Gillian Roberts: Czech Can Be Logical and Quite Pretty

Learning Czech brings me so much enjoyment that even though it can be difficult sometimes, it never feels like hard work! I find language learning a joy and of course all languages are unique and beautiful in their own way, but Czech is particularly special.

Maybe the fact that my boyfriend is Czech has something to do with this (…!), but Czech really is quite distinctive. It’s part of the Slavic family of languages, along with (among others) Russian and Polish. Very quickly once you start to learn Czech, you can tell it apart from these languages as it sounds softer and prettier (I think). Czech has a ‘singing’ quality which makes it very nice to listen to!

Although I already speak two other foreign languages (French and German), learning Czech is still an interesting and different experience for me. Czech doesn’t have much vocabulary in common with English, so there’s a lot to learn, and the seven cases of Czech are definitely a challenge! However, Czech is quite regular – it has a lot of patterns in spelling, prefixes and suffixes etc., and once you get the hang of spotting these, things get a lot easier.

Because it’s so different from English, it’s really satisfying when you speak and write in Czech and become more fluent. I’m still getting to grips with spelling and all the diacritical marks, but the link between pronunciation and spelling is always obvious (unlike in English). Czech is a fun language to speak, because you have to really concentrate on forming the vowels and consonants (sometimes no vowels!) quickly enough so that your speech is fluent. When I manage to do this I feel proud of myself! Once you learn the individual sounds, Czech pronunciation is very straightforward, and it’s also easy to understand people all over the Czech Republic because the sounds of Czech are so clear.

Sometimes Czech can be really logical and quite pretty, for example the same word means both ‘moon’ and ‘month’, and the word for ‘November’ means ‘falling leaf’. Other times it can be confusing with funny results – a short way to say ‘yes’ (ano) is ‘no’! Things like this are small pleasures, but the real joy comes when you can show your love for the Czech Republic and the Czech people, and gain a deeper insight into their culture, by speaking their language.

A few tips for learning Czech:

 

Memory

When you read, try to write down the key words (even if you already know what they mean) soon after reading them – this will help improve your spelling and memory. Likewise, when you listen, either to your teacher, a CD or video or a real conversation, practise saying some of the words and phrases (even if it’s just in your head!).

Categorisation

If you’re a good student, you will always be writing down new vocabulary and phrases with their meanings in your own language. However, if you never look back at these, you will forget them. Reading over the words again may help in the short term, but it is still not very effective. A really good way to build up your vocabulary AND develop your understanding of Czech grammar is to categorise new language that you’ve written down. For example, get some coloured pens and go through your list of vocabulary, colour-coding as you go (I use blue for nouns, green for verbs, pink for adjectives etc.). Then write out all the vocabulary again in its new groups, in the different colours. This will help your memory and you can use it as a study aid for doing more exciting things, like building sentences and writing stories.

High-frequency words

I often find when I’m speaking Czech that I don’t know or remember what seem like really obvious words – those little words like ‘really’, ‘kind of’, ‘almost’, ‘still’. These words often slip through the net when you’re learning vocabulary. Making a list of these ‘high-frequency words’ and consciously learning them will really improve your confidence in speaking, as you will have them at your fingertips when you need them – which is surprisingly often!

Gillian Roberts