A Brief Introduction to the Czech Language Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

A Brief Introduction to the Czech Language

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Visitors to Prague and the Czech Republic may be intimidated by the apparent complexity of the local language and the names they encounter. This entry explains how to pronounce Czech and gives a few handy phrases so that you can politely greet the locals.

The Czech language is a type of Slavic, related to Bulgarian, Polish and Russian. It is written in the Roman alphabet, the same one used to write English, but a few of the letters can have accents or little cups on them. Czech is almost completely phonetic - you can tell exactly how a word is pronounced by pronouncing each letter in turn using the tables below.

Knowing how it is pronounced is one thing; actually saying it is more of a challenge, however. Czech goes in for clusters of consonants with no apparent vowels. This is misleading - both R and L can be used as vowels in Czech. For example, the main river that flows through Prague is called the Vltava. While the 'VLT' at the start looks offputting, it is easy to say.

The difficulty in pronunciation is the root of this warning from one researcher:

Never order four of anything. With a Czech-English dictionary you can learn fairly quickly the Czech for 'one', 'two' and 'three', but the word for 'four', ctyri, is pronounced something like 'tshhhtyyrzrzrzrzreeeeee', a sound that Western visitors might find a bit tricky. So if you want to order, say, four bottles of beer, simply order three and then say: 'Oh, and can I have another?'

Nobody expects you to learn to speak Czech, but you should know how to pronounce the names of the places you are visiting. It is also no harm to be able to say a few polite phrases such as please and thank you.

How to Pronounce Czech

Czech uses a very simple spelling which can be easily learnt.

chch in Scottish loch, German acht
jy in yellow
kd at start of wordgd

Some letters have a small cup shape called a caron over them. Unfortunately browser problems prevent them from being displayed in a form visible to all here. Instead, they will be shown with a small u sign after them:

cuch as in church
euye as in yellow
rurzh (roughly)
sush as in ship
zuzh as in zhivago

Vowels are more or less standard European pronunciation:

aas u in butáas a in father
eas e in petéas ay in pay
ias i in pitías ee in feet
oas o in potóas o in pole
uas oo in footúas oo in pool
yas i in pitýas ee in feet

The other letters are all pronounced much the same as in English.

Czech words are stressed on the first syllable.

A Few Handy Phrases

dobrý dendob-ree denhello
na shledanounas-hled-anowgoodbye
mluvite anglicky prosímmloo-vee-tay anglitsky proseemDo you speak English, please?
vchodf-chod (use Scottish ch)entrance
východvee-chod (use Scottish ch)exit
pivo prosímpeevo pro-seema beer, please
cuepované pivocheppo-vanay peevodraught beer
zmrzlinaz-murz-leenaice cream
za platim, prosímza plah-tim pro-seemthe bill, please

When you really feel you're happy with Czech pronunciation, you might like to try your hand at a Czech tongue-twister:

Truistatruiatruicet struíbrných kruepelek prueleteulo prues truistatruiatruicet struíbrných struech.
('Three hundred and thirty three silver quails flew over three hundred and thirty three silver roofs').

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