the absence of their having any knowledge of the Czech language."

To preserve the heritage people should promote a study of the Czech language for themselves as well as for their descendents. By enrolling in Czech language courses, they will help themselves to read, write and understand the language of the ethnic group they consider to belong to. This will also help the Czech instruction to be maintained at the University of Lincoln, Nebraska.

This paper will describe the importance of the Czech language maintenance in order to preserve the Czech heritage. Being able to communicate orally and in a written form in Czech and to transfer the values of the culture from one generation to another will ensure the continuation of the Czech language and culture in Nebraska.