Really struggling with Czech

I registered here as I’ve heard a lot about the LingQ and I’m hoping this site can help me.

Firstly Happy New Year and I apologise for the long message, but at the moment I feel really stuck. I’ve been learning Czech for over 3 years now. Initially, I tried all sorts of books, courses, tutors and various websites. I concentrated a lot on the grammar and feel I now understand it well and further doing exercises isn’t really helping me. I have a large vocabularly, which I’ve learnt via using an SRS system and through Czech people I know (My wife is Czech, but we generally speak English to each other).

I’m now at the stage where I can understand almost everything said at natural speed, i.e. I can watch films, listen in on conversations, etc… I’ve had an enormous amount of input in this regard, everyday I watch my favourite TV series, I read blogs and I generally try to immerse myself in the language. However, I have huge problems with actually talking. I can happily do the basic tourist, everyday tasks without problems (i.e. Buying food, train tickets), but when I need to join in conversations and produce more complex sentences I fall flat on my face. I have all of the words in my head, I know what I want to say, but I simply can’t produce the sentence fast enough, and the pressure in my head makes me produce the sentence all wrong. I get annoyed with myself, I lose interest in the conversation, and well you see the picture. I would absolutely say that I’m a perfectionist, but I simply see no improvement in sight.

I’ve tried various teachers, and again, they will only speak Czech to me, but when I need to start saying more complex sentences back, the same thing happens (e.g. Talk about a film or book I’ve just read). I can happily write about it though (i.e. In a non-pressure situation). I think in the end, the tutors get fed up of me as I never seem to improve.

I read with interest various blogs, including Steve Kaufmann’s, and the fluent-in-3-months blog. The fi3m blog makes me feel worse, as I’ve been learning 3 years now, so shouldn’t I be fluent?. I hear all the time about people becoming fluent in these languages in short periods of time, and reading about their methods, most aren’t really doing much different than what I’m doing. As you can imagine, I actually do start saying to myself “Yep, I have no talent for languages”.

Lots of methods, such as Steve’s, indicates that getting lots of comprehensible input will eventually let you produce correct sentences. And believe me, I get lots of input. I watch TV and films everyday, I listen to the radio, music and I also try to read the news in Czech as opposed to English. I even read books on my Kindle, and can often get through them quite happily. I’d say that after work, I spend lots of time immersed in the language everyday. My wife will also at times only speak Czech to me, upon request. The only thing I don’t generally do is listen to the same content over and over again, as I simply lose interest and it just becomes background noise.

I’d be really interested in hearing from people who have ever been in a similar situation and have managed to get through it. 3 years is an awful long time in language learning, and at this stage I should at least be talking and feeling confident. Can’t LingQ help me in this regard, or is it time to just give up and accept that my brain doesn’t like other languages.

To me, you should speak more with your wife in Czech. You are very lucky that you have wife who is native speaker of your target language.


Agreed, and such conversations can be less stressful because you know the person and aren’t worried about making mistakes. My only comment would be that such conversations maybe limited, you are already know each other VERY well, and can probably understand each other even when the language is less than perfect. You’d need to force yourself to diversify the conversation, and it could be quite artificial

A few comments:

  1. You probably speak better than you give yourself credit for. Speak with one of our native speakers here and I bet they will be surprised at how well you speak.
  2. There are always situations where we have trouble saying what we want or even understanding what people are saying, even when we are fluent in another language.
  3. If you do in fact struggle you just need to speak and write more. You also need to build up many natural and handy phrases that you can use. I find that saving phrases at LingQ and then writing out the full meaning in English and then doing the Flash Cards in reverse, having to say the phrase in Czech from the English, can help acquire these phrases in a more active way.
  4. If you have always spoken to your wife in English I doubt that this will change, but surely you are often out with Czech friends where everyone is speaking Czech. I think you just have to be less self-conscious and use the language more, and trust yourself.

I don’t know if that helps but I wish you good luck.

That sounds like amazing progress (and dedication) in three years to me, well done! How many hours a week do you put in?

What gives you the idea that after 3 years of language learning you SHOULD be speaking it fluently? It took me 7 or 8 years in German to speak confidently. After 5 years in Russian I’m conversationally functional, but I wouldn’t say I’m fluent. 2 years into Japanese and I can barely tell you my name and nationality.

Maybe you’re reading some not very realistic language learning blogs?

Steve said: “…If you have always spoken to your wife in English I doubt that this will change…”

There is no real reason why they shouldn’t switch to Czech, is there? (Apart from having a purely psychological problem about doing so.)

I have a friend in Germany who is Italian, but married to a German girl. When they first met (in Italy) they always communicated in English - this being the strongest common language. When they got married and moved to Germany, they continued speaking in English to begin with, while he was enrolled at a German language school. After he’d been there about 6 months they switched entirely to German, which they then spoke for the next 2 or 3 years - untill he was 100% near-native fluent in German.

Right now they are speaking mostly in English again - but he says, when they have kids, the house will be strictly a German-Italian environment!

Such flexibility is possible (and surely very desirable) from a language learner’s point of view?

Yeah, there’s good reason to doubt it but it’s certainly not impossible.

Well, these guys are personal friends of mine, so there’s really not too much doubt about it :wink:


Thank you kindly for the advice:

  1. I have tried this with various tutors before, and yes they often comment on how well I speak, but only at a basic level. As soon as more complicated sentence structures come into play, that’s when I begin to fall apart. If anything, they say I have good, clear pronunciation which I can thank my wife for.
  2. Yes I agree, partly it stems down to not actually knowing what I want to say. That’s why I find writing so much easier, because I have time to think and formulate what I would like to say.
  3. I do exactly this at the moment with Anki. After a long period of not seeing a sentence, I may translate it into Czech quite differently than the original sentence. I then compare what I said with the original, and judge whether I “pass” or not.
  4. Yes we have always spoken in English, so the simple fact that when we have “Czech hours”, I lazily fall back to English when I can’t say something. When we are out with friends, yes they all speak Czech, and ‘sometimes’ I can join in. However, quite often they will speak English to me or I can’t join in on the conversation because it’s about a common past (i.e. Talking about people I don’t know)


Thank you very much for your kind words. The amount of time I put in greatly varies, I work everyday from about 8:30am till 6pm. I try to get some reading time in at lunch time (i.e. News, etc). After work, I will watch TV, films, for as much as I can. I also read for about 30 mins on my Kindle before going to sleep. If the TV series I am watching has a cliff-hanger, I’ll watch the next. I’d estimate anyway between 1-3 hours a day reading/listening and watching. I don’t spend nearly as much time speaking though unfortunately.

Yes maybe the sites I’m reading are very unrealistic. However, on the fi3m blog, he managed to speak better Czech in 3 months than I can to date. That blog, amongst others, seems to have a huge following. Other sites claim similar, e.g. A guy who claimed to have learnt conversation Polish (Quite similar to Czech) after a short stay in Poland and from his knowledge in Russian.


We certainly could switch to Czech but this is much easier said than done. Firstly we can and do easily talk about everyday things to each other “What to buy for shopping”, “What we will do today/tomorrow”, etc. But we’ve been there and done that with English, we got to know about each other in English, we learnt about each other through English. She really does help me whenever she can, it’s me who gets frustrated because I feel I can’t talk.

@p davies

I can understand the frustration - I’ve been there myself at times in the past when I was living overseas!

But you really mustn’t feel bad about yourself. Always remember: Czech may be (arguably) the most beautiful of all the Slavic languages, but it also has one of the most brain-bustingly complex grammar-systems known to man!

No doubt many Czech people would say that they also have to put in a lot of work in order to become fluent in English. However English is, grammatically speaking, one of the more simple languages in the world - so their job is actually very considerably easier than yours! :wink:

Thanks Rank, I tell you though, my wife and many other Czech people would strongly disagree that English is considerably easier. I often have heated discussions (and this is one of the areas I can talk about quite happily in Czech) that Czech is a much harder language to learn than English or let’s say Spanish. Even showing them the declension charts of numbers and some common nouns does not convince people. Whilst I believe than English verbs can be more complex, I believe that you can say much more in English using much less vocubarly than you could in Czech. Also, I found that English people are simply used to foreigners speaking their language, and can easily tolerate mistakes. My wife can understand me when I speak because she is used to my mistakes, I found older people much more difficult to talk to however.

What gets me everytime though is that my wife learnt English just by being in the UK. She came here with virtually no knowledge of English, and after 2 years she can talk quite happily. She didn’t cram vocab lists or do grammar exercises, she didn’t even spend hours on end reading or watching TV. She just seemed to pick it up very easily, like the guy on the fluent-in-3-months blog. She doesn’t have perfect grammar, but can talk without saying “ummmm” every 1 second. I’d love to hear about people doing this with a Slavic language and get their secret :slight_smile:

So. You are telling that you know the grammar quite well and moreover have a quite considerable passive vocabulary.
Looks like all what you need to become fluent is just a lot of practice in speaking and that is also exactly what you seem to avoid doing. Of course there are lots of intolerable people and I totally agree that more inflectional languages are harder to speak without “background thinking”, but at the end of the day all you need to get fluent in it is just to speak a lot. It’s the only way to “automatize” everything that you now have to “control manually” with all those “ummmms” interfering into the process -))

And once again, I would tell that your wife is in a preferable position while learning a non-inflectional language, she has always had comparable passive and active skills, not having to worry about all of the endings for datives, accusatives, instrumental cases and whatsoever. I believe, it’s quite natural that as a learner of a highly-inflectional language you don’t have as strong active skills as your passive skills, but you will certainly overcome it just by speaking a lot and maybe putting some more attention to noticing all of the endings that others use speaking.

By the way, Finnish is coming to LingQ, which is probably one of the most inflectional languages one could imagine. So, you could have a nice time with your wife learning it together and also show her what you’ve been going through all the time :wink:

Good advice, eugrus, BTW, I have found the best way to speak inflected languages is not to think about the inflections when speaking.

As to Benny’s Czech, I have not seen him speak Czech, and doubt if he achieved anywhere near your present level, even by his own admission. I have only heard him read something, which is not so difficult a thing to pull off after a few months, with a little bit of coaching and practice.


From my experience, this is totally correct. I’m learning both Spanish and Polish, and although Spanish does have one of the most complex verb systems I’ve seen, I can still say much more in Spanish after 1 month than I could after a month of Polish. I’ve now been learning Polish for 3 years, and started spanish around a month ago.

I know many native-speakers of slavic languages who say they find English very difficult, and even some who say their language is easier. But it really does take some effort to get used to it, e.g. It took me a while to get used to fact that the word dog in Polish can be “pies, psa, psy, psów, psem, etc…” depending on context, In English, you simply learn the word “dog”, and that’s the end of it :-). I’ve heard Polish people who are learning English say that, just as we have to learn to use declensions, they have to learn “not” to use them.

@pdavies: you sound like you are experiencing the sense of frustration that comes when one is close to a breakthrough. If I were you I would bribe my wife to speak to me in nothing but Czech all through 2012, at the end of which you will be totally fluent.

At the start, you might find drinking Czech beer helps. It won’t help you form more complex sentences, but it will stop you being able to think them up in English and trying to translate them into Czech in your head, which is what I suspect you are trying to do when you are sober.

Best of luck and tell us how you get on!

@pdavies: you sound like you are experiencing the sense of frustration that comes when one is close to a breakthrough

There is this Chinese proverb, by the way, something like “A desire to give up comes right before the victory” :slight_smile:

And, yeah, Czech beer is incredibly great and can be really helpful in many ways)

@Steve: “…I have found the best way to speak inflected languages is not to think about the inflections when speaking.”

I’m not convinced Steve. What you say might be true for someone who has the luxury of 15 or 20 years of continual immersion. But is this really the best and most realistic way for the average learner to achieve an accurate fluency in a case-language?

Many people gave me just this kind of advice when I was learning German…“don’t worry about cases”…“it doesn’t matter”…“relax and try to speak freely”…etc… But I just knew these folks were wrong - at least as far as I personally was concerned.

When I think about it, I don’t believe that I ever encountered a case-phobic foreign learner of German, who had actually learned to speak it both fluently and reasonably correctly - perhaps even after a long time living there. What happens (I suspect) is that people develop a kind of dumbed-down and incorrect fluency - and then get pretty much set in the habit of speaking this way.

(And, of course, languages like Russian and Czech are far more complicated still than German!)

I guess this is a taboo-idea in LingQ-County, but is it not possible that a bit of old school learning-by-heart is the real golden key when it comes to mastering highly inflected languages!?

“I guess this is a taboo-idea in LingQ-County, but is it not possible that a bit of old school learning-by-heart is the real golden key when it comes to mastering highly inflected languages!?”

Thumbs up! I studied Czech, Polish, Serbo-Croatian and Finnish with Assimil courses that expose students to a new case every week or so, and I didn’t learn any declension properly, so I can’t speak any of these languages now (just some Polish). I will need to get back to some Polish declension and conjugation tables quite soon…

@Rank - I would still expect input to play a vital (if not the most significant role) in development in one of these languages. That being said, I understand that Finns and Russians (not sure about Czechs and Poles) have to study grammar in school, and that is when they start to eliminate any remaining mistakes/inaccuracies in their usage. In other words, they (native speakers) don’t MASTER the language (from the point of view of accuracy) until they study grammar at school.

Not sure how true this is, though. It’s just the impression I have, based on those I’ve spoken with.