Czech Language Basics

Czech Language Basics

If you´re going to be in the Czech Republic for any length of time, you´re going to want to learn at least some of the language. Yeah, it´s difficult, and it´s very likely that you´ll never master it, but the basics are both easy and essential. The following guide is, of course, for beginners; I’ve tried to create a simplified version of what you might see as the first lesson in a How to Learn Czech-type textbook. It’s by no means definitive, and really no substitute to verbal teaching, but nevertheless:

Pronunciation



Most guidebooks will give you some basic Czech vocabulary along with an English phonetic pronunciation. This can be helpful if you´ve got the book in front of you while attempting to communicate – if you plan on learning any amount of Czech, however, the first thing you´ll want learn is the proper pronunciation.

It´s relatively simple – letters generally sound the same despite the words that contain them. There are some exceptions, but unlike English, they follow fairly strict rules, and there aren´t many of them – you´re unlikely to encounter many oddities like “why don´t ‘daughter´ and ‘laughter´ sound the same?” in Czech.

Czech alphabet: a, á, b, c, č, d, ď, e, é, ě, f, g, h, ch, i, í, j, k, l, m, n, ň, o, ó, p, r, ř, s, š, t, ť, ú, ů, v, y, ý, z, ž.

The Letters q, w, and x typically exist only in foreign words.

Vowels are short (unaccented) and long (accented), and can be simplified thusly: pronounce the accented vowels the same as the unaccented, just hold them twice as long. Guide:

a makes an ‘ah´ sound (as in ‘bus´)
e makes an ‘eh´ sound (as in ‘red´)
i makes an ‘e´ sound (as in ‘bee´)
o makes an ‘o´ sound (as in ‘hot´)
u makes an ‘oo´ sound (as in ‘book´)
y is pronounced the same as i

ě makes a ‘ye´ sound (as in the ye in ‘yes´)

The following consonants sound the same in Czech as they do in the English examples:

b (as in ‘bed´)
d (as in ‘dog´)
f (as in ‘film´)
g (as in ‘game´)
h (as in ‘hot´)
l (as in ‘lit´)
m (as in ‘meat´)
n (as in ‘not´)
s (as in ‘sad´)
v (as in ‘van´)
z (as in ‘zone´)

Consonants k, p, and t are pretty much the same as in English, just softer – never with the ‘aspiration´ that they may have in English.

The others:

c makes a ‘ts´ sound (as in the ‘ts´ in ‘its´)
č makes a ‘ch´ sound (as in ‘cheese´)
ch makes a ‘huh´ sound like in ‘Loch´ – with a bit more phlegm
j makes a ‘y´ sound (as in yes)
r is rolled, making a ‘rrr´ sound (same as the Spanish r)
ř is the rolled r combined with a ž to make a ‘ rzhuh´ sound
š makes a ‘sh´ sound (as in ‘she´)
ž makes a ‘zhuh´ sound (as in ‘measure´)

ď, ť, and ň are pronounced slightly different than their counterparts d, t, and n. They´re softer, and sound somewhat like ‘dyuh´, ‘tyuh´, and ‘nyuh´. When these three letters are followed by an ě or an i, they lose the hook but are pronounced the same.

As I said before, all the letters will generally sound the same throughout the Czech language. A few exceptions:

When ě follows an m, a mňe (‘mnye’) sound is produced.

Double vowels: ‘au´, ‘eu´, and ‘ou´ are pronounced fluidly; all other double vowels are pronounced with a very brief pause in-between them.

This is the toughest – paired consonants: occasionally, one consonant is written when another is pronounced. Sometimes b changes to a ‘p´ sound; g to k; v to f; d to t; z to s; h to ch; ď to ť, ž to š. It happens when one of the letters from the first group (b, g, v, d, z, h, ď, or ž) ends a word (led is pronounced ‘let´) or starts a cluster of consonants that ends in one from the second (p, k, f, t, s, ch, ť, š) group (vstup is pronounced ‘fstup´). It also happens vice-versa when the last consonant of a cluster is from the first group (kdo is pronounced ‘gdo´). Only exception: if the cluster ends in v, there is no change.

Sorry to complicate things, but the pairs usually sound similar enough that people will still understand you if you don´t switch them.

Basic Vocabulary

Once you´ve got the pronunciation down, it´s time to move on to vocabulary. Here are some basic words and phrases that you´ll likely need to get around town:

 

English

Czech

Phonetic

Yes

Ano

Ah-no

No

Ne

Neh

Good Morning

Dobré ráno

Do-breh rah-no

Good Day (formal hello)

Dobrý den

Do-bree Dehn

Hello (informal)

Ahoj

Ahoy

Good evening

Dobrý večer

Do-bree veh-chehr

Good-bye (formal)

Na shledanou

Nah skledah-noh

Good-bye (informal)

Čau

Chow

Good night

Dobrou noc

Do-brooh nots

Nice to meet you

Těší mě

Tye-shee Mye

How are you? (formal)

Jak se máte?

Yak seh mah-te

How are you? (informal)

Jak se máš?

Yak seh mahsh

I´m well

Mám se dobře

Mahm se do-breh

What is your name?

Jak se jmenujete?

Yak seh ymenooyete

My name is…

Jmenuji se…

Ymen-oo-ye seh

Do you speak English?

Mluvíte anglicky?

Mloo-veeteh ahngleetskee

I don´t speak Czech

Nemluvím česky

Neh-mloo-veem cheskee

I don´t understand

Nerozumím

Neh-rozoo-meem

Excuse me; forgive me

Promiňte

Promeenyuh teh

Thank you

Děkuji

Dyekooyee

Please; you´re welcome

Prosím

Proseem

How much is it?

Kolik to stojí?

Koleek toh stoyee

Bill, please

Účet, prosím

Oocheht, proseem

Bon appetite

Dobrou chuť

Do-brooh khutye

To your health (cheers)

Na zdraví

Nah zdrah-vee

Do you have…?

Máte…?

Mah-teh

Chicken

Kuře

koorzyuheh

Steak

Biftek

Beef-tehk

Fish

Ryby

Ree-bee

Cheese

Sýr

Seer

Bread

Chléb

Khlehb

Beer

Pivo

Pee-vo

Wine

Víno

Vee-no

Water

Voda

Vo-dah

Where is the…?

Kde je…?

Gdeh ye

Restroom

Toaleta

Toh-ah-lehta

Restaurant

Restaurace

Rehs-tau-rahtseh

Shop

Obchod

Ob-khod

Street

Ulice

Oo-leetseh

Police

Policie

Poleetsee-eh

Hospital

Nemocnice

Neh-mots-nitseh

Train Station

Nádraží

Nah-drazhyee

Airport

Letiště

Leh-teesh-tyeh

Help!

Pomoc!

Po-mots

Fire!

Hoří

Horzyuhee

Thief!

Zloděj

Zlo-dyeh

I want to speak Czech

Chci mluvit česky

Kh-tsee mloo-veet cheskee

 


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