11 June 2012

Czech for beginners

When we were at the FQ retreat last week (yes, that again, but this isn't about the retreat!) I was impressed by the perfect English spoken by several ladies from Germany, Holland and Denmark.  I know you all learn English at school, and probably watch English TV.  But we english learn french and maybe german at school, then promptly forget all about it when we leave.  Why not?  Everyone else speaks English don't they?   I am doubly admiring of them because I am struggling to learn Czech - not a language for the faint hearted.  Many people (well a few) asked me what it was like learning Czech so here it is in a nutshell.

The alphabet is more or less the same as ours with the addition of a few letter wearing hats

ě pronounced like y in yes
č                     like ch in check
ň                    like the first n in onion
š                    Like sh in shirt
ž                    Like si in illusion
ř                    Like nothing else I know!  A cross between the french rolling r and the z wearing it's hat        all   combined somewhere at the back of you throat.

also ch is a letter.  It sounds like the ch in loch and comes betwee h and i which is very confusing when you are looking something up in a dictionary.

If anything has any other accent on top (like the french acute accent) it makes it long.

And the stress in every word is always on the first syllable.

So there you go, you can now pronounce czech.  Unlike English, if a letter is there you pronounce it.   It does get a bit difficult with a word like zmrzlina (ice cream)  where there are 5 consonants together, but it was explained that the r is pretending to be a vowel.  And you can do it with "breaking your tongue" as my friend says!

However the grammar is a nightmare.  Czech children spend half of their school life learning czech grammar rules, unlike the English.  I don't really remember learning much grammar at school.  Do you know what a gerund is?  Or how to conjugate a verb?   The average czech child does!  This makes it quite hard to learn czech.

The main really really bad thing about czech, is the not only do we have to contend with fact that nouns are masculine, feminine and neuter, singlular or plural (not unlike german) but also there are seven different cases.  Depending on how you are using the noun in the sentence, it has a different ending. Sestra (sister), could be


depending on whether it is singlular or plural and what it is doing in the sentence.  I kid you not.

So when you are doing whatever you do on a Wednesday morning at 8.30 CET, think of me at my czech lesson trying to get my head around that!   Needless to say I'm not much further forward than I was 7 years ago when I started!

So that's the end of your czech lesson for today.  Beware, others may follow.


  1. It is funny to read in English about my first language. Good luck in learning. I have a German friend, he learn Czech for two years in Muenchen and took summer skool in Prague and some of my family did not realize, he is not native speaker. What is most difficult in Czech language is the negative. We don´t use only one. We can have several negative in one sentence. I sometimes do not understand to my own people.

  2. Feel I am fairly fluent now. Not! Best of luck for the next seven years.

  3. Consider it a puzzle, like a complicated quilt pattern or something. And do speak as much as you can with whoever will put up with you. I think you will get it in the end but it does not look easy.

  4. hmmm....it makes Swiss-german look like a walk in the park!!!

  5. Oh conjugating verbs... such fun! Dont envy you there, best of luck.... x

  6. You have just scared the living cr** out of me, seeing that we will be needing to deal with Polish and Slovak very soon. Both very difficult languages for English speakers.

  7. Err, good luck with that! I occasionally have very weird dreams where I have to speak French (rather nightmarish actually) but to my dyslexic little mind this looks even more nightmarish!

  8. Keeping my fingers crossed for you. It's really interesting to learn how you perceive the language, especially that my native Polish is quite similar.

  9. Good luck! I'm trying to get a grip on some Czech as I married into a Czech family. I don't know if I'll ever be able to speak it. I've managed to ignore all grammar rules but know quite a few nouns. I would love to take lessons but it's hard to come by in the States. I've got study books but my hubby and I just argue when he tries to teach me. LOL!

  10. I'm seriously terrible at learning languages - that sounds unbelievably hard. Best of luck :o)