To come to the point - I don't speak Czech. But thanks to countless trips to the Czech republic,
I got used to the language gradually and increased the number of words I know. And - quite important -
learned how to read Czech. The language belongs to the Slavic language group,
which I am quite familiar with. However, knowing other Slavic languages is only useful to a certain level.
In contradiction to most Eastern and some Southern Slavic languages, e.g. Russian, Bulgarian, Macedonian or Ukrainian,
the Roman alphabet is used in the Czech language. So much about the good news. Additionally,
many diacritical marks, i.e. special characters with signs above or below (in Czech only above)
the roman letter, are in use.
At first sight, the regular 26 roman letters, so to say the English alphabet, are in use.
But all in all 15 diacritical marks need to be added (in German only three).
Czech diacritical marks can be divided into four groups:
- Vowels with čárka ("acute accent", accent aigu):
á, é, í, ó, ú, ý.
These vowels are simply lengthened. The ý
is pronounced as a long [ee] as in [bee].
The use of é and ó is usually limited to
Vowels with krouzek (circle): Actually there's only one: ů,
which is technically the same as ú, e.g. pronounced as the [oo] in [boot].
This vowel can be seen very often.
Vowel with háček (hook): Limited to ě, which is
pronounced as the [ye] in [yes]. As far as I know, this letter can be found in all Slavic languages.
Consonants with háček (hook): As there are č, ď (capital: Ď), ň,
ř, š, ť (Ť) and ž. These diacritical marks a bit more complicated.
č is pronounced as the [cz] in [Czech]
ď is pronounced as the [du] in [duke]
ň is pronounced as the Spanish [ñ/ny] in [cañon/canyon] in "cañon"
ř is very complicated and a mix of [r] and [zh] spoken at the same time. To make
things worse, this sound has a voiced and unvoiced version. Better ask a native speaker for the
proper pronunciation (or simply mutter a [rzh]). As far as I know, this sound is unique and doesn't exist in any other Slavic language.
š is much easier and pronounced as the [sh] in [share].
ť is pronounced as the [tu] - in [tube].
Last but not least ž, pronounced as the soft [s] in [ casual ].
There are more pronunciation rules to be aware of. The letter C is always pronounced as the [ ts ]
in [tsar]. ch is pronounced as the same in the Scottish word [loch] (phonetical symbol:'x').
[CH] is treated like a single letter - words and names beginning with [ch] are to be found right after [h].
The Czech R is not rolled but a so-called 'tongue-r', quite similar to the English [r].
The good news is that, keeping the rules above in mind, Czech words are pronounced as written. This means
that sch is not pronounced [sh] or [sk] but [s-ch(x)] and [ou] is [o-u].
Being able to read a language is highly important when buying tickets or ordering in a restaurant.
To give an example, most travellers make the mistake to pronounce →Cheb as [tsheb], which
would be simply unintelligible to the ticket vendor, because the proper pronounciation, written in phonetical symbols, is [xeb] and
therefore completely different. By the way - in Czech, the stress is always put on the first syllable.
As in Polish and some other Slavic languages, Czech language suffers a lack of vowels.
Some words are just a conglomerate of consonants without a single vowel, and so the ignorant visitor
might think 'What the hell is this!? A quiz?' An example par excellence is Vlk zmrzl, zhltl hrst zrn -
obviously a tongue twister. It means [A frostbitten wolf is gulping down a handful of grain]. Another nice word is
čtvrthrst, which is a 'quarter handful'. The word Zmrzlina, meaning
'Ice-cream' can be seen everywhere. However, for people having some knowledge of Slavic languages it's possible to unveil the
mystery. The word Vlk (wolf) is [wolk] in Russian. The word hrst (handful) is [ gorstj ]
in Russian (there's no 'h' in Russian, so it becomes 'g'). Polish is quite close to the Czech language, so they can understand each other or at least
get the main idea. However, the closest language to Czech is Slovakian.
Comparison of words:
When travelling around Eastern Europe, it's inevitable that one gets in contact with Slavic languages. To master
Slavic grammar and vocabulary can be challenging at the beginning, but after a while it's fun to
find out common facts and similar vocabulary. (This of course excludes Albanian,
→Romanian, since they are not Slavic).
The interested traveller will soon discover things in common, which can be seen in the table below.
Especially formal words such as 'Good day' are almost the same in every language. However,
the diversity of Slavic words for simple expressions like 'Thank you' can be frustrating.
Attention: According to the preferences of your computer, some cyrillic and diacritical letters might not be
displayed correctly! In that case, please click the following link:
→Table of Slavic words in GIF-format [19kB].
||Table of important words in several Slavic languages
||да / da
||не / ne
||Good day (f)
||How much is...
|Ile to kosztuje
|Kolik to stojí
voz2 (also vlak )
Note: Pronunciation is given following international rules. To make it easier to find
out similarities, I applied a colour code. Yellow = Czech vocabulary and similar
words. Red = Bulgarian (as Bulgarian has developed from Old Church Slavic) words
and similar vocabulary. Blue = Polish.
Purple = Ukrainian, Russian.
Nowadays, Serbo-Croation is not seen as one language but as three different languages -
Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian. However, above vocabulary is virtually the same in all
three languages. Serbian (above) is written in cyrillic, Croatian and Bosnian (below) is
written in Roman letters. Pronunciation is almost identical.
2 I'm not sure whether these words really have the same origin.
It's just an assumption.
3 ђ (in Croatian Đ ) is close to the pronunciation of the [ja] in [jam]
4 In some languages also used as [sorry] (=forgiving).
For more information on several Slavic languages, please refer to the following
links within this website: