Learning Czech: As Easy as Memorizing Strč Prst Skrz Krk
One crazy tongue twister reveals the ups and downs of the Czech language
Learning Czech can be very challenging for expats: even Czech’s have difficulty fully mastering its complexities. Strč prst skrz krk is a popular tongue twister that means to stick your finger through your throat. Surprisingly it isn’t the only sentence in Czech that doesn’t have vowels. Beyond revealing that Czechs love consonants and that everything is pronounced exactly as it’s written, it highlights the unique awesomeness of Czech humor.
According to a study by the Foreign Service Institute, Czech is a category IV language because of its significant linguistic and cultural differences from English. This study suggests that it would take 44 weeks or 1,100 hours for an English speaker to learn Czech.
There are several factors that make Czech a difficult language to learn including genders and cases. Czech has three grammatical genders like most European languages. ‘Hrad’ (castle) is masculine, ‘klobasa’ (sausage) is feminine and ‘pivo’ (beer) is neutral. Frustratingly, these genders are completely different in each European language so knowing that ‘house’ is neutral in German won’t get you very far in Czech.
Cases make a big impact on the difficultly level of languages. English, considered by many to be one of the easiest languages, only has three cases: subjective, possessive and objective. Czech on the other hand has seven: nominative, genitive, dative, accusative (these same four cases existed in Old English) and also vocative, locative and instrumental.
This means that a word can have 14 possible forms in singular and plural. While this may seem quite daunting, remember that it is likely for some forms to be the same in several places for each paradigm. For example when conjugating the word kost (bones) there are only six different word endings. Pán (gentleman) on the other hand has all 14 with two variations in four of the cases.
Pronunciation is one of the things that make Czech easier than many languages. Sure it may be difficult to get the hang of pronouncing the letter ‘ř’ and read sentences such as the vowel-less tongue twister. However Czech has a set sound for every letter: so once you learn to pronounce each letter it is easy to read Czech text without memorizing difficult rules and exceptions.
For a country that is technically only 23 years old, Czech is a surprisingly old language. Dating back to the 10th century (some even say 9th) Proto-Czech is the oldest recorded version of Czech. The only written documents during this time were in Latin and Old Church Slavonic which makes tracing the history of Proto-Czech difficult.
The first written Czech started appearing around the middle of the 12th century primarily used for Czech names in foreign texts. According to Citarny.cz, the oldest Czech sentence was found in the 13th sentence and shows unusual letters not found in modern Czech.
The sentence is: “Pauel dal geſt ploſcoucih zemu Wlah dal geſt dolaſ zemu bogu i ſuiatemu ſcepanu ſe duema duſnicoma bogucea a ſedlatu.”
Today it would be: “Pavel dal jest Ploskovicích zem´u Vlach dal jest Dolás zem´u bogui svatému Ščepánu se dvěma dušníkoma, Bogučeja a Sedlatu.”
The Czech language prospered under Charles IV who was the emperor during the 14th century. During the country’s many periods of occupation the language declined and German threatened to take over. From the founding of Czechoslovakia in 1918, Czechs kept fighting for their language and deliberately kept it the dominant language in a very multi-lingual country that also spoke German, Hungarian and Slovak .
According to Verbix, 9,250,000 people speak Czech today. It is spoken mainly in Austria and of course the Czech Republic. The other countries that have significant number of Czech speakers are (in alphabetical order) Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Israel, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Ukraine and the United States.
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