Czech language cheat sheet received in class.  The handout covered the Czech essentials such as words and phrases, greetings, numerals and more.

Students receive a Czech language cheat sheet  in class. The handout covered the Czech essentials such as words and phrases, greetings, numerals, and more. Photo by Mary Betz.

I’m not easily intimidated or flustered, but I have to admit that the Czech language has my head spinning. It’s not that I can’t be bothered or don’t want to learn, but I feel as if it’s more of a technical difficulty within my brain and mouth connecting.

Just looking at the Czech language in a written form sends my head spinning.  I feel that there are some spoken languages and other written languages that are simply easier to adapt to, but the Czech language isn’t one of them, at least for me.  There are many reasons why the Czech language is a difficult one to learn: cases, declensions, conjugations, participles, but most importantly the tongue-twisting pronunciations.

Anglo-American University teacher giving a crash course on speaking the Czech language.  Some students' nerves were calmed after they received some basic knowledge regarding the Czech language from the instructor.

Anglo-American University teacher giving a crash course on speaking the Czech language. Some students’ nerves were calmed after they received some basic knowledge regarding the Czech language from the instructor. Photo by Mary Betz.

Months before arriving in Prague, I checked out CDs promising an easy way to learn the Czech language. I think the word “easy” must have many connotations because the Czech language is far from easy or simple.  I unfortunately gave up listening to the CDs very quickly after hearing some tough words, so I learned very little.

I was actually able to demonstrate my very limited vocabulary at Monday’s brief introductory class to the Czech language at the Anglo-American University. I felt proud of my few sayings and the ability to say the words with the right intonation and pronunciation.

It is the pronunciation of the Czech words that has me most intimidated. My brain and mouth can’t seem to work together to get the Czech words out. It is the letter combinations that we don’t have as Americans that seem to absolutely terrify me. Looking at all the z’s and j’s almost send me into a panic attack at the thought of having to say them aloud. The other letter combinations like the sh’s, tr’s, ju’s and ja’s are even harder because the pronunciation of these letters are nothing like I expect it to be.

I’ve recently learned that there even words that don’t even contain vowels!  A phrase that can demonstrate this best is “strc prst skrz krk”,  which means “stick a finger through your throat”, and humorously enough is the sound the language can make when spoken.

On day five I finally felt comfortable enough to use my new Czech words in public. I heard the other students use the basics enough that I thought I could handle it.  I was able to use both the Czech versions of ‘thank you’ and ‘excuse me’ successfully when I interacted with a waiter.

Everything I’ve read about learning the Czech language stated that it isn’t harder than any other language to master. An online article by Prague TV about learning the Czech language sympathizes with new learners and even offered some tips.

  • Keep the learning process in a realistic perspective.

  • Any previous foreign language experience is an advantage.

  • Using the language will make you feel less of an outsider.

I know I shouldn’t be so nervous about using the language, as no one expects me to be a professional at it.  I do take some comfort in knowing that even Václav Havel, the first president of the Czech Republic, doesn’t pronounce all the Czech sounds correctly.

I just need to relax and try speaking the basic words more often and over time I will gain more confidence.  I’m challenging myself to use my limited vocabulary daily. Hopefully in a few days time, I will be a little more confident with the Czech language.

Dry erase board in Czech language class at Anglo-American University.  The instructor teaching the students about the Czech language uses written language to demonstrate how the words sound. Photo by Mary Betz.

Dry erase board of Czech language inside Anglo-American University classroom. The instructor taught the students about the Czech language with written language to demonstrate how words sound. Photo by Mary Betz.

 

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