By Traci Chapman
It all began with a book.
It was in 2015 Petra Hunter first saw a program during Yukon’s Czech Festival, a reading of a classic children’s book.
One of the two women reading the story was Elaine Benda, a driving force in the area Czech community, Oklahoma Czechs Inc. board member and someone just about everyone involved in the annual festival has known for years.
Hunter – a Czech native – and Benda would connect in time, and the connection between the two would evolve into a local Czech language school that opened in September 2019 with 12 beginner-level students.
Classes since that time have been held at Yukon’s Czech Hall, 205 N Czech Hall Road.
“I was positively amazed how much the students wanted to learn Czech, how appreciative they were and how hard they have worked,” she said. “Some of them told me that to learn Czech is the dream come true for them for which they prayed for a very long time.”
For Benda and other students, it was a longtime dream to learn Czech – and their desire to make that dream a reality prompted Hunter to travel from her home in Tulsa to Yukon every week to fulfill it, she said.
“During the initial meetings with Czech students, I saw their joy, eagerness, and true determination to learn Czech language,” Hunter said. “That really motivated me to make it possible for Yukon students to get them good quality Czech language and culture education available.”
Hunter, a certified English as a Second Language professor, taught that subject in the Czech Republic for more than 10 years; she has done so in Oklahoma at Tulsa Community College and Oklahoma State University during the last eight years, she said. In 2020, she was sponsored by Czech Ministries of Education, Youth and Sports and Foreign Affairs for a program traveling to the Czech Republic “to study the methodology of teaching Czech language to nonnative speakers” – the only United States citizen chosen to do so, Hunter said.
With the start of the novel coronavirus pandemic, lesson formats changed, Hunter said. She offers sessions for both individuals and groups – including children – and remote work on Zoom has become a staple that offered its own unforeseen benefits.
“We learned to like, even to love our Zoom lessons as they certainly have their own advantages – students can see my lips for better pronunciation from a close distance even though being a hundred miles away from them, and they are in the comforts of their homes,” she said.
Regular studies and special workshops bring not only a love of language but a chance to learn about Czech culture – from incorporating both Czech and American history in lessons to special activities like Czech Bake Offs and holiday parties with traditional games, food and more, Hunter said.
More information about the Czech language school can be found on its Facebook page, located at https://www.facebook.com/Czech-Language-School-in-Oklahoma-109280860435916.