A cluster of consonants can be read most everywhere in the Czech Republic: zmrzlina (ice cream). One would wonder about its pronunciation.
Few people approach this language. Yet, many foreigners can work in the Czech Republic nowadays, and when it comes to tourism this country has much to offer. So knowing the language to some extent can be useful.
Studying Czech can be less challenging than expected. For instance, the stress is always on the first syllable. And the stressed vowels (á, é, etc.) are long. Only ú (again a long vowel) is written with an accent at the beginning of the words, and with a circle above it in the middle and at the end of the words (ů).
Some words are very short, consisting of a letter (k, u, v, z). Others consist of consonant clusters, or are made up of consonants only: krk (neck), vlk (wolf).
There are few pronunciation rules that need to be learned, and then any word can be read without hesitation. For example “c” is pronounced TS (ocet = vinegar), č is CH (bič = whip), š = SH (škola = school, pošta = mail, koš = basket), ch = H as in “horse” (dech = breath).
Once the pronunciation understood and learned, half of the study is over. Words will then be memorised (vydra = otter, lev = lion, zed’ = wall). Words have a Slavic sound. There are few false friends (drop = ceiling). Veda means science, being one of the few words of Sanskrit origin.
The nickname “sir” is Pane, and it can be followed by names or professions (lady = Pani). Yes is ano, no = ne. Sem means here, and tam means there. Thus, pronunciation is generally easy and it can be learnt effortlessly.
It is interesting to discover the initial meaning of some words (zábava = fun, which can mean “a free moment”). There are also surprising words for elements related to culture: the theatre is called divadlo, music is hudba, and art is umění, unlike in most other languages. At the end of plays and shows, we will hear the word opakavat (Encore!).
During the study breaks, we can have a beer from the Czech Republic: Nazdar! (cheers).
Article by Nadia Esslim