Myth #1: It’s the Most Difficult Language In the World
You hear this opinion a lot. I know I have. Fortunately, Dr Ilona Kořánová from the Institute of Bohemian Studies provided a fairly definitive answer as to whether Czech is the most difficult language.
“Certainly not. Every language has its specifics and difficulties. It depends on the individual student; how he/she is generally talented in the study of language; by what method the language reaches him/her; whether the procedure and pace suit him/her, whether he/she has initiative and takes every opportunity to practice what is acquired and further develop it in everyday communication.”
Having said that, The Foreign Service Institute – which trains members of the US foreign affairs community – ranks Czech amongst the second hardest languages to learn. Yet, this applies to English speakers. Which brings us to the next myth…
Myth #2: Slavic Speakers Have the Advantage
Not exactly, according to Dr Kořánová. Of course Slavic languages have some similarities but it does not necessarily give an advantage to speakers of other Slavic languages in mastering Czech.
“Paradoxically however, some Slavic students rely excessively on this situation [of language similarity] and do not study, only relying on what they pick up in class. As a result, on the contrary, students from very distant language groups such as Chinese or Korean, Japanese, can achieve the same results as they do, or even better. It is, therefore, always primarily a matter of personal prerequisites and overall study conditions,” explains Dr Kořánová.
Myth #3: Czech Is a Totally Phonetic Language
This next myth, which I have also heard a few time, concerns not so much Czech’s apparent difficulties but one area of alleged ease. The language is said to be “phonetically spelled”, or better said, it is phonetically consistent.
In comparison to English this is true, but some Czech people still make spelling mistakes. The most common include confusing ‘y’and ‘i’ but also ‘s’ and ‘z’. In fact, there are many more examples which you can find at this website pravidla.cz, an actual website devoted to Czech language spelling rules.
Myth #4: The Language Was Almost Obliterated
Another myth I have heard a lot is that the language was practically extinguished after the Thirty Years War. It was even repeated in Eva Hoffman’s wonderful blend of history and travel Exit into History. While it is true the language lost stature, obliteration (or approximate obliteration) may be too strong. Dr. Markéta Pytlíková from the Institute for the Czech Language explained via email:
“It is so that we write that during the 17th and 18th century Czech shifted from the prestigious and public sphere (nobility, state and science) to the rather less prestigious and private spheres (townsfolk, county folk, personal communication, folk tales, but also religious texts, sermons and the bible), but it was definitely not obliterated.”
Myth #5: Czech Is In Decline
I have to admit I sort of wondered this myself. Walk around the historical centre of Prague and you see a lot of signs in English. On the metro or trams you’ll hear young people drop OMG and WTF into conversations. But does this mean the language is in decline?
Martin Prošek writing for Czech Radio doesn’t think so. While he acknowledges that the Czech language is absorbing words from other languages – which many languages do – and English words are used in technology or digital communication, he questions the penetration in the more prestigious areas of language use. Perhaps it will change in the future – as languages tend to do – but for now Prošek has a point, the language with some adaptations seems quite secure.
If you’re considering a course to learn the Czech Language, you can find a great selection right here.