For English speakers, the Czech Language is tough, there's no doubt about it.
The US Foreign Service Institute classifies Czech as a Category III or "hard" language, (along with Finnish, Russian and Vietnamese) meaning that a native English speaker should reach "Professional Language Proficiency" with 1100 hours of class learning. As a comparison, French and Spanish are Category I, requiring 600-750 class hours, while Arabic & Chinese are Category IV requiring 2200 class hours.
Fortunately in Prague, you can mostly get by with a few key Czech phrases for restaurants, shops and on-the-street interactions. But matters can get dicey when you need to speak with a postal worker or government bureaucrat. Those can be harrowing experiences if you don't have some knowledge of Czech.
When Czechoslovakia threw off the communist yoke in 1989, Russian language teachers were now tasked with learning English and simultaneously teaching it. That means that they were often one chapter ahead of their students in their English textbook than their students. You can imagine that these students "learned" English this way for 12 years and really didn't learn much.
Do I have to learn Czech to live in Prague?
On one hand, there's a lot of opportunity to teach English, or to do jobs in international companies that require English only. Native English speakers are highly valued as language school teachers, much more than a native Czech speaker teaching English.
On the other hand, you will inevitably encounter someone you need to converse with who does not speak English and is not inclined to try.
Here's the general rule of thumb:
If you encounter a Czech person who speaks a little English, they will definitely want to speak it with you, they will be polite and welcoming.
If you encounter a Czech person who doesn't know English, like an older bureaucrat or a postal worker, they might feel annoyed that you don't speak their language, and they might feel threatened by the influx of foreigners and will treat you rudely or not help you at all. They will not take it upon themselves to find their one colleague who can translate the situation, they will simply speak only in Czech or send you away.
All this to say that while yes, you can live in Prague without speaking Czech, but we really recommend trying to learn.
Czech is a beautiful complex, language and the more you learn it and use it, the more the city and the people will open themselves up to you. Almost every day I read or hear a word or expression I learned the day before and it feels like I'm unlocking some secret door to the Czech people and their culture. After a while as an expat, you want to differentiate yourself from the tourists, and the best to do that is to invest your time, money and energy in learning the language.
In this module, we'll go over the ways we've learned Czech to give you a head start before you arrive in Prague. Let's get started!
Make yourself a plan
Here's how we do it. We divide up the skills you want to improve and then we allot a certain amount of time each week into those categories. Keep yourself a journal of your progress. There are various ways to accomplish each skill, so mix it up so you don't get bored. Most of all, don't give up. Slow and steady wins the race.
Based on the FSI recommendation of 1100 study hours, give yourself a goal of realistic time you can spend on each task. If you spend 20 hours per week, you'll have professional proficiency in a year. Can only afford to give it 10 hours per week? You'll get there in 2 years.
Can't afford to give language learning any time? You'll be stuck operating in the touristy city center and overcharged like a tourist.
In your language learning journal, write all the possible activities you can do to improve your Czech. Make a plan to devote XX hours to some of these tasks every week. Make sure to check off your hours each week as you progress.
Building listening skills
- Listening to YouTube videos made by native Czech Speakers
- Listening to Audio of Czech speakers while you do chores or run around town
- Listening to Czech Radio
- Watching Czech TV shows, carding new vocabulary from the subtitles
- Watching Czech TV shows without subtitles
Building reading skills
- Perusing street signs, menus, newspapers for new vocabulary
- Making & studying flashcards of new vocabulary
- Doing grammar exercises in a Czech textbook or online
- Reading Czech blogs
- Reading zrcadlo knihy (mirrored) texts
- Reading online articles
Building speaking skills
- Speaking with a native Czech speaker
- Taking a Czech language course
Building writing skills
- Write a Czech email
- Converse with a Czech email pal
- Journal in Czech
We'll get into each of these steps in the next lessons. See you there.