Czech (Čeština, Český jazyk)
Spoken by: ~ 12 million
Spoken in: Czech Republic
Language family: Slavic

Czech is the official language of the Czech Republic. There are approximately 12 million native speakers.

Phonology Edit

Like Slovak, stress in Czech is fixed on the first syllable of words. Vowels can be long or short. Therefore, 'a', 'e', 'i', 'o' and 'u' each have a lengthened counterpart. There is a distinction between 'soft' and 'hard' consonants. In turn, this distinction is important not only in pronunication but grammar as well.


Mám cizí knihu = I have a foreign book ('cizí' is 'soft', and the accusative feminine form of 'cizí' is identical to the nominative form among others)


Mám zelenou knihu = I have a green book.('zelená' is 'hard' and the accusative feminine form of 'zelená' is 'zelenou')

In spite of this, Czech pronunciation is rather simple despite the intimidating appearance to those unaccustomed to acute accents, hooks, open dots, ů and a few consonants that act like vowels (e.g. prst = finger - pronounced something like English 'perst' but the 'er' sound is quite short. Think of the English word 'bird', it's pronounced like 'brd' rather than 'beerd')

Grammar Edit

Like other Slavonic languages, Czech has elaborate inflections for its nouns and adjectives.

For nouns and adjectives, there are seven cases: nominative, accusative, genitive, dative, locative, instrumental and vocative

There are three numbers: singular, dual and plural. However, the dual is present only in a few instances of declension. In other words, there is neither a complete nominal and adjectival declension in the dual nor dual personal pronouns (e.g. 'we two', 'you two') as in Slovenian and Sorbian.

There are three genders: masculine, feminine and neuter with the masculine divided further into animate and inanimate categories in the declensions of the nominative and accusative.

There are four moods: infinitive, indicative, conditional and imperative.

There are two voices: active and passive.

Because of Czech's inflective nature, personal pronouns are usually omitted unless the speaker wishes to emphasize the subject of a sentence. In addition, syntax can be rather free compared to English as much of the relevant grammatical information of a sentence is revealed in the inflections, suffixes and prefixes of the words. Syntax usually depends on the focus or nuance that a speaker wishes to convey. There are a few rules regarding syntax however.

i) the reflexive pronoun goes in the second position except when used in the past tense

Češu se doma = I comb myself at home (in general, as part of a routine) Já se doma češu = I comb myself at home (emphasizing the fact that it is *I* who *DOES* comb himself regularly at home)

ii) the personal marker of the past tense always goes in the second position

Česal jsem se doma = I was combing myself at home (in general, as part of a routine)

Já jsem se česával doma = I was combing myself at home (emphasizing the fact that it was *I* who was combing himself at home and the regularity of the combing)

iii) adjectives often precede the nouns that they describe (adjectives can follow the nouns that they describe as seen in certain terms used in the physical sciences or in poetic texts). In addition, adjectives must agree with the nouns that they describe.

český voják = Czech soldier (masculine animate nominative singular) velký sešit = big notebook (masculine inanimate nominative singular)

česká dívka = Czech girl (feminine nominative singular)

červené auto = red car (neuter nominative singular)

čeští vojáci = Czech soldiers (masculine animate nominative plural)

velké sešity = big notebooks (masculine inanimate nominative plural)

české dívky = Czech girls (feminine nominative plural)

červená auta = red cars (neuter nominative plural)

Orthography Edit

Spelling is quite phonetic. There is devoicing when a voiced consonant (one with a slight 'buzz') is at the end of a word or is immediately before a devoiced consonant (one without a slight 'buzz') This devoicing is not reflected in spelling.

E.g. hezký = nice (pronounced 'heski' since voiced 'z' precedes unvoiced 'k'. Therefore, the 'z' sound turns into the 's' sound)

E.g. lev = lion (pronounced 'lef' since voiced 'v' is at the end of the word. Therefore, the 'v' sound turns into the 'f' sound)

Czech uses the Roman alphabet with its own twists for English speakers. The different letters for English speakers are: á, č, ď, é, ě, í, ň, ó, ř, š, ť, ú, ů, ý, ž

Letters with "čárka" (á, é, í, ó, ú/ů, ý) represent added length to the vowel. "Háček" (č, ď, ě, ň, ř, š, ž) represents softer pronunciation and therefore different sound.

Common difficulties Edit

The Foreign Service Institute has classified Czech as a "Hard" language. It is estimated that learning Czech to a Professional Working Proficiency in the language (a score of Speaking-3/Reading-3 on the Interagency Language Roundtable scale) will take an average of 44 weeks (1100 class hours).[1]

For English speakers, some of the common difficulties are:

  1. verbal aspect
  2. verbs of motion
  3. syntax
  4. nominal and adjectival declension
  5. vocabulary
  6. pronunciation of certain sounds, such as "ř"
  7. pronunciation of certain words, especially those with clustered consonants ("Strč prst skrz krk.")

Resources Edit

Books Edit

1) Teach Yourself Czech (David Short)

  • It comes with two CDs or cassettes and a textbook.
  • What I enjoyed most about this course was that it had lively dialogues and useful grammar information. It also comes with exercises for each chapter with answers at the back of the book. It also has a chapter that touches on the differences between formal and colloquial Czech.

- What I enjoyed least about this course was that its presentation of grammar was somewhat unstructured and could intimidate the learner at first. In the interest of keeping lively dialogues, it's natural that the language used would have relatively complex structures for a beginner and some idioms. The grammar section of each chapter would focus on the grammatical aspects of each set of dialogues. It would have been desirable if the textbook had included more exercises. 2) Colloquial Czech (James Naughton)

  • It comes with two CDs or cassettes and a textbook.
  • What I enjoyed about this course was that it had good dialogues (perhaps not as lively as those used in Pontifex's course) and useful grammar information. It also comes with exercises for each chapter with answers at the back of the book. It also devotes a chapter each to formal and colloquial Czech respectively.
  • Compared to Short's course, 'Colloquial Czech' has a somewhat better presentation of grammar since the dialogues are designed in a way to emphasize the grammar or theme of a given chapter. It would have been desirable if the textbook had included more exercises. As a first step, Colloquial Czech would probably be a slightly better starting point for the absolute beginner because of its better presentation.

3) FSI Czech FAST course (textbook by Radovan Pletka)

  • It comes with twelve CDs or cassettes and a textbook/workbook.
  • What I enjoyed about this course was that it had practical dialogues and succinct grammar information. It also comes with exercises for each chapter. Most of the exercises are oral and consist of repeating what the speaker says. There are some exercises where you fill in the blanks while listening to the dialogues.

- Compared to Short's and Naughton's courses, the FAST course is quite dry and more utilitarian. However, if you want a course with the most audio, this is the probably the best that you can get. Even though the FAST course's introduction mentions that it is meant for people who need a crash course in Czech and cannot get access to the full FSI basic Czech course (44 weeks), I have never been able to find this full Czech course.

4) A Practical Czech Course For English Speaking Students (Miloš Sova)

  • It is a textbook with 48 chapters (530 pages - including appendices with excerpts from Czech novels and outline of grammar.)
  • What I enjoyed most about this course was that it has lots of exercises and that it builds your knowledge gradually. In addition, it's full of useful grammatical information, albeit it notes that some of the constructions that it illustrates and explains are rarely used in colloquial Czech. It focuses on providing a good understanding of formal Czech rather than colloquial Czech.
  • Compared to more modern textbooks, Sova's textbook is old (published in 1962) and full of outdated dialogues (e.g. it still talks of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, some of the assigned texts are subtle boosts of socialism/communism.). More importantly for someone learning on his or her own, the textbook has no answer key (apparently there is a separate book with answers to all of the exercises, but I haven't found it yet). It's better to use it in a classroom setting since some of the exercises are oral and you will need a teacher or fellow student to help you with exercises where you create your own dialogues.
  • As of September 2011, Indiana University's Center for Language Technology and Instructional Enrichment hosts the recordings in .mp3 of the book's dialogues and readings on its audio archive for Czech under "A Practical Czech Course".

5) English-Czech/Czech-English Dictionary (Josef Fronek) (Published by Leda)

  • This is a larger and better overall two-way dictionary than Poldauf et al.'s version. In Fronek's dictionary, most entries contain commonly-used translations of phrasal verbs between English and Czech complete with the appropriate grammatical cases. It also indicates whether a verb is perfective or imperfective. As a bonus, it also has grammatical tables illustrating the nominal and adjectival declensions and verb conjugations. Almost all entries are linked to a pattern in the section with grammatical tables.
  • This dictionary would be the undisputed master among medium-sized English-Czech-English dictionaries if it weren't for one serious flaw. Namely, it rarely indicates the perfective-imperfective pairs for the verbal entries. For example it's useful that the dictionary indicates 'napsat' as a perfective verb meaning 'to write'. However, the dictionary does not mention that its imperfective counterpart is 'psat'. As such, a learner will have a problem in finding the correct verb to use in a sentence.
  • Avoid foreign booksellers or Amazon if possible as they usually charge a substantial premium on this dictionary (in North America, this dictionary costs about $55 US). Try instead to buy the dictionary in Czech Republic or Slovakia. In Czech Republic, this dictionary costs approximately 800 Czech crowns (roughly $33 US).

6) English-Czech/Czech-English Dictionary (Ivan Poldauf et al.) (10th ed. published by WD Publications or Hippocrene Books)

  • Compared to the dictionary by Fronek, Poldauf et al.'s offering isn't the best overall one. It doesn't show as many examples of idioms in the entries and some of the English translations are a little unusual. However, it has one redeeming feature that makes it worthwhile. Poldauf et al.'s Czech-English section shows the imperfective-perfective pair of verbs in the same entry. This is an invaluable aid for English-speaking learners who have no idea which version of the verb to use. If the compilers didn't include this piece of information in the entries, the learner would on average have a 50% probability of choosing the incorrect verb for use in a sentence.

7) Velký česko-anglický slovník (ed. Ivan Poldauf et al.)

  • This is a larger version of the Czech-English section in the bi-directional English-Czech/Czech-English dictionary in 6) and has the same strengths and weaknesses in 6)
  • Because it indicates explicitly the aspectual counterpart of every verb, its usefulness to a student is not to be dismissed.
  • Avoid foreign booksellers or Amazon if possible as they usually charge a substantial premium on this dictionary (in North America, this dictionary costs roughly $37 US). Try instead to buy the dictionary in Czech Republic or Slovakia. In Czech Republic, this dictionary costs approximately 600 Czech crowns (roughly $25 US).

8) Anglicko-český a česko-anglický příruční slovník (Josef Fronek)

  • This is a very new dictionary containing roughly 50,000 headwords with 90,000 words and phrases.
  • In general it is similar to Fronek's dictionary in 5) but is somewhat smaller. However this dictionary is really designed for foreigners in mind and in my view is a much better choice for the student of Czech. Each entry in the Czech-English section is listed with inflectional hints including the aspectual counterpart for verbs. In other words the dictionary will clearly show the perfective counterpart of an imperfective verb (or vice-versa) for headwords that are verbs.
  • If one cannot find Fronek's new concise dictionary (no. 8) then the second-best solution that I have found is to use Fronek's older dictionary for most situations (no. 5) in this list but then turn to one of Poldauf et al.'s dictionaries (nos. 6 or 7) when trying to determine the aspectual counterpart of a verb.

Audio Courses Edit

Pimsleur offers a course in Czech.

Other Forums Edit

General collection of links Edit

General treatment and descriptions of Czech's learning difficulty Edit

  • A basic profile of Czech (the source of about half of this profile's material):
  • Sketch of Czech
  • A website on language difficulty for native speakers of English

Dictionaries and other databases Edit

Online courses/textbooks, instructional online videos or lists of available course titles Edit

Literature and authentic texts Edit

  • Online resources for Czech literature including literary works in English translation
  • Online Czech reader of texts from the 18th and 19th centuries
  • Reader with selected works from Czech literature including exercises and audio hosted by Brown University

Information on dialects Edit

  • This page has an interesting link to Czech dialects and other Slavonic languages from a Czech perspective:
  • For those who want some information on the Moravian Czech dialects, here are two sites (for these, it's better if you can understand some Czech):
  • Hantec this concentrates on the dialect spoken in Brno - on the left there is a link 'slovník hantecu' which means 'dictionary of Hantec (dialect)')
  • Po naszymu (this is a nice site on the Lachian dialect spoken in Northeastern Moravia. It's especially interesting if you also know some Polish and/or Slovak.)

Bookstores that carry Czech inventory or have material of interest for students of Czech Edit

Institutions or tutors offering lessons in Czech Edit

Downloadable/streamed media Edit

References Edit

  1. U.S. Department of State; FSI's Experience with Language Learning;
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