If you’re about to embark on the journey of learning my beautiful Czech language your first question might well be “Is Czech easy to learn?”. You might have a Czech girlfriend or wife and want to learn Czech to be able to understand their family; perhaps you’re going to live in the Czech Republic and want a head start so that you don’t feel like a complete lemon when you get there; maybe you have business over there or just thought you’d learn for fun. Whatever your reason the answer to your “Is Czech easy to learn?” can be no other than “It depends”.
Is Czech easy to learn? It depends on…quite a few things frankly
Whether you will find Czech easy to learn or not will depend mostly on the following factors:
YOUR NATIVE LANGUAGE If your native language is similar to Czech, perhaps another Slavic language like Polish, Russian or Croatian, you will no doubt find Czech easier to learn than someone whose native language is completely different from Czech, say an Englishman (well, they find learning any foreign language difficult, don’t they :)).
YOUR LANGUAGE ABILITY Have you always been good at languages? Were you the one at school that remembered the vocabulary, different tenses, all the exceptions and just couldn’t understand why others couldn’t? Being good at languages is in our genes, we are born with an ability; some of us can just do it, while others unfortunately cannot. I have tried teaching my husband Czech but he is just one of those people who doesn’t get it and never will…
WHERE YOU LIVE If you’re going to learn Czech in the Czech Republic you’ll have a big advantage over someone who is learning it anywhere else. Obviously! You’ll be learning everywhere and all the time while if you live somewhere else your learning will be limited to perhaps a couple of hours a week. In the Czech Republic you’ll hear Czech all around you, in the street, in the shops, in the pub, on TV, which will make the learning process a lot quicker.
YOUR COMMITTMENT, MOTIVATION AND ONGOING!! ENTHUSIASM We’re all the same, us humans, aren’t we? We start off full of enthusiasm and gradually lose interest. Sure, things happen in our lives and suddenly, language learning doesn’t seem that important anymore. But if you want to get anywhere you have to persist. Otherwise, you will no doubt have to start all over again because if you leave too long a gap you will have most likely forgotten it all.
And now the truth… Is Czech Easy to Learn? Honestly? No, it’s tough!
Ok, so when you first asked “Is Czech easy to learn?” I said “It depends”. And that is, in essence, correct. The fact is, though, that Czech is generally considered one of the most difficult languages to learn. Sorry about that. If you didn’t know already I hate to be the bearer of bad news. So what makes it so hard to learn, you might say. Well, let’s have a simple and easily understandable look at some reasons why…
Words change their form…a lot…
So you see a Czech word in a dictionary or your Czech book, let’s say “rohlík” (bread roll), learn it and think “This isn’t too bad”. Then another time you see a similar-looking word, maybe “rohlíkem” or “rohlíků” or “rohlíky” and think “Is this the same word I learned the other day?”. Well, yes. Unfortunately, each Czech noun (and also pronoun, number, adjective and verb) can have several different forms. This is called “declension” (for nouns, pronouns, numbers and adjectives) and “conjugation” (for verbs).
If your native language is English the previous paragraph most probably already confused you enough. Actually, in Old English, declension and conjugation were rife, just like in Czech. If you’re interested in the various word forms used in Old English, have a look here. In modern English there are some traces of declension left, mainly in expressing the plural form (you add “s” to the end of most nouns to make them plural) and in some pronouns (he→him, she→her, we→us). And of course, conjugation in English still exists because if it didn’t every verb would only have one form and we would say, for example’s sake:
“I be hungry.” – “He be hungry.” – “We be hungry yesterday.”
Looks funny, doesn’t it 🙂 That’s why you change it. Sometimes, you completely change the form of the word, like in the example below where “be” would become “is”, “was” or “were”. It’s still the same verb but quite unrecognizable in its different forms. Other times, you simply add an “s” or “ed” to the end of the verb to express what you want, plurality or tense for example. And that is exactly how it works in my lovely Czech. Only, unfortunately for many foreigners, this happens rather often in Czech.
And then words change for other reasons too! But we won’t go into that this time, we’ll save that until later.
Some letters or consonant clusters are almost unpronounceable for foreigners
Czech has some unusual letters in its alphabet, namely č, ch, ř, š, ž. Apart from those, you will also encounter others that aren’t part of the actual alphabet because they are not considered letters in their own right but rather sound derivations of other letters – á, é, í, ó, ú, ů, ě, ď, ť, ň. But that’s absolutely normal as every language has its “funny” letters and sounds. For a Czech learning English, for example, the “th” sound can be extremely hard to master, indeed. So as long as you’re prepared for the fact that you’re likely to have to get your tongue twisted while learning Czech you should be fine and soon be able to say the popular “Strč prst skrz krk”, which is often the first thing a Czech person will say to a foreigner to show him how “impossible” the Czech language is.
Interchangeable word order
At first sight, the fact that word order is pretty interchangeable in Czech might seem as a good thing. In theory, this should mean that it doesn’t matter how you put a sentence together. However…chyba lávky, as a Czech saying goes. All is not as it seems… The meaning of a sentence can actually change depending on where you put its components. Let’s not get into too much detail right now because I might get carried away and end up with a ten thousand word post, which no one would read 🙂 Let’s just say that if you want to stress a word you just stick it on the end of your utterance and in most cases you should be fine.
So is Czech worth learning when it’s obviously so damn difficult?
Of course it’s worth learning!!! The trouble is although English so wide spread the fact remains that most ordinary Czech people still can’t speak it.. So go buy yourself a Czech course book and get on with it. And that’s all I will say about it 🙂
A selection of Czech phrase books and course books is available on in our store right HERE.
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