Thousands of tourists flock to the Czech Republic, particularly Prague, the nation’s cosmopolitan capital city every year. The allure of Prague is understandable. The country offers much more affordable consumer prices than many of the most visited countries in Europe so travelers on a budget can get their fill of fairytale European cobblestone streets, grand castles, and statues of conquerors on horseback poised to win the nation’s honor without breaking the bank. The most onerous impediment to a smooth visit to the rolling hills of Bohemia is the labyrinthine Czech Republic language.
Aside from native speakers of Polish, Slovak, or other obscure Slavic languages, the ins and outs of the Czech Republic language consistently befuddle its learners. The language’s obscurity is indicative of Slavic languages in general. The system of inflection in the Czech Republic language is particularly confusing while the verb conjugations and the loose rules pertaining to sentence structure are simpler than most other European languages.
A comfortable visit to the Czech Republic is possible without Czech language skills, but even an elementary understanding of the Czech Republic language will open many doors, both from a geographic and inter-personal standpoint.
What Is The Language Of The Czech Republic?
Czech is the official language of the Czech Republic, now officially Czechia. The country's capital, Prague is amongst the most popular tourist destinations in Central Europe. Czech is a niche language: it is spoken by just over 10 million people, roughly the population of Los Angeles County, in an area about the size of South Carolina.
The language is of the West Slavic language family and most closely resembles Polish and Slovak. Native Czech speakers enjoy a degree of mutual intelligibility with their Polish and Slovak neighbors, particularly the Slovaks who shared a country with the Czechs until the nations formally separated from one another in 1993.
Speaking English In The Czech Republic
In the areas of Prague dominated by businesses that cater to the tourism industry, Czechs will speak at least a functional amount of English and display undue eagerness to steer you into their place of business. Outside the city center, the demeanor of the Czech people strikes the average Westerner as standoffish, but don't take this personally; the Czech tradition of keeping strangers at an arm's length is a holdover from the days when a flippant remark about the quality of bread could land you in the gulag for decades.
The dearth of tourism in Czechia provinces and even Prague's farthest-flung neighborhoods means the foreigner must know at least a little Czech to get by outside the capital's vibrant heart.
Understanding The Importance Of Czech
Unlike its neighbors to the West, Czechia is not a wealthy country. Travelers who venture beyond the well-trodden sites along the Vltava will find a country that still bears the scars of Soviet occupation. Many Czechs of the older generations learned Russian in school, but some harbor resentment toward the language of their not-so-long-ago adversary. Speak Russian sparsely, and with care and sensitivity.
In the far eastern part of the country, known as the Sudetenland, many residents speak German, but this is a very limited area. The arrival of the Soviet Union was preceded by the 1937 annexation of the country by the Germans, so there is ill-will left over among some for that as well. The Czech language survived through intentional preservation amid foreign influence. It is an important part of the national identity, apart from this the foreigner should dabble in to complete the Czech experience.
The Czech Republic was under the rule of the German-speaking Hapsburg empire from the 16th century until the conclusion of the First World War. In this time, the Czech Republic language was almost eradicated. Only after a concerted effort to update the language with loan words and neologisms did Czech reassert itself as a major European language. Then, after the Second World War, the Soviet Union took control of the country and sought to undermine the ubiquity of the Czech Republic language by requiring that only Russian be used in public schools.
Basics Of The Czech Republic Language
The basics of Czech are fairly accessible to the foreign ear but, like all Slavic languages, Czech is notoriously difficult to master. This is largely due to the complexity requisite with Slavic declension, also called inflection. The verb conjugations and loose rules regarding sentence structure are simple compared to the Germanic and Romance languages that are found in Western Europe.
Sentence structure in the Czech Republic language is its most intuitive aspect for native English speakers as it follows the basic subject-verb-object structure with which we are familiar. While this is the standard order for parts of speech, there is more flexibility in Czech than there is in English, a useful feature for language learners who do not yet produce sentences instinctively. It is important to remember the Czech Republic language is a pronoun drop language, like many romance languages the pronoun is implied by the verb form. A conjugated intransitive verb can make up a sentence alone.
The inflection in Czech balances singularity and plurality against a case which inflects nouns, adjectives, and pronouns with an added layer of meaning. There are seven cases in Czech: nominative, dative, locative, accusative, genitive, vocative, and instrumental. This means each noun, adjective, and pronoun has 14 iterations, some of which may be duplicates.
Each case is beholden to a group of prepositions which indicate the need to use a particular case. This system makes Czech a concise language because each word contains embedded meaning beyond a word's definition. The advantages of specificity in vocabulary come at the cost of added complexity in inflection; the grammatical practice non-native speakers find most difficult to wrap their heads around. The diagram below outlines inflection based on the case in Czech.
Noun- Hrad (Castle)
Unlike Germanic and Romance languages, Czech has only three simple tenses: past, present, and future. The present and future tenses are formed by adding a suffix to the end of the verb stem to form a simple conjugation. The past tense more closely resembles the English perfect tenses, using a combination of a verb stem and the Czech verb "být" which means "to be." These patterns of conjugation can be applied to all but thirty irregular Czech verbs. To get you started, the table below illustrates the present tense conjugations of some useful verbs.
Verbs ending in -at or -át
Verbs ending in --ovat or -ýt/-ít
Verbs ending in -it or -et/-ět
Verbs ending in -out, -ci
The intricacies of the Czech Republic language may seem like a waste of time and energy, especially for those who intend to spend only a limited amount of time in the country. For the traveler less committed to an immersive experience with the Czech language, the words and phrases listed below will help circumnavigate the need to contend with cases and conjugations, a problem that can be avoided altogether provided the speaker does not want or need to discuss topics outside the purview of basic needs and formalities.
That being said, stereotypes of the Czech Republic language should not be taken lying down. Visitors to the Czech Republic are fortunate in that simple utterances are rarely compromised beyond intelligibility by a misapplied case. Hence, tourists should feel empowered to bring a cavalier attitude to their limited Czech vocabulary, the grammatically clumsy result may make a Czech professor cringe, but native Czechs will appreciate any effort to incorporate their language while you explore their country.
Have a nice day
My name is...
moje jméno je
I am from...
What is your name?
jak se jmenuješ?
Do you speak English?
I don't speak Czech
Please speak slowly
prosím, pomalu mluvte
budu mít ...
Where is the bathroom
kde je koupelna
The Czech Republic language is admittedly cryptic for newcomers to the Slavic language family. Its abstruse quality is widely attributed to the inflection of nouns and adjectives, which is a grammatical idiosyncrasy unfamiliar to native speakers of Western languages. Fortunately, for aspirational Czech Republic language speakers, once you master the cases, the verb conjugations and sentence structures are intuitive. Familiarity with the Czech Republic language shows a genuine desire to engage with the country’s history and culture, and it's a sign of respect that will not go unnoticed by the locals.