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How difficult is it to learn Czech?

Educational center GoStudy

2 July 2023

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"A few days after arriving in the Czech Republic, it seems that you are perfectly capable of understanding almost everything. After a month, you realize that you actually can't make sense of even half of it. After a year of hard study, you will finally be able to speak Czech and at the same time realize that it really is not the easiest language to learn!

So is the Czech language difficult or not and what does it take to learn it? Alexandra Baranova, author of the GoStudy blog, answers the most frequently asked questions."

What kind of language is "čeština"?

The Czech language (Czech. čeština) belongs to the Slavic group of languages. In other words, despite the fact that the Czech Republic is located in the very center of Europe, its language has nothing in common with French or, for example, Italian. However, Ukrainians, Poles and Slovaks feel quite comfortable here – particularly when it comes to communication.

Where to start learning Czech?

"All I want is a quick way to start speaking, don't really need grammar, I understand a lot anyway, and the alphabet is similar to English," - that sounds like the most common request of the students coming to the Czech Republic. And this request is also the most ill-judged one.

"In order to obtain high-quality and long-term knowledge, it`s best to start learning Czech, or any other language for that matter, with the basics, that is, with the alphabet. ""čeština"" uses a version of the Latin alphabet, consisting of 42 letters. The main principle of this alphabet is ""one sound is one letter"". To indicate sounds that are not phonetically close to Latin, the following diacritical marks are used: ""charka"" The placement of diacritics does not always obey the logic; still you have to keep in mind that sometimes the presence or absence of the ""charka"" or ""gachek"" totally changes the meaning of the word. There are three main verb tenses in Czech: past, present, and future, but the infinitive always ends with a hard consonant. A significant role is played by the auxiliary forms of the verb ""to be"", which in addition have a very particular placement. In a Czech sentence, a dash cannot replace a verb, as is sometimes the case in Ukranian – there is always a verb in a sentence here. In this case, you can draw parallels with English.

In spoken Czech, adverbs are almost never used. Many prepositions and verbs in Czech are used in an unusual case for a Ukrainian speaker (genitive instead of dative, accusative instead of genitive, etc.). Nouns in Czech are divided into types depending on three characteristics: gender; softness or hardness; animateness or inanimateness. The latter distinguishes only masculine nouns.

The stress in Czech always falls on the first syllable of a word and has nothing to do with the length of vowel sounds. Sentence construction in Czech is distinguished by the certain patterns and the set placement of some words (reflexive particles se, si, auxiliary forms of the verb být, etc.)."

Is it worth learning the language via Skype?

In order to learn a language, you need to immerse yourself in it as much as possible. And therefore, the efficacy of learning a language via Skype differs significantly from the result that can be achieved by being immersed in the language environment and constantly communicating with the native speakers.

When am I going to start speaking?

Subject to taking the regular and frequent classes, it is possible to grasp the basics of Czech in the span of 2 to 3 month. By this time, you will have memorized common Czech phrases to be able to maintain a basic conversation on everyday topics like ordering food in a restaurant or a cafe, buying tickets or booking a hotel room, telling something about yourself, planning your off time, or exchanging news with your Czech friends.

How well do you need to know the language?

There are several levels of knowledge of Czech that correspond to the international system: A1, A2, B1, B2, C1 and C2. B1–B2 level is necessary to feel comfortable and be able to deal with the state authorities all by yourself. In order to get admitted to a university the B2 level certificate is required. If you are planning on teaching Czech, working as a translator or working in government, you are going to need C1 level knowledge. C2 corresponds to the native speaker level.

How to get rid of the accent?

How to stop being embarrassed of making mistakes?

There aren't that many geniuses in our world, and that's okay. Just remember that there is no such thing as a universal speed of mastering a foreign language – for each one of us the learning process goes differently. Practice your speaking skills with those who are well disposed to you, and make sure they correct you on your mistakes.

Why take classes if I have no problem communicating with my buddies?

There is a significant difference between spoken and literary, proper Czech. Learning the language "live", during the conversations with your friends, you are most likely to master the spoken version. But in order to study at a university or work, you need solid academic knowledge and advanced literacy, both in oral and written language.

Which one to choose: a tutor or classes?

All learning methods have their pros and cons. The advantages of private tutoring include an individual approach, a flexible schedule of classes, the ability to work on the material you struggle with for as long as you need to; the cost of such tutoring usually becomes a negative factor though. The classes usually offer a more intensive and interactive program at a better price, which is an ideal fit for a people person who prefers studying and working in a team and not alone. And combining the group and individual forms of studying, you can achieve some really impressive results.

How else can I learn the language?

"Do you remember the ""full immersion"" principle, which we discussed at the beginning? Switch your phone and computer to Czech, buy or download several books to read (those have to be of varying degrees of difficulty), watch TV shows, listen to the radio, go to the cinema to watch Czech movies, install applications on your smartphone to help you memorize new words. Don`t pass on the real-life communication. Give yourself time, be patient and get ready to work systematically and regularly and have fun in the process of doing so.

And remember: there has never been a case where a person who really wanted to learn a foreign language could not do it. So believe in yourself and you certainly will succeed in it all!"

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