Czech or Slovak

Discussion in 'Other Slavic Languages' started by dopehooks, Jan 30, 2013.

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  1. dopehooks New Member

    English - Canada
    I have a question pertaining to the Slavic languages family, particularly, Czech and Slovak. But, before I ask my question, I would like to let you all know that I have no real knowledge about any Slavic language in general. I have a few Ukrainian friends who speak Russian, but that’s about it. As for my language skills; I speak English as a native, learned French in school (I live in Canada) and studied Portuguese on my own and found Brazilian correspondents that I speak with via Skype. I’m also very familiar with the Arabic language.

    My question about Czech and Slovak is…which would be more useful to learn out of the two? I plan to visit both countries and want to communicate the most effectively with both peoples, without having to learn both languages. I’ve read so many threads online comparing the two languages and I still can’t come to a decision as to which to study.

    I've read about many advantages and disadvantages when comparing the two. Here are a few of the points that I've gathered. Can anybody validate these statements for me and give me their two cents.
    • Slovak has more Slavic root words, which makes it easier for speakers of other Slavic languages to understand it better than Czech.
    • There aren't two standards in Slovak, as in Czech, so it’s a little easier to.
    • I've also read that Slovak has particular characteristics in its phonology and morphology that make it seem closer related to Southern Slavonic languages; I have an interest in Slovene too.
    • It's harder to find native speakers of Slovak than Czech.
    • There are more Czech speakers than Slovak, and the Czech Republic has a much better economy.
    • Due to TV, movies and the internet, young Slovaks know better Czech than young Czechs know Slovak.
    • Czech has been more popular than Slovak. So the demand, and in turn the supply, for good Slovak learning material is much lower.

    I think basically what I’m trying to ask is which of these two languages would be best to learn if my ultimate goals are to; a) communicate best with the peoples of Czech Republic and Slovakia, b) to learn Russian at some point in the future.
  2. Roy776

    Roy776 Senior Member

    Kraków, Poland
    German & AmE
    I'm not a native speaker of either of the two languages but have learned Polish and, to a certain extent, Czech and Slovak. First of all, for an English native speaker, I'd say that neither of the two languages will be particularly easy to learn, though Slovak would in the end probably be easier.

    • Slovak has less declensional patterns than Czech. For example, the Instrumental plural always ends in -mi and -ami, while in Czech it can end in -y, -i, -ami, -emi, -imi and -mi. Czech noun declensions of course do follow a pattern, but it will be more difficult than it'd be in Slovak to remember which one to use when.
    • Slovak has some pronunciation rules not represented by its orthography. This happens less in Czech. Slovak is easier for me to pronounce, though.
    • Czech has a special letter (Ř) which can be quite difficult to master.
    • (Highly subjective) Slovak seems to me a little easier intelligible with knowledge of only Polish (which is another West Slavic language). They have more basic words in common than do Czech and Polish.
    • Verb conjugations are a little more regular in Slovak, too, though Slovak sometimes employs diphtongs where Czech does not. Example: Czech vědět (1ps. vím) and Slovak vedieť (1ps. viem).

    Anyway, though Slovak might in the end be easier to learn, I think you should go for Czech. As Czech has the more complex declensional patterns and you learn more possible endings, for example for the instrumental case, you will not be caught off guard when suddenly hearing an instrumental form that ends in -y in Czech but in -ami in Slovak, as you know that -ami is also an instrumental ending in Czech. With this I mean that it's easier to adapt from a more complex morphology to a simpler one.
    And last but not least: No matter which of the two languages you learn, there will be false friends or words that sound similar but can take different meanings. E.g. the above mentioned vedieť in Slovak has two corresponding verbs in Czech: umět (know how to) and simply vědět (to know). Anyway, I see Czech and Slovak people writing with each other all the time (e.g. on Facebook), so at least the written form is almost completely intelligible to speakers of the respective other language.

    I hope I could help you a little bit, but I'm not a native speaker. This is just my personal experience with Czech and Slovak. And unfortunately I cannot say anything to your question if either of the two will be of help in learning Russian, as I've got no experience with it. Though the basic grammar should be the same.
    Last edited: Jan 30, 2013
  3. Janulka Senior Member

    Hi Dopehooks,
    your problem is quite a dilemma:) But lovely to hear that somebody abroad wants to learn our languages - doesn't matter which one - as in reality most of us are still Czechoslovaks. I can assure you that if you learn just a few words in Slovak and say them in the Czech Republic, people will adore you:) I guess it works the other way round as well.
    All the arguments you mentioned are absolutely true as well as what Roy776 added.
    Czech is a bit more complex, but it's easier to find learning materials for foreigners, it's a bit more expanded as well. But if you have greater chance to meet Slovaks than Czechs, then go for Slovak. Slovak might be a bit more helpful when learning Russian.
    But to be honest, the difference is too small for logic reasoning:) I know an American who worked in Slovakia, married a Slovak woman and learned Slovak, today he works as a teacher in the Czech Republic and has no problem with communication, he started to understand Czech and we can all understand his Slovak (which sometimes sounds a bit too Czech:).
    Good luck!
  4. wtfpwnage Member

    Well the languages are pretty much the same.

    Addressing your points.

    1/ Disagree, some Slovak declensions might be a bit closer to other Slavic languages but the reason why for example Polish people have harder time understanding Czech is due to pronunciation
    2/ There are not really two 'standards' in Czech. The written Czech differs in only like two declension patterns plus there are still people pronouncing the old way (In Moravia for example) ex: On je pekny (written Czech) vs: On je peknej (Normal spoken Czech)
    3/ Don't know
    4/ Probably true
    5/ I guess so
    6/ True, but since the languages are so similar (I say they are the same although not really) all Czech people understand Slovak
    7/ Probably true

    a) Probably Czech but does not really matter imo. b) Probably Slovak but does not really matter imo. (Pretty sure a person speaking perfect Slovak [By perfect I mean native level] would not learn Russian faster than a person speaking Czech)

    I would start out with Russian though, it is not harder than Czech (probably easier although still debatable) but the amount of people you will be able speak with (even amongst non-natives) is so much higher.
  5. wtfpwnage Member

    The languages are completely intelligible even when spoken at a very fast pace. Accents are quite similar as well (More similar than lets say London X LA)
  6. Hrdlodus

    Hrdlodus Senior Member

    About usefulness
    Czech republic is larger country, wester, economic and technologic advanced. So more practical is Czech.
    We had united countryto 1993. Our languages are very similar, so both nations understand themself. But Czech (republic) were always stronger, so culture and politicy was more in Czech (language). So today Slovaks understand Czech more than Czechs understand Slovak. But differences are very small. Slovak sounds differently, but looks like dialect than other language. The reason, why Czechs understand less, is, that in Slovak are
    some words other. (Example: "vím" (I know) and "viem" (I know) are similar, we understand. But borůvky (blueberries) and čučuriedky (blueberries) are different words.) There are not many of such words. But I dont know, if for foreigner it will be so easy, as it is for native Czechs.

    I think, that Slovak is nicer. Slovak sounds softer than Czech and I like it.

    About Russian and other Slavic languages
    Other Slavic languages (mainly for younger generation, because people had to learn Russian and travel to west was prohibited) are for Czechs basically unintelligible. There are similarities and with great effort is possible to understand. But I think, in studying of Russian can be Czech or Slovak for foreigner useful only in principles of grammar or if you will speak good Czech or Slovak. Slovak probably letter better, Slovak is slightly closer to Russian.

    What are the two standards?
    Last edited: Jan 30, 2013
  7. Roy776

    Roy776 Senior Member

    Kraków, Poland
    German & AmE
    I know, I meant completely intelligible, no problems at all.

    He was most probably talking about Literary Czech (spisovná čeština) and Common/Colloquial Czech (obecná čeština). They're not really two standards, but they have differences in some cases that would definitely need to be learned.
    Last edited: Jan 30, 2013
  8. morior_invictus

    morior_invictus Senior Member

    Hi dopehooks,
    I`ll make it easy for you :) - if you really want to learn Russian in the future, then go for Slovak. It will be much easier for you to learn it. And don`t worry about the supply of good Slovak learning material. If you really want to learn it, you`ll find a way. ;) And of course, I would help you if it was difficult to get such material. :)
    If you search for some topic dealing with the issue „hardest languages to learn“, you`ll find that the reverse is the case. ;)
    :thumbsup::thumbsup: :)
  9. wtfpwnage Member

    Jako rozdil mezi cestinou a slovenstinou je tak malej ze fakt much easier naucit se rusky nebude. Ani neberu slovenstinu jako jinej jazyk a kdyz mluvim o cesku nebo cestine tak tim myslim i slovensko.
  10. Roy776

    Roy776 Senior Member

    Kraków, Poland
    German & AmE
    Really? Well, it might just be a highly subjective opinion again, as I've learned Polish and the declensional patterns of Slovak looked alot more like Polish than the Czech ones do (Polish also has fewer declensional patterns) and the verb conjugations were also more similar to Polish. But I can't say much about the pronunciation here. I haven't been exposed to spoken Slovak all that much. Maybe some of the difficulty lies right here. Anyway, it all in all seemed much easier for me, but even so, I never could convince myself to switch from Czech to Slovak.
  11. wtfpwnage Member

    Well the differences in conjugations/declinations must be minimal because I have not even noticed any to be honest. I know they dont use the 5th case and maybe few patterns change but it sounds very naturally since the words are spelled/pronounced differently. I think the main different actually is in pronunciation because the words are the same (I mean they technically are not the same but vim x viem, du x idu, čo x co) about 95%+ vocabulary is either identical or with this much of a difference at most.

    Once I had a dialog with this guy from Slovakia and he spoke with a clear Czech accent (we were both like 17 at the time and his parents and everything are Slovak) and it took me like 15 minutes till I even realize he talked in a different language.
  12. Encolpius

    Encolpius Senior Member

    Praha (Prague)
    magyar (Hungarian)
    What you have written all is true. I think you should learn both languages at the same time. I doubt it you'll become soon fluent and perfect and later you can improve one of them....Only when learning them both you can realize how close they are....
  13. Roy776

    Roy776 Senior Member

    Kraków, Poland
    German & AmE
    You might be right there, but if he's unlucky he might confuse them with each other at times due to their similarities.
  14. Encolpius

    Encolpius Senior Member

    Praha (Prague)
    magyar (Hungarian)
    First he might confuse them, but there are no serious false friends and first it would be just fun and I think both Czechs or Slovaks would understand even the mistakes. And I keep saying making errors in spoken language is alwasy a great chance to start a new interesting conversation. :)
    And hear some "Czecho-Slovakian" what I can hear from some Slovaks starting to speak Czech is always nice. Unlike other nations Czechs and Slovaks do not care much about lingustic purism at all.
  15. LilianaB Banned

    US New York
    I think you should learn the one you like more, phonetically -- they sound different. Secondly, I agree with Roy -- Slavic languages are not easy to learn -- to speak one of them well, you may need at least five years of studying. If you really want to learn Russian, as you dream language, then don't waste too much time on other languages -- just learn the basic phrases, because learning Slovak or Czech, if you really want to speak Russian, may confuse you even more. And the languages are not totally intelligible, especially when people are talking about more serious matters -- business, politics, etc. I know Polish and I understand Slovak really well. I don't really understand Czech that well, especially then someone speaks fast. I may even understand it less than Ukrai8nian, Belarusian or even Bulgarian.
  16. dopehooks New Member

    English - Canada
    Wow! I didn't expect this many helpful replies in a single day!

    Let me clear this Russian thing up though, I'm not learning Czech/Slovak as a 'gateway' to Russian. It's just that I read online that learning two Slavic languages from different families (East, West & South) would make learning/understanding any other Slavic languages after that super easy. This may only apply to native Slavic language speakers though, I donno. I just figured if I learn Czech/Slovak really well and if this 2 Slavic languages rule really is true, I might as well learn Russian too for Career/Academic purposes.

    Reading this really made me feel this isn't as big a deal as I'm thinking it is. Made me feel good about this.

    This is true, I might mix them up. From what I understand so far though, even if I did mix them up, I probably would still be understood or could make myself understood relatively easily.
  17. wtfpwnage Member

    Polish people told me that speaking Czech and Russian won't make you understand Polish. I know a girl who speaks perfect Czech, Russian and Ukrainian and claims she understand all Slavic languages (Not sure though)
    I speak perfect Czech and I am a beginner at Russian. Don't really understand any other Slavic language (I don't consider Slovak a different language)
  18. TriglavNationalPark

    TriglavNationalPark Senior Member

    Chicago, IL, U.S.A.
    Slovenian (a.k.a. Slovene)
    MOD NOTE: Personal language learning advice is outside the scope of our forum, but I left the thread open because the topic -- the relationship between Czech and Slovak --was relevant. However, the topic has now been discussed at length, so I'm closing the thread.

    You may discuss the topic further in THIS thread.
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2013
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