The official language in the Czech Republic is Czech, which is spoken by 96% of the population. However, have no fear, as especially in larger cities you can make yourself understood in English relatively easily. Older generations of Czechs can speak Russian, and you could also try German. French, Italian and Spanish are not widely spoken. Czech is also very closely related to Slovak and Polish. Slovaks and Czechs can generally understand one another.
The Czech language is special because sentences are not necessarily determined by word, but instead by inflection. Part of the West Slavic languages, the term inflection in the Czech language refers to the fact that the endings of words change.
Who Speaks Czech and Where is it Spoken?
You can find natives that speak the language of Czech throughout Europe in places like Austria, Poland, Germany, Ukraine, Croatia and in Romania. In addition, there are more than ten thousand Czechs that remain in Slovakia even after the break-up of the Czechoslovakian Republic in 1992.
There are also locations outside of Europe that also speak Czech, but in the United States, a large number of Czechs have settled in to cities like New York, Chicago and Cleveland while others have maintained their livelihood in the farming communities throughout Texas, Wisconsin and Nebraska. There are nearly 100,000 Czechs currently living in the United States.
The Origins of Czech
The Czech language dates to right before the beginning of the 11th century, as it began to separate from its protolanguage of ancient Slavonic and this is where we find the initial signs of its existence. Because of this, it’s been accepted widely that historians will now consider Czech as a documented language.
As the Middle Ages progressed, Czech became a quite intricate language that also had a prose of many genres. Soon the language began to spread outside of the national territory and was especially popular in the area of Upper Silesia and Hungary. The language then influenced other languages like Polish.
Czech Basic Phrases
Learning a few Czech words and phrases will not only make your stay in Prague easier but it will always delight the locals, who will be pleased at your efforts and admire your trying.
Hello – Dobry den – (dobreh den)
Good morning – Dobre rano – (dobreh rahno)
Good evening – Dobry vecer – (dobreh vehcher)
Good Night – Dobrou noc – (dobroh nots)
Good bye – Nashledanou – (nas-klehdanoh)
Please – Prosim – (proseem)
Thank you – Dekuji – (dyekooyi)
Yes / No – Ano / Ne – (ano / ne)
Excuse me – Prominte – (prominyte)
My name is – Jmenuji se … – (ymeenooye se)
How much? – Kolik? – (kolik)
How long? – Jak dlouho? – (yak dloh-ho)
Where is … ? – Kde je … ? – (gde ye)
I’d like … – Chtel bych … – (khtyel bikh)
I do not understand – Nerozumim – (nerozoomeem)
What time is it? – Kolik je hodin? (kolik ye hodeen)
Can I have a …? – Mohl(a) bych dostat … ? – (mo-hla
What is it? – Co? – (tso)
How are you? – Jak se mate? – (yak-se mah-te?)
Do you speak English? – Mluvite anglicky? (mlu-veete
1 – jedna – (yed-na), 2 – dve – (dvye) , 3 – tri – (trzbi), 4 – ctyri – (chti-rzhi), 5 – pet – (pyet), 6 – sest – (shest), 7 – sedm – (sedm), 8 – osm (osm), 9 – devet (dev-yet), 10 – deset – (des-et)
The bill, please. – Prosim, ucet. – (pro-seem oo-chet)
Waitress! – slecno – (slech-no)
Waiter! – pane vrchni – (pane vrkh-nyee!)
Unfortunately, Czech is a highly complex western Slav tongue and can be quite difficult to learn. Many English speakers find it very hard to pronounce. The good news is that, apart from a few special letters, each letter and syllable is pronounced as it’s written. The trick is always to stress the first syllable of a word, no matter what its length; otherwise you’ll render it unintelligible.
If you are keen to learn some basic words and phrases we recommend a Czech phrase book from Lonely Planet. There are also courses for English tourists willing to learn the Czech language.
There are 42 vowels and consonants in the Czech alphabet, and most of the consonants are pronounced about as they are in English. In the Czech alphabet, letters which feature a “háček or little circle” (as in the č of the word itself) are considered separate letters and appear in Czech indexes immediately after their more familiar cousins. More confusingly, the consonant combination ch is also considered as a separate letter and appears in Czech indexes after the letter h.
Pronunciation for some Special Letters in the Czech Alphabet
ch like the English h
ř like rs in Persian
č like ch in church
ě like ye in yes
j like y in yellow
c like ts in tsetse
ň like the n in Canute
š like the sh in shine
ž like the s in pleasure.
Worried that You Can’t Understand the Czech Language?
It is always better if you know the language which is used in the country you are going to. However, it is not necessary. If you talk English or German you are all set in Prague. English is well spoken in Prague’s central restaurants and hotels, and among the city’s younger generation.