I plan to expound on my experiences in the Czech Republic more fully, but meanwhile I shall confine myself to some recommending some volumes which would be of great help to anyone desirous of learning Czech. It is now easier than before, because in the last couple of years some very helpful resources have become available.
These are the books I recommend, in the following sequence (getting progressively more advanced):
Whatever else you get, though, make sure you have:
Both of the above are new, and both are unique. The dictionary has a code behind every single czech word, which makes it possible to ascertain, without any doubt, comprehensive declensions and conjugations. This is quite unprecedented, and most valuable! The Confortiova has the benefit of examples. In addition to it, get also the smaller, pocket volume published by INFOA, but beware - it does have some errors in it. Still, it's useful in that one can readily carry it around in one's pocket, trying to memorise some of the standard declensions. However, it doesn't, unfortunately, include the declensions for possessive pronouns:
(More or less the same information can be had in larger, A4 card format also - also published by INFOA.)
The following is also a helpful little volume:
The following two volumes are perhaps more for enthusiasts, as they are entirely in Czech, and intended for Czech users, but I found them very useful from about my fifth month in the CR. They are both beautiful volumes, and are especially useful in having many helpful examples:
Slovnik spisovne cestiny pro skolu a verejnost, by Vladimir Smilaner and Jaroslav Kuchar, Academia, Praha 1998; ISBN 80-200-0493-9, Kc 395,-
I also starting working, letter by letter, through the following dictionary, which includes a lot of useful idiomatic expressions (many regional, some vulgar - so exercise discrimination in what you choose to adopt!). By the way, David Short, the author of Teach Yourself Czech, was a collaborator, and many of the idioms have their English equivalents given - a very useful feature. It's in two volumes, and I found it at the Wilsonova Nadrazi for c. Kc 150,- - that's both volumes together! But I think the official price is also quite reasonable!
And the following book has been a great help - even though it is intended for Czechs wishing to improve their mastery of English, it includes a large number of bilingual examples, and I was able to use it "in reverse", as it were. I strongly recommend it:
At the moment, I am working through the following:
I have also finally been able to find a copy of Michael Heim's textbook, although it seems to be an earlier edition than that cited at the back of Short's Teach Yourself Volume. At any rate - it is an excellent, systematic, compact, and rather brief treatment. I find it extremely useful to me now, but would not recommend it to an absolute beginner. Moreover, it is rather difficult to get hold of! I understand that it may also be had together with some tapes, but at an astronomical price:
The CzEduc CD-ROM is the only material of its kind, and is useful, but I wouldn't advise it for beginners. By the way - refrain from buying what is available in the shops - rather, email the author directly. Otherwise, you will waste 600 crowns buying an initial CD that has only the first six lessons, and still have to pay 1000 crowns buying the complete version! A review of this software may be found at http://mujweb.cz/www/winczeduc/.
I have not used, but quite like, James Naughton's Colloquial Czech volume, which can also be had with some tapes. An excellent new edition has just appeared (1999). Anglictina Express also has a course, with a textbook that may indeed be had separately. It is a briefer and slightly more superficial treatment, but the eight tapes that accompany the book are interesting - they are intended to be listened to whilst one does other things, and by dint of numerous repetitions, are intended to help one get accustomed to the sound of the language (which is rather important - I still find that I can understand things much more easily when they are written than when I hear them in the course of conversation). I have used them to a limited extent. Finally, "Do you want to speak Czech" is perhaps not bad, but is less suitable if one is teaching oneself, and the second volume is intended for both English- and German-speaking users, which renders the volume rather cumbersome. I have the first volume with its associated tapes, but not the second or any of its tapes. By the way, both the books and the tapes are available separately.
To get a bit of practice, get Josef Capek's Povidani o pejskovi a kocicke: it can be had in Czech, in a good English translation, and a splendid CD with Karel Hoger and also a video with Hoger's voice and with excellent animations; also, Karel Capek's Dasenka - a fine volume. A cassette recording is available of Hoger reading from it also.
Richard Brautigan's In Watermelon Sugar is much better known in its Czech translation than the American original, and is quite suitable. It's V melounovem cukru. Many other interesting things are available in Czech translation, if you are really ambitious - Homer (I have Homeros translated by Otmar Vanorny, which just appeared in a fine paperback edition, published by Rezek, 1999), Shakespeare (I have bilingual versions of Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet - rather free translations, verging on interpretations, I fear, but still enjoyable; I gather the Sonnets could also be had in the same edition but, alas, no longer) Tolkein, Joyce (including an intriguing, bilingual Anna Maria Plurabella!), etc., though as yet, alas, only precious little Calvino ("If on a winter's night a traveller" but not "Invisible Cities", "Mr Palomar" or "The Castle of Crossed Destinies"! But it must surely be only a question of time! And you can find English translations of Komensky (Comenius) and of much else besides. One note of caution, though: gerunds, which in Czech are expressed using the "transgressive" mood (used, for instance, a lot by Komensky, and in Vanorny's 1930s Homer translations), are not really in common use, these days, and so one ought to desist from using them in ordinary conversation, tempting as it might be!
As a fascinating curiosity, I recommend the seventeenth-century grammar of Jan Vaclav Rosa, which is available in an English translation - that is, with the Latin text translated into English - the Czech examples are, of course, retained. It shows a number of interesting things: how spelling has changed ("y" instead of "i"), the use of genitive after the negative (preserved, for instance, in "nechvalte _dne_ pred vecerem"); it also emerges that even in those days people pronounced "jsem" and "jsi" as "sem" and "si" ("je" of course used to be "jest", as in t.j. - "to jest", or "Hospodin jest muj pastyr"; and the fact that the ending -ej instead of -y, used in colloquial speech, as for instance in "vybornej", was deemed to be an older form by Rosa. A;so, at one point the author quotes a sentence from the standard Czech translation of the Bible, and explains why it was mis-translated... the transgressive mood was employed, instead of the verbal noun!
Take heart! It's not easy, but it's not as difficult as it is held to be. I had hardly any time to study, yet in a few weeks I was able to conduct rehearsals entirely in Czech, by six months I could converse with fluency (although understanding native speakers is less easy, especially when they speak fast!), so it _can_ be done! It is a highly-structured, logical language, rich in idioms, and highly-euphonious. It is highly rewarding to learn it, and for many reasons - not least the fact that one elicits a very positive reaction indeed from its native speakers, who are comparatively unaccustomed to hearing foreigners speak their own language!
When time allows, I hope add some Czech links, including the main theatres, splendid cafes, restaurants, as well as home pages of friends of mine, and perhaps some photographs.
Some Czech links:
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