Resources to Help In Learning Czech

There are many fine dictionaries and courses which you can buy - believe me! I've probably bought most of them! This page hopefully will help you to choose from what is available and also give you an idea of where to look for help. I will only list items I have actually bought and used, so I am not recommending any unseen texts or dictionaries, and perhaps my comments concerning them will help you in your learning. I would also stress that this is entirely subjective, and I make no apologies for that. Others may swear by books or courses that I do not recommend, but that is their view, and that, too, must be seen as completely subjective. The links will take you to Amazon.co.uk, but I am sure that if you are located outside UK you will be able to search other sites for the books.

The first book my wife and I bought was the inappropriately-titled Czech in Three Months by Elisabeth Billington. At that time the cassettes were not available, so we struggled along with the text alone, and our new friends helping with pronunciation. The title, of course, is totally misleading, but the book served us well at the time. I still find it useful for checking something, and, in fact, as my knowledge of the language has improved, I find it more useful now than it really was in the early days.

If I were to recommend a course now, after buying several over the last five years, It would be Communicative Czech by Ivana Resková and Magdalena Pintarová. There is an elementary course and intermediate course, there are workbooks available for each and cassettes too. They are not so easy to find in UK, but can be purchased in Prague quite easily.
[I bought the entire course together from a bookshop close to Staroměstské Náměstí. I asked if I might get a discount by buying everything at once. The initial response was negative, but I asked to see the manager and he offered a 10% discount. Being from Yorkshire, i had already mentally calculated the total price of the items, and the discount price, so when the cashier totalled the prices and deducted the discount, and quoted me a price which was higher than the original cost I was able to immediately challenge it as wrong. Perhaps it was because we were close to the tourist centre of Prague? Anyway, I was able to show the "mistake" (adding one item twice!) and got the discount. (Beware of the tourist scams around that area. Another popular one is giving change for 100kč when you tendered a 200kč note.)]
I find that this course is the best I have seen for beginners. I really recommend it.

Another book I have bought after seeing recommendations for it is Colloquial Czech by James Naughton, published by Oxford University Press. My personal view is that this book is fine when you have some grounding in Czech, but I found it difficult at first, and from a complete beginner's point of view I think it would be quite hard. Nevertheless, I now view it as a very useful addition to my language-learning arsenal.

Chcete Mluvit Česky, and Chcete Ještě Lépe Mluvit Česky are both useful additions to my library too. Not so good for beginners, certainly the advanced one is not, but again I found very useful parts in them both. They are not easy to obtain in England, but most of my textbooks I bought while on holiday in Prague. The bookstore in Wenceslas Square on the corner with Vodičkova I have found very productive for textbooks and courses (see the first floor - where is there is a small cafe too). [ EDIT March 2005: In the bookshop just mentioned I saw a workbook for the first volume of this series. For beginners I think it would be useful, especially if studying alone.] Walking toward the river along Národní there is a good small bookshop on the right-hand side.

Another course which is very simple, and again I have used it occasionally, is Učíme Se Česky by Karel Kamiš, which is also published in two parts. It is classed as for foreigners, but has the appearance of a child's textbook.

The following items are not textbooks as such to teach the language, but I have found them to be extremely useful. A colour chart "Map of Czech Grammar" published by INFOA, and also published by them, Přehledná Gramatika - Čeština. Use the search box on the home page at www.infoa.cz to see these items. They present grammatical tables in an easy to read form, and in a small space. The second of those is pocket-size. Very useful for quick reference, when you know what the part of speech should be, but cannot recall, or have not yet mastered that part of the grammar. The booklet Česká Slovesa - Czech Verbs in Practice is also useful. Again it is not something I work through as a textbook, but use occasionally.

On my most recent trip I bought a book entitled 401 Czech verbs by Bruce Davies and Jana Hejduková. I find the declensions of Czech verbs in it helpful, and also the pairings of perfective and imperfective verbs. The idiomatic use of verbs is touched on too. I disagree with the suggestions for Czech pronunciation found in it, however. It is written with a sense of humour, though, which I found to my taste.

Dictionaries

There is a plethora of dictionaries available but only two that I possess and that I would unreservedly recommend. The first is the excellent Josef Fronek Slovník. I cannot imagine using any other dictionary for serious language work at home, but it is a little unwieldy for use on holiday. For that reason I also have Kapesní Slovník by Jiří Kučera a kolektiv and published by Nakladatelství Olomouc

Online Resources

There are few sites really worth mentioning, for me, although there are many sites available. www.bohemica.com is very comprehensive. From there you can find an excellent online course that will supplement the home learning you are doing, although I notice that the course is under construction - so just how extensive it will become I am unsure, and also links to an abundance of other online resources. I really cannot recommend it highly enough.

From a beginner's perspective, My Czech Republic and its sister site Local Lingo are very good indeed. The forum on the first site is well-supported and helpful. The latter site has useful soundbytes to help with pronunciation, an introduction to Czech grammar and some interesting idiomatic expressions. Again I recommend them very highly.

My Method

I ought really to underline the word my in that heading, as it is entirely personal, and probably not to be recommended as a language-learning method! I tend to "dip into" textbooks, which is another reason why I have several. My preferred method of learning now is not to follow a textbook through from beginnning to end, but rather to solve a problem. I want to know how to say a particular thing in Czech, so I go to several books to learn how to say it, what is the correct grammatical construction, and in doing so I find that I have learned a complete construction, which I am able to use and adapt to differing situations. I also then learn the exceptions, one by one, as I find that what I have learned doesn't always work!

Other Useful Items

From a second-hand bookseller we bought Pohádky a Povídky pro malé čtenaře, a child's book of fairy-tales, well-illustrated, which uses simpler language. We also found bilingual texts an interesting aid to reading Czech, and we have Dubliňané (Dubliners) by James Joyce and Veselé Paničky Windsorské (The Merry Wives of Windsor) by Shakespeare in this format. The text is English on one page and the facing page has a Czech translation.

Books with which you are familiar in English may also be of help. We have a book which we knew as children and bought in Czech translation - Správná Pětka - Pětka na Pašeráckém Vršku - Five Go To Smuggler's Top - Enid Blyton(ová). Another favourite book of mine is Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine, which I bought in Český Krumlov - Pampeliškové Víno.