Hello, fellow LingQers. I have a question. I plan on traveling to Vienna in the fall, and have recently decided that, during my stay there, I’ll take a train ride to Prague for a few days. I don’t know any Czech and have not studied any Slavic languages before. I was wondering: any tips on initiating myself into Czech? Should I start with anything different? Should I take a different approach than, say, one would take with a Western European/Indo-European language? I have about five months to learn to be able to, at least, carry a very basic conversation and read a bunch of signs. I think that’ s a realistic goal.

Czech is my first Slavic language too and I find it freaking hard compared to Romance and Germanic languages. Not only are there far fewer recognizable cognates but the Latinesque syntax makes it harder for me to understand in English what the sentence means sometimes. Also, there are just too many cases making grammar tables even more boring to memorize than normal.

Personally, I would get something like the Lonely Planet Czech phrasebook or Assimil or Teach Yourself, learn some phrases of interest to you and use them. I found lots of people in Prague who would try to understand my Czech or give me corrections instead of switching to English. Outside the tourist center I found pubs with only locals who were willing to converse at a basic level (some were pretty drunk though). I just screwed up the grammar and let the locals correct me.

I don’t know if you have been to Prague before but it is incredible.

Thanks for the helpful but unfortunately anxiety-inducing advice! No, I’ve never been to Prague before but I have a feeling it’s incredible.

When I travel to a country where I do not speak the language, I invariably buy a phrase book, and maybe even a small starter book. Invariably I find that I am unable to use any of the phrases, and unable to carry the most basic conversation.

So I would follow chillies’ advice, but keep my expectations low. It is all interesting.

Depending on how much time you have, I would also go through the beginner material in our Czech library. I used it to get started in Czech.


You’re right. I’m turned off to the idea of phrasebooks because they don’t prepare you for the answers you might get to the questions (assuming you remember how to ask the questions).

My expectations are certainly low. My goal is just to be somewhat familiar with how the language looks and sounds. Time to start Czech here.

I enjoy phrasebooks for the example sentence structures they provide. I choose the sentences to learn based more off of the structures I am more likely to use frequently rather than what they are actually saying.

odiernod, you’re right about example sentence structures. I’m doing that in German now–reading through grammar books and taking note of the different syntactical patterns in the examples they provide. If you read through them enough times you memorize them.

Examples are great, and they are more effective once we have had a lot of exposure to the language, so that the examples relate to something we have already experienced. Stand alone phrases up front I find very difficult to remember. But to each his own.

If you’re just going to Czech for a few days, just buy a phrasebook and try and use the phrases when you can. You can always look in your book right before you’re going to say something “One beer, please” for example. It’s only for a few days, so it’s just for fun. And there’s always the international language of pointing :slight_smile:

Prague is completely set up to welcome tourists. Whatever Czech you learn, it will probably be more than what most tourists show up with. Once you learn the pronunciation, you have it. It’s not a never-ending guessing game like English. (Just yesterday I mispronounced a military term I never heard before and the other Americans didn’t understand me, even though it was a perfectly reasonable guess at the pronunciation).

The reason I recommend a phrasebook for Czech is because there is so much grammar to even say some little thing correctly. That’s why I found it easier to just memorize whole sentences (and still do). I tried to study the grammar for Czech and Polish while I was there and ended up always falling asleep. (But if you love grammar this won’t happen to you). If you want to build your own sentences, like I said the locals will correct your grammar for you. If you want a beginner’s grammar book showing the general rules for declensions, you can buy one one here, as well as vocab-based books, etc. Knihkupectví Luxor – Největší výběr knih v ČR It is right in the center and I’m sure you’ll walk by it at some point. Just beware books at this store aren’t cheap. You can buy some used books much cheaper in the US. This one is fifty cents. Or

Thanks. I really appreciate this advice. I’m assuming that the locals will be impressed with even a decently pronounced memorized phrase, which, as you said, is more than most tourists care to learn.

As a native speaker of a Slavic language I propose to learn constructions with verb + infinitive instead of learning cases and inflection of all verbs.

thank you, konsa. ill keep that in mind.