I love learning languages, always did. I treat it as a puzzle which helps me to see the bigger picture: a particular culture. I tried many. To some extent, I think it scrambled my brain as I learned the hard way how much speaking a language changes your way of thinking.
These days, by the side of my girlfriend, I am tackling the Czech [even now, when we live in Portugal]. It is the same language family, but I think that fathers (and mothers) of our nations decided to make fun of each other. Up until the moment I tried it, I've had a very Polish perspective on it: it's a hilarious version of Polish [the number of jokes about our neighbors' language circulating the country is quite high]. Damn' I was wrong. Well... it is funny but there's so much more to it.
Chrząszcz brzmi w trzcinie w Szczebrzeszynie [A beetle buzzes in the cane in Szczebrzeszyn.] - this is probably the most famous tongue-twister from my motherland, and I am able to pronounce it without any problems, just like this one of my invention:
Sześciuset sześćdziesięciu sześciu szepczących, bezwzględnych szabrowników. [Six hundred sixty six whispering, ruthless looters.]
Scared? If you do not have a Slavic base you most likely should be and are. Polish is exercising almost the whole speech engine of a human being, except of stretching vocal cords as it is very much focused – according to my perception – on the articulatory apparatus. The outcome of having such a base is a high flexibility but also habits which are hard to kill without proper preparation (f.e. very distinctive r) and underdevelopment of some muscles needed for sounds in different languages. The habits which I found very difficult to get rid of when facing Czech are: accent, shortening of sounds and the letter 'h'.
Accent... In Polish, generally speaking, it is always in the same place and it falls on the second syllable from the end of a word, but when speaking nobody cares about it [it is important when you learn the language, though]. What is more – all the sounds are pronounced always the same and are marked with up to 3 letters. Czech not only has accent – of course placed in a different spot (on the 1st syllable to make a long story short) – which is important but also demands remembering when to use long vowels. Polish is not that cruel but makes the learning process that bit harder.
Sounds... both our languages share a lot of similar sounds and that is very confusing as the mind knows that there should be some difference pronounced, but your tongue, muscle memory sucks here, knows better.
H... It is a letter used in a lot of languages, and in Polish, Czech and English it is basically the same. In Central Europe a very similar sound appeared and started to be marked with 'c' + 'h'. History simplified it for Poles and both 'h' and 'ch' are, to a regular citizen, the same in pronunciation. Czechs kept the difference and it is very important as some won't ever understand what are you saying if it is not said properly. When I was traveling for the first time solo to my lady's hometown, Cheb [btw, she just told me I still can't say it right], the driver of a bus didn't have a slightest idea about where I want to go. Personally, the last time I was tormented like that by a language was when I tried Arabic (true story!).
Nonetheless, we continue to learn our languages, and this way we want to get closer to each other and – hopefully! – at some point talk to our families freely...