Jana Jereb, her daughter Sarah Robinson, Frank Pristov and his daughter Kate Pristov, participants of the Slovenian language course by a teacher Draga Gelt about learning Slovenian language while making Dražgoše honeybread.
Which generation of Slovenians in Australia are you and how long have you been learning Slovenian language?
Frank Pristov: I’m second generation. I started learning Slovenian when I was born and then I learnt English when I went to primary school. Because my parents couldn’t speak English very well I picked up the language and stayed with it all my life. They died of old age and within about six months I was missing the language. I went to Kew, met Draga and started going to classes. I went to Slovenia a few times and I found that I could speak the language really well. The last time was this year and it got to the stage where I could buy train tickets and order meals in restaurants in Slovenian. I can also speak to my relatives all in Slovenian and learn about my past history and the dark past of my extended family over there. The advantage of being able to talk to them in their language is to understood and find out more information from them. That way I had a deeper understanding of why my parents had to leave Slovenia because of Communism and all the rest of it.
I got to understand that today when you talk to modern day young Slovenian people you talk to them about normal things. You have to leave the politics alone because they don’t want to be reminded of those old things again. I was also able to pick up some modern day expressions that Slovenians use amongst themselves. It gave me an introduction to the English grammar and grammar of other languages. It enhanced my knowledge of language. That was the main advantage of keeping that language.
Sarah Robinson: I’m second generation Slovenian and first generation Australian. I was born in Australia. I have been learning Slovenian on and off. Until now two lessons. Not very long and I’m not very good. I know a couple of words. I went to Slovenia almost a year ago. I went for a month and I didn’t pick up much of the language because we spent the whole time travelling around. I listened to people but I couldn’t say or understand anything. That sparked my curiosity to begin learning the language so that I could go there and talk to people rather than just watch them.
Jana Jereb: I’m first generation and we came here when I was six, seven. The language for us became a little bit lost because the focus was on the need to learn English. It was a survival thing. There were lessons at Kew that Draga started. I don’t know whether it was associated with church or because our parents worked six days a week just to get by, Sunday became a bit precious for doing things around the house. We lost the language and the culture at the same time. We always spoke a pigeon Slovenian at home. I’ve been back a few times and it wasn’t until last year when Sarah and I went that I caught up with a cousin of mine who lives in Ljubljana. She was goading me to speak Slovenian “Ah, ti se morš po Lublansk navadit.” [speaking in Slovenian in Ljubljana dialect] (“Ah, you have to get used to speak on Ljubljana’s way.”). “Lepo, Jana, lepo. Ne tak, tako. [“Beautiful, Jana, beautiful, not that, that”] And I thought, “Oh damn you”. I’m going to find somebody so we can learn properly. That was the motivation. The other side of knowing the language is very much part of the identity. I think that is important. That is why I really want to learn. I’d like to be able to read Slovenian authors. At the moment it is just children’s books “pravljice” [fairy tales] and even that is fantastic to be able to start to read. I’ve done two, three lessons a month where we started in late February. We’ve done half a dozen or a few more. When we came back from Slovenia I notice when I tried listening to Slovenian news I find now that I can start following. My listening has really improved. We went to church so that we could hear the language. It’s a very complicated language.
Kate Pristov: I’m third generation. My grandparents were from Slovenia and my dad was the second generation born here. My experience with the language: my grandparents passed away when I was very young before I could even begin learning the language from them. It was only earlier this year when I went over there for two weeks. I started listening and learning more about my heritage. I took an interest in the language and to greater interact more with my father. I’ve only had two or three lessons so I don’t know any Slovenian, only a few words.
Today you have been learning Slovenian language while cooking and making Dražgoše honeybread. Is the concept of learning by doing a good idea, it helps you? How it can be improved?
Frank Pristov: It depends how well people can speak the language. You can only gauge by how much people know, introduce new words to them. If you’ve seen someone for the first time it is a bit hard to improve on things and to compare. At the same time keeping an open ear, an open mind for what people do know. Some people might think they know a word but it could be a slang word or from a dialect. Then you have to correct them and there are issues. What is helpful is working together, learning new words, being shown what an object is. That asks you what is something in Slovenian, and you simply show them rather than tell them. They can translate themselves in their heads. If they really can’t work it out you’ll have to tell them in English and then it makes better sense. Sometimes showing someone and then telling them in English completes the cycle of understanding. By doing something your mind and your senses are all working together. Your body and your speech are being activated that you can remember more.
Sarah Robinson: It is a good idea to do cooking because it gives you some context for your language when you can see an activity or a thing that you can do with it. It also teaches you a bit about the culture and traditions I haven’t necessarily learnt at home but I have been able to explore with others here.
Jana Jereb: It is a great way to learn because it has a practical learning component. I like the fact that we chose, not a dish but it is really a traditional craft. That links you into the culture of your country, of your homeland. A few weeks ago we went through the recipes. I picked a couple out and it put me in a position to find out what the words meant and then do the recipe. I could now go to any of those recipe books and ask for more books to be sent to me so that I can cook at home. We do a lot of simple meals like “žgance” [žganci], “ajdove žgance” [buckwheat žganci], “ješprenj” [barley stew], goulash, “potica” [potica cake] and “štruklje” [special dumplings]. We do a lot of that anyhow but I think it’s nice to be able to explore recipes. It is fantastic.
Kate Pristov: I’m someone who doesn’t know much about. I like learning about the culture. That was great, being hands-on. I like the fact the recipe was written in Slovenian but because I don’t know much it wasn’t as much help for me as it was for other people. As a suggestion you have five words that everyone should know at the end of the lesson. So everyone comes away with something. For example, here are the words or a sentence that everyone should be able to understand. I like listening but in terms of learning new words I learnt one or two. Everything is happening all at once over two hours and I haven’t got a chance to absorb it as much as I could. Whereas if you had at the start, “Here’s the words that you’re going to learn.” You see them throughout the cooking, “Here’s the flour, or here’s the something.” At the end you’d be able to say “Oh yeah I remember that stage now.” But it was really good. I had a lot of fun.
Frank Pristov: The only thing I could suggest is about that we didn’t have any motorised equipment, just hand tools. However, the emphasis is on language rather than doing the work. For example something mechanical such as changing the wheel of a bicycle. You’d show this is the wheel: this is the frame, something like that. But no, cooking is also good. Maybe another dish because with food people socialise and it all works well together.
Would video lectures on YouTube be also helpful? For example video recipes that you could learn at home as well?
Jana Jereb: Yes, I would love to access that and I Google for stuff all the time. [Interviewer: To learn a language?] That is a part of it but my motivation is the cooking. It comes hand in hand and the language is an obstacle that I’d have to find the words to. It forces you to learn. That is great.
Frank Pristov: And knowing where to find these things in Australia. If you are doing a YouTube video clip for Australian Slovenians, then you can say, “These are the ingredients, you buy them at say Woolworths or Coles or maybe Spar in Queensland or IGA or ALDI.”
Jana Jereb: Generations have had this problem. I remember my mum coming out and not being able to cook anything because you couldn’t get anything in supermarkets back in the 1960s. We really like black pudding “pa zelje” [and cabbage], “krvavice” [black pudding]. But where do you find a Slovenian “krvavice” here? [Draga Gelt: The clubs, they make some.] Oh they would, okay. I would like to learn how to make those traditional dishes the traditional way.
Frank Pristov: Also “kremšnite” [vanilla slice]. I had a few of those when I was there this year at Šmon in Bled. They make the best “kremšnite”. It is funny you call it cram… “rezina”. Then you go to a “črpalka”, “tankstelle” [gas station] and you see “kremšnite”. You think “Oh really?”. [Interviewer: In Slovenia a lot of words came from German language.] I used quite a few of them because that’s all I remember. When my father was born in 1911 he was born before the Slovenian language changed. I picked up a lot of his good words. I still use them and when I went back they said, “You still speak like this?” I said, “Of course why not?”
You still cook Slovenian at home?
Frank Pristov: My wife is being Australian. We don’t cook anything in Slovenian.
Kate Pristov: Also dad works a lot of night shift, so he doesn’t get much of an opportunity. But we discovered the way he cooks potatoes is exactly how they cook it in Slovenia. His rounds of potatoes, we went over there and it’s the same.
Frank Pristov: I learnt that from mum. And potato salad. I remember potato salad and finely sliced cabbage, there’s nothing better, and English coleslaw. Anything with coleslaw with that mayonnaise sauce is too sweet. I have never liked it much. My wife loves it and the girls, the children have got use to. I can’t argue with the cook. She likes to cook so I don’t argue with that. I’ll go to work and do the rest. She looks after the kitchen. All my married life I’ve lived like this and I’m not complaining. It pays not to complain too much so it’s good.
Sarah Robinson: I like the stuff my grandma cooks which is fairly traditional, such as schnitzel, potato salad, beans. And “juha” [soup] that’s the highlight.
[Interviewer: You made “potica” [potica cake] in France when they had asked you to prepare something from your country?] Yes, I learnt that from my grandma. Not from my mum though, from my grandmother.
Jana Jereb: This is where cooking is a great link between one generation to the next generation.
Sarah Robinson: Because you can teach it so well.
Here you can read more about Draga’s language courses.
– Dr Elizabeth Tomažič, author of the book From Hands and Hearts: Slovenian Recipes in Australia. Read more.
– Nevenka Golc-Clarke, Hon. Consul for Slovenia in Queensland. Read more.
– Father Darko Žnidaršič OFM, Head of the Slovenian Catholic Mission and Church of St. Raphael in Merrylands – Sydney. Read more.
– Ludvik Štefko, a Slovenian chef and artist with a passion for herbs and spices. Read more.
– Draga Gelt OAM, the HASA Archives and the Slovenians in Australia websites. Read more.
– Sasha Kos and Alenka Caserman, the Facebook groups Slovenci v Avstraliji and Novi Avstralci. Read more.