Summer school of Czech underway

Prague's Faculty of Philosophy

Those of you who are learning the Czech language might be interested to hear this week's edition of Talking Point. Summer schools of Czech are taking place in a number of Bohemian and Moravian cities and hundreds of foreign students have come to the Czech Republic to polish up their Czech. In this week's Talking Point Pavla Horakova visits a lecture here in Prague and talks to the students and organisers of the Summer School of Slavonic Studies at Charles University.

I'm standing in the lobby of Prague's Faculty of Philosophy. Although it's the middle of the summer holidays, the building is buzzing with life and I can hear various foreign languages being spoken in the corridors. The reason is that the Summer School of Slavonic Studies is underway and almost two hundred foreign students of Czech have come to Prague to improve their language skills. I spoke to two of them during a break between their lectures.

"My name is Yuri and I'm from Amsterdam."

"My name is Alexander and I'm from London."

Why are you learning Czech?

"Because Czech is a very nice language, I like the country and I really want to speak good Czech."

"It's a rather long story. I lived in Russia in the 1980's for five years and took it up again when I was fifteen and needed a second language to do when I applied to Oxford University so I decided to do Czech since it was related."

So you have no Czech background at all...

"Not at all."

"Not specifically a Czech one but kind of general Slavonic background."

How long have you been studying Czech?

"I've been studying Czech for one year at the University of Amsterdam."

"And I've been doing Czech for a couple of years now at Oxford University."

What is the biggest problem in Czech?

"I think the declensions because the Dutch language has no such thing and the 'vid' - the aspect of verbs is very difficult for me."

"Well, actually the biggest problem posed to me is the fact that the similarity of the two languages I study is something which was to my advantage when I first began Czech because Russian obviously helped a lot. But at this level the differences between them which are subtle in some cases are more important than the similarities."

Is this your first time in the Czech Republic?

"No, I come here quite often."

"I've been here a few times before."

Just as a tourist or to learn?

"To learn, to work, and for holidays.""Yes, much the same for me."

Do you hope to get a job one day which would involve speaking Czech?

"Yes, definitely, that's what I want to do, I want to work in Eastern Europe, preferably in the Czech Republic in a job where I'd definitely need to speak Czech quite fluently. So that's my goal."

"Quite possibly, I keep my options open."

Other Bohemian and Moravian cities are hosting similar language schools this summer as Czech is becoming a popular language to learn mainly across Europe, but also in the Americas and in some Asian countries. Jan Holub is the deputy director of the Institute of Czech Studies which organises the summer school.

"So far we have 183 students from 37 countries from all over the world. This year, we must say, there are quite many absolute beginners, about two or three classes are absolute beginners learning through the English language. But of course, there are also advanced students. Some are very advanced - teachers or lecturers of the Czech language and so on. We offer quite a wide range: lower beginners, higher beginners, intermediate and advanced or professional level and of course we differentiate according to the languages as well. English, French, German and Slavonic languages are used as the mediating language. For the advanced level we offer three series of lectures. One mainly on linguistics, the other on history and culture, and the third group is lectures about history and culture lectured in the English or German languages."

Alexander and Yuri took me to a lecture on the history of minorities in the region. Afterwards I spoke to Kevin, a PhD student from the United States. I asked him why he decided to take up Czech.

"Well, I came to Prague for the first time in 1992 and really liked it. I was here for only a couple of days but I sort of fell in love with the city. I also study German so I'm in Germany a lot and whenever I was in Germany I would come to Prague or to the Czech Republic and travel around and I always thought some day I want to learn Czech and I finally had the time to do it. Right now I'm doing Czech sort of on the side but I hope to somehow incorporate it into my PhD work."

Did you have to pay for your stay here - how does one apply?

"As far as this school goes I just applied directly but in order to pay for it I did receive a fellowship."

I asked Jan Holub to tell me more about how the school is financed.

"Well, we have two groups of students. One is the students who get scholarships from their governments as the exchange grants from the Czech Republic and the corresponding foreign country and then there are a smaller group of students who pay for their stay in Prague themselves. Some come from their native country directly and some are already staying in Prague and only come for visiting lectures at the Philosophical Faculty."

But it's not all work and no play for the students as Jan Holub told me.

"We offer first various excursions to museums and galleries in Prague and on weekends we offer visits to various castles and places of interest, cultural and natural beauties all over the Czech Republic."

Kevin from the United States told me what his normal day was like here in Prague at the Summer School of Czech.

"It's very busy. Every morning we have classes from 9 until 1.30, 2 o'clock, and then usually in the afternoon they either show films or they do tours around the city or we take excursions, there's always something. And in the evenings once again they either show films or we sing songs. You're not required to do all of these things, just the classes, but the other stuff is there to be offered, so it's very tiring at the end of the day."

I know your knowledge of the language is very advanced but still - which aspect of the language is the most difficult for you?

"The biggest problem is probably just speaking in general. I have learnt the grammar, I know it but I forget a lot. The different case endings are very difficult, I still have to thing about them. But in general just being able to speak fluently without having to think about it. I sometimes have problems being able to say all the things I want to say and as quickly I would like to."

Traditionally a number of the students who come to the Czech Republic to improve their Czech are actually of Czech origin. Are there many such students this year, a question for the deputy director of the summer school, Jan Holub.

"Well, I can't say many but there is always a group of about ten or fifteen students; some of them know only very little, but some of them know quite a lot without being able to write a single word or without being able to differentiate what is literary style or what is colloquial style."

One might expect that people whose mother tongue is related to Czech would learn the language easier than others. I asked Jan Holub which nationality has the greatest talent for Czech.

"Well, it's very difficult to say. I just remember one girl from France who never studied in an official course. She is a self-made student, or autodidact and she wrote the best entrance test of all the students. She is very much interested in learning Czech but she had never seen a Czech teacher before."

It's too late to apply this year, I'm afraid, but if you're interested in coming to Prague to learn Czech next year, you can find the necessary information on the website of the Faculty of Philosophy, which is