Kosovo police English fiasco highlights general language problem among Czechs

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Last year twenty Czech policemen volunteered to serve in the international police force in Kosovo. They embarked on several months of training, courtesy of the Interior Ministry. That training included English lessons, to enable them to communicate with their colleagues from other police forces around the world. But there was a nasty surprise in store when they got to Kosovo. The Czech Interior Ministry's idea of English proficiency wasn't quite what the United Nations had in mind, and after a few weeks some of them were sent home because they couldn't understand anything. Zuzana Smidova has the story.

The Czech government has been keen to avoid a repeat of last year's fiasco. Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan turned to his British counterpart Robin Cook for assistance, and a fresh batch of Czech policemen were taught English with the help of the British Council in Prague. Mr Cook, in Prague this week for talks with Czech officials, attended their graduation ceremony. So now they're ready to go, although there have been reports in the media this week that they've changed their minds because the money's not good enough.

But the incident highlighted shortcomings in the standard of foreign languages among the Czech police, as I discovered when I stopped one young police officer sheltering with a group of colleagues from the rain. Interestingly, new research shows that Czechs are confident about their knowledge of foreign languages, more confident then Poles or Hungarians. But the reality is often very different. Obviously many Czechs speak excellent English as well as many other world languages. But their confidence - more then half of the population say they're comfortable communicating in a foreign language - is rather exaggerated compared with the finished product. The standard of foreign languages among Hungarians and Poles is similar to the Czech Republic, but they are rather more modest. When only 24 percent of Hungarians and 20 percent Poles have the same confidence as their Czech colleagues.

Author: Zuzana Šmídová
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