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:
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.
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.
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:
Good Day (formal hello)
Nice to meet you
How are you? (formal)
Jak se máte?
Yak seh mah-te
How are you? (informal)
Jak se máš?
Yak seh mahsh
Mám se dobře
Mahm se do-breh
What is your name?
Jak se jmenujete?
Yak seh ymenooyete
My name is
Do you speak English?
I don´t speak Czech
I don´t understand
Excuse me; forgive me
Please; you´re welcome
How much is it?
Kolik to stojí?
Koleek toh stoyee
To your health (cheers)
Do you have ?
Where is the ?
Kde je ?
I want to speak Czech
Chci mluvit česky
Kh-tsee mloo-veet cheskee