Czech Language Basics

A beginner's guide to the Czech language

Expats.cz

Written by Expats.cz
Published on 03.02.2006 17:52 (updated on 03.02.2006)

Jason Pirodsky

Written by Jason Pirodsky
Published on 03.02.2006 17:52 (updated on 03.02.2006)

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.

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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