Believe it or not, the Czech language is one of the easiest to learn, with only a few little hurdles you’ll need to overcome – one of them being pronunciation. The Czech alphabet has 41 letters, some of which are not pronounced the same in Czech as they are in English, take for example the letter c which is pronounced “ts” in Czech.
Besides the different pronunciations of familiar letters, just like in any other Slavic language, there are hard and soft versions of letters as well as letters with accents. It’s precisely these accents that can make learning difficult, but once you can understand what each of them means and how to pronounce them, the rest is a breeze… Almost!
Alas, today we’re not discussing the pronunciation of letters and words, but the proper way of addressing different people in Czech. If you are an American in the Czech Republic trying speak the language, then by all means, make sure you know the proper way of addressing people, or just give them a heads up that your an English speaker before you start a conversation, otherwise you may get off to the wrong start.
In the Czech Republic, you address an elder or a stranger differently then you would a family member, or a close friend. If you are not using the correct way of addressing someone whom you don’t know, it could be very offensive to them, not to mention, embarrassing for you.
#1 Czech Language Faux Pas
Whenever you are talking to a stranger, elder, or someone with higher ranking then yourself (i.e. a professional, a doctor, a professor, etc.) you should address them as if you were talking to a group of people rather then an individual, and remember that using the person’s title is particularly important when addressing them.
It’s all about salutations and formalities.
In Czech language and culture, this method is considered polite and is a common courtesy. And trust us, it’s a big deal there so pay attention.
“Vykání” is what it is called and Vy/Vas/Vam are the plural and proper way of addressing strangers.
Here is an example of how you would use Vykání in a sentence,
“Dobrý den pane Smith, jak je vaše rodina?” meaning “Good day Mr Smith, how is your family?”
If you were to say this to someone you know really well it would be said more like this: “Ahoj Smith, jak je tvoje rodina?” translated as “Hi Smith, how’s your family?”
If you want to be nice and official you should use “pane” for men, and “paní” for women, this is the equivalent of “sir” and “madame” or “Mr.” and “Ms.”
“Tykání ” is the informal way of addressing friends (the opposite of Vykání) and you should only use it when conversing with close friends and family…
Sometimes Czech-Americans will not mind but it is always better to ask.
In some Czech families, they still do not use the informal tykání, even with parents and especially grandparents.
Here’s where it gets confusing, “Jak se máte?” even though it sounds duo to the “t” – like it would be tykání, is actually the formal way of saying “How are you?” “Jak se máš” is informal.
Another example of the tricky t’s is when apologizing. In this case, you would use “Promiňte” formally and simply “Promiň” when addressing a friend. But if you really want to say you’re sorry correctly, you should say “Omlouvám se”.
Have we confused you enough for today?
It takes a long time for some people to get the hang of this (my mom), whereas others pick it up right away (my sister). The easiest way to remember is that when you are speaking formally, speak as though you are talking to a group, and when you’re speaking with your close friends, just relax and be happy you’re speaking Czech at all!
If this is a bit too complicated for you, check out the post we wrote about basic Czech phrases for beginners!
Better yet, CZECH out this language course: The Pimsleur Method – Czech.