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Lesson Transcript

INTRODUCTION
Martin: Hello, and welcome to CzechClass101.com! I’m Martin.
Brandon: Hi everyone, I’m Brandon. This is the Pronunciation Series, lesson 1 - The Pronunciation of Consonants in Czech.

Lesson focus

Martin: In this lesson we’re going to start with the basics and slowly work our way up!
Brandon: That’s right. The focus of this lesson is Czech consonants.
Martin: Brandon, do you know how many letters there are in the Czech alphabet? And how many of them are consonants?
Brandon: We covered this in the All About series, and I think I still remember! The Czech alphabet consists of 42 letters, 8 of which are consonants with special diacritics not found in English.
Martin: Yes, that’s right! And the Czech consonants divide into 8 hard, 9 soft, 8 ambivalent, and 3 unusual sounds.
Brandon: Ambivalent basically means that they fall between the two categories as they are neither hard nor soft sounds. Can you remind our listeners again, Martin, what the diacritics are?
Martin: These are quite simple because there are only three diacritics. And the good news is, all of them are placed above the letters. These are called háček, or hook, // čárka or length mark, and // kroužek or circle. The diacritics will change the pronunciation of each letter.
Brandon: Ok, and how do they change the pronunciation?
Martin: When a letter has háček or a small hook, it will make the letter sound different. For example, when the letter C has the small hook, it becomes č x2
Brandon: Okay. What about the length mark?
Martin: A length mark, called čárka, will extend the pronunciation from a short one into a long one. For example, when the letter “a” gets the mark on the top, it becomes á x2
Brandon: Okay. What about the last one?
Martin: The small circle on the top of a letter is called kroužek. You can only find this character above the letter “U”. With the mark, the pronunciation changes into “ů” x2
Brandon: Okay. Now, let’s jump right into the pronunciation of each consonant. Let’s look at the initial consonants first.
Martin: They start with the group of hard consonants. h, ch, k, r, d, t, n.
Brandon: First, we have “h”.
Martin: Which is called “há” and is pronounced like the “h” in “hunger”
Brandon: Can you give us a Czech word using this consonant?
Martin: Sure. hlad (slow) hlad. This means “hunger”
Brandon: Okay. Next is “c-h”
Martin: It’s called “chá” and is pronounced like the “ch” in the Scottish “loch” For example, the Czech word “chvíle” meaning “moment” has this character, chvíle
Brandon: Okay. The next one is like “K”.
Martin: That’s right. k is called “ká”. It sounds like the “k” in “key”. The Czech word klíč, which means “key” also has this consonant. Once more with the example, (slow) klíč
Brandon: And the next one is like “R”.
Martin: That’s right. It’s called “er” and is pronounced like the “r” in “problem”. But please be careful! It’s not a rolled “r”, but a briefly trilled “r”
Brandon: Can you give us an example?
Martin: Sure. We have the Czech word “rubín” which means “ruby”. Rubín (slow) rubín
Brandon: Okay, and the next one is like “D”.
Martin: Right. This one is called “dé” and is pronounced like “d” in “donkey.” For example, we have the Czech word “dobrý” meaning “good” / (slow) dobrý. dobrý
Brandon: And next is “t”.
Martin: This one is called “té” and it’s pronounced like the “t” in “timber” without aspiration. For example the Czech word tenis meaning “tennis” has this consonant. tenis
Brandon: Okay, and the next one is “n”.
Martin: It’s called “en” and is pronounced like “n” in “son”. For example, we have the Czech word nehoda meaning “accident”, which has this consonant. Nehoda (slow) nehoda
Brandon: Listeners, please note that the Czech “p”, “t,” and “k” are not followed by an aspiration like in English, unless they are at the end of the word!
Martin: That’s right. For example.. ...chrup meaning “a set of teeth”, být meaning “to be”, and hluk meaning “noise”. The aspiration is much less than in English, even at the end of the word.
Brandon: These Czech consonants we’ve just talked about are pronounced in a similar way to English. Now we’ll move on to those that have different pronunciations. Some of the non-English consonants are also Czech soft consonants. Martin, what are they?
Martin: They are.. ž, š, č, ř, ď, ť, ň, c, j.
Brandon: If you look at them in the lesson notes, you’ll see that all of these except the final “c” and “j” in this list have accent marks on the top.
Martin: That’s right. For now, let’s start with “ž”. It is the derivative of “z”, called “žet”, and is pronounced like the “-sion” in the middle of the English word “version”.
Brandon: Can you give us some Czech words with the consonant?
Martin: Sure thing! We have žirafa meaning “giraffe” or židle meaning “chair”.
Brandon: Okay, what’s next?
Martin: The next one, “š”, is called “eš”, and is pronounced like the “sh” in the English word “shoe”. For example, you can find the consonant in the word “škola” meaning “school” or “šipka” meaning “an arrow”.
Brandon: Okay. And next..?
Martin: The next one is “č”. It derives from “c” and is written with a hook above the letter. č is called “čé” and is pronounced like the “ch” in English “check”. For example, you can find it in the word “černý” meaning “black” or “čas” meaning “time.”
Brandon: Okay. And the next one looks like the “R” in English.
Martin: Yes, “ř” which is called “eř” in the Czech alphabet. It’s a single sound pronounced like a strong trilled “r” with the tip of the tongue touching the ridge behind the upper teeth. It requires a lot of practice to achieve the right pronunciation. You can find the consonant in the words “řeka” meaning “a river” or “přijít” meaning “to come”.
Brandon: It’s very important to distinguish between
Martin: “r”
brandon: and
martin: “ř”
brandon because of the different meanings they give to words.
Martin: That’s right. If you read them differently, the meaning will be changed.
Brandon: For example?
Martin: “řvát” means “to roar” and “rvát” means “to tear/to fight”. The other set is “horký” meaning “hot” and “hořký” meaning “bitter”.
Brandon: So keep that in mind, listeners! Next is the Czech “ď” .
Martin: “ď ” is also called “ďé”, written as “d” with a hook.
Brandon: It can be compared to the sound of “duke” or “durable” in English. Martin, can you give us some examples?
Martin: “ďábel” meaning “a devil” or “ďolík” meaning “a dent”.
Brandon: The next one we want to cover is?
Martin: The Czech “ť ”. It’s called “ťé” and is pronounced like the “ť ” and is also written with a hook. It can be compared to the sound of “tune” or “tube” in English.
Brandon: What are some examples..?
Martin: We have “koťata” meaning “kittens” or chuť meaning “taste”.
Brandon: Okay, what’s next?
Martin: Another consonant is “ň” which is called “eň” and can be compared to the sound of “new” in English. For example, you can find it in the words like “promiň” meaning “sorry” or “tíseň” meaning “anxiety”
Brandon: Okay. We have two left. They look like the C and J from the English alphabet
Martin: And they are “c” and “j”.
Brandon: They don’t have a diacritic mark, but I know their pronunciation differs from the English. Is that right?
Martin: That’s right. The Czech sound “cé” is never pronounced as a sharp “k” - it’s always “c”. For example “konec” meaning “end”, or “cukr” meaning “sugar.”
Brandon: What about the other one?
Martin: The Czech “j” is called “jé”. It’s never pronounced like the English “j” as in “jacket” or in the name “Jack”. The pronunciation is, for example, “ahoj” meaning “hi” informally, or “jedna” meaning “one”.
Brandon: Great, so now we’ve covered the soft and non-English single consonants. Next up are single unusual consonants.
Martin: The unusual Czech consonants are especially used in words that come from other languages, the so-called loan words.
Brandon: There are only three of these so-called unusual consonants. What are they?
Martin: Q, W, and X. The first one, “Q”, is called “qvé” and is pronounced like the “q” in “quick”. For example “quijotský” meaning “quixotic”.
Brandon: What about the one that looks like a “W”?
Martin: “W” is called “dvojité vé” and is pronounced like the“v” in “violin” - without aspiration. For example “worčestr” meaning “worcester sauce” or “Werich”, which is the name of a Czech actor.
Brandon: And the last one is..?
Martin: The last one, “X”, is called “iks” and is pronounced like the “x” in “complex”. The pronunciation sounds more like “ks”, “eks” or “iks” even if it’s spelled with an “x”. For example, the word for “xylophone” is pronounced as “ksilofon”. And the word meaning “extra” is pronounced like “ekstra”. In some words containing “x”, the pronunciation becomes ”gz”.
Brandon: Can you give us some examples?
Martin: For example, “existovat” meaning “to exist” is pronounced as “egzist”. And the word meaning “exile” is pronounced as “egzil” but it’s spelled with an “x”.
Brandon: Alright, that’s all the information you need to know about single consonants. Please check the lesson notes for this lesson to review all the single consonants in Czech. It’s also handy to keep them open in front of you as we go through the next section.
Martin: Definitely. Now, let’s continue with the pronunciation of ď, ť, ň, and when and how exactly to pronounce them.
Brandon: First, we’ll take a look at how you position your mouth to pronounce these three consonants.
Martin: All right. Put the tip of your tongue against the back of your upper gum and above the front teeth and pronounce the usual d, t, and n, but much softer. It helps a lot if you slightly open your mouth into a smile when pronouncing the soft ď, ť, and ň.
Brandon: Oh, that’s not difficult. So when exactly do you pronounce them?
Martin: There are three grammatical points when Czech people pronounce ď, ť, and ň.
Brandon: Number one....
Martin: In a text whenever you see ď, ť, or ň. That’s in words such as ďábel, promiň, or Plzeň, meaning “a devil”, “sorry”, and “Pilzen” respectively.
Brandon: Number two…..
Martin: In a text where you see a combination of d, t, or n AND ě, in words such as děkuju, tělo, and Němec, which mean “thank you”, “a body”, and “a German” respectively.
Brandon: Number three...
Martin: In a text where you see a combination of d, t, or n AND i or í - which is the long “i”. For example, in words such as divadlo meaning “theater”, díra meaning “a hole”, tikat meaning “ticking”, tíha meaning “heaviness”, nic meaning “nothing”, and finally nízko meaning “low”.
Brandon: And lastly we have a tip about when NOT to pronounce ď, ť, and ň.
Martin: Yes. We don’t pronounce ď, ť, or ň if they are used in imported words. Those are pronounced as hard consonants d, t, and n. For example “diplomat” meaning a “diplomat” can be read as “dyplomat” with a “y”. “Politika” meaning “politics” can be read as “polityka” with a “y” before the “k” sound at the end, and “nikotin” meaning “nicotine” can be read as “nykotin” with a “y” after the “n”.
Brandon: I see, so the last ones are just like in English. So Martin, does Czech have any sequences of syllables?
Martin: It does. You’ll often see b+ě which is “b” plus an “e” with an accent on it; and p+ě which is “p” plus an “e” with an accent on it; or v+ě which is “v” plus “e” with an accent on it, or m+ě which is “m” plus “e” with an accent on it.
Brandon: And how do you pronounce these?
Martin: They should be read as b’ye, p’ye, v’ye, mn’ye respectively.
Brandon: Can you give us some examples of words with these, Martin?
Martin: Sure. Here are a few I’ve chosen. “Běhat” meaning “to run”, pěstovat meaning “to grow something”, věda meaning “science”, and měsíc meaning “the moon”.
Brandon: Ok, thanks for those examples. Now let’s move on to the next topic, which is the assimilation of words. This refers to the pronunciation of the end of the word.
Martin: The last voiced consonant will be pronounced softer or unvoiced. For example ‘’v’’ becomes ‘’f’’, or in the case of two consonants following each other, one of them changes.
Brandon: Can you give us an example?
Martin: For example, the word ‘’Kdo’’ meaning “who”...becomes ‘’gdo’’ in the spoken form.
Brandon: I see. So this is the written versus the spoken form?
Martin: Yes. In speaking, lots of words might sound different to learners if they don’t know about assimilation in Czech. It’s important to know the difference between voiced and unvoiced consonants first.
Brandon: So what are the voiced and unvoiced consonants?
Martin: The voiced consonants are....b, v, d, dˇ, z, ž, g, h. Unvoiced consonants are ...p, f, t, tˇ, s, š, k, ch.
Brandon: Can you explain the changes that happen with these consonants in a word?
Martin: Yes, let me give you some examples. When you say a word, the letters might change so that “b” becomes “p”. For example, in the written form of the word “chléb” meaning “bread” there’s a “b” at the end, but it’s pronounced as “chlép” with a “p” at the end.
Brandon: Ok, are there any other words that change this way?
Martin: Yes, “v” becomes “f” in words such as “včera” which is pronounced as “fčera” instead. This word means “yesterday”. Or “včela” meaning “a bee” becomes “fčela”.
Brandon: Interesting. Are there any rules related to this?
Martin: Yes, there are a couple of clues that will help you recognize when such a change will happen.
Brandon: Ok, let’s jump right in and learn them.
Martin: Sure. The first tip is that a voiced consonant changes into a voiceless one at the end of the word. For example, written ‘’zub’’ , meaning “a tooth” becomes ‘’zup’’, or ‘’krev’’, meaning “blood” becomes ‘’kref ‘’.
Brandon: I see. The other rule for assimilation is related to when two consonants are placed next to each other in a word. In that case, one consonant will change its sound in order to match the other one, regardless of whether they are voiced or not. That means that one of them will become voiceless in order to match the other. I think this sounds logical, because otherwise the pronunciation would sound a bit unnatural.
Martin: That’s right. So with the second rule, the words can look like this… Firstly, here’s a voiced consonants into voiceless example. The written form of ‘’tužka’’ meaning “pencil” becomes ‘’tuška’’ when pronounced. The written form of ‘’nashledanou’’ , meaning “good bye” becomes ‘’naschledanou’’ in spoken language.
Brandon: Ok, and how about an example of unvoiced to voiced?
Martin: The best example is of the letter “k” changing into “g”, and “s” changing into “z”. For example, the written form of “kde” meaning “where” becomes “gde in spoken language, and the written form of “prosba” meaning “a plea” becomes “prozba”.
Brandon: I think this makes sense. Is this everything in terms of assimilation?
Martin: There is one last thing I’d like to mention, and that is the assimilation of some prepositions.
Brandon: What exactly is preposition assimilation?
Martin: This is when a preposition becomes part of the following word. In other words, the two are pronounced together. This applies particularly to the prepositions v meaning “in”, s meaning “with”, and do meaning “to/ into”.
Brandon: I think I understand, but can you give us some examples?
Martin: Sure. This is quite straight forward. Let’s talk about the preposition v which means “in”. In the sentence ‘’v Praze’’, meaning “in Prague”, v becomes assimilated into one word and sounds like ‘’fPraze’’. Another example is with the preposition s meaning “with”. In a sentence like ‘’s tebou’’, which means “with you”, the preposition here also assimilates into one word - ‘’stebou’’. And lastly, the preposition do, meaning “to” or “into”, in a sentence like ‘’do práce’’, meaning “to work”, becomes ‘’dopráce’’.
Brandon: Phew! Well listeners, we’ve made it to the end of the lesson - we’ve covered all non-English consonants, single consonants, and assimilation of consonants in Czech.

Outro

Brandon: We have learned a lot in this lesson, but basically there are only a few sounds in Czech that are different from English.
Martin: And we know the first step is the hardest, but you’ll gradually master Czech pronunciation by studying this series with us. So keep practicing!
Brandon: Listeners, remember that you can always leave us a post at CzechClass101.com if you have any questions or comments.
Martin: Yes, we’re here to help!
Brandon: And that’s all for this lesson. Thank you for listening, everyone. We’ll see you next time, bye
Martin: Ahoj!

18 Comments

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CzechClass101.com Verified
Wednesday at 06:30 PM
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Which Czech consonant is the most difficult to pronounce for you?

czechclass101
Friday at 10:20 PM
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Hi Mickael,


thank you for your inquiry. The basic rule for learning Czech Ř is to first master the R. If one cannot pronounce the R correctly first,you cannot master the Ř either.


Some tips here:


Pronunciation of Ř


purse your lips first

teeth together and pronounce R

the tongue needs to vibrate quicker than when you pronounce R

try to whisper ř first and onlz then pronounce aloud

at first during conversation replace ř with r in a quiet voice


The most frequent combination letters that help with learning ř are these"

ŘA, ŘE, ŘI, BŘ, HŘ, KŘ, ChŘ, KŘ, MŘ, PŘ, TŘ,STŘ, VŘ, ZŘ,

any words ending with Ř or that have ŘK in the middle.


Good props to use when learning are:

a small mirror thanks to which you control your teeth together

a thin stripe of paper that you put between your teeth and which you pull lightly to make sure the mouth is not opening when pronouncing ř.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PuNVl7m94lk


Some words and pronunciation in the song of the link above :-))


Sincerely

Hanka


team CzechClass101.com

Mickaël
Saturday at 10:37 PM
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Hi!

As a french learner, "R" and "ř" are the most difficult to pronounce. Do you have some tips or exercices to train it? Like exercices for czech children to teach them how to place the tongue and how to blow correctly.


Thanks a lot ;)

CzechClass101.com
Thursday at 04:35 AM
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Hello John,

thank you very much for your nice feedback. I am pleased you find this lesson useful. The pronunciation is quite important since when we Czech people speak, it is different to the written form and can be puzzling to a foreign learner.

Wishing you a good progress as you go.

Sincerely

Hanka


team CzechClass101.com

John
Sunday at 10:03 PM
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This is a great lesson 👍

czechclass.101.com
Thursday at 12:07 PM
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Hello Gao Ke,


Thank you for your comment. Yes, you are right about the accented "r" in the Czech language being a hard one to pronounce. Thank you for trying :-)


I think with lots of practice, it is possible to manage, but of course as you say, it also depends on one's mother tongue up to which degree this is possible.


Wishing you a good success in your learning!


Sincerely

Hanka


Team Czech.class101.com

Gao Ke
Wednesday at 12:49 AM
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Being a learner whose mother language is Chinese, I find the pronunciation of "r" is the most difficult part! Although I'm at a good level on French, but these two "r" are totally different!! Not to mention "r"with that accent!! It's gonna be a challenge for me for a long time!!:laughing:

CzechClass101.com Verified
Thursday at 04:52 PM
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Hi Maria!


Thank you for posting!

If you have any more questions, please let us know! :innocent:


See you!

Engla

Team CzechClass101.com

Maria
Wednesday at 11:27 AM
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Thanks! I think I understand the main ideas :)

CzechClass101.com Verified
Tuesday at 11:16 PM
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oh, and I should have added....the voicing and devoicing applies to the pairs of related consonants and how they are pronounced in particular position. The list is this:


b -p, d - t, g - k, z - s, dz -c

v - f, dˇ- tˇ, h - ch, ž - š, dž - č


I have just noticed that you are asking if there can be two voiced consonants next to each other, if an unvoiced one becomes voiced next to another voiced. As for the above pairs, this is not happening in the spoken form because it wouldn't sound natural. The voicing and unvoicing is done in the spoken form, we are not talking about written form.


If you have a particular word in mind, please tell me which word it is so that I can see what is happening to that word and its pronunciation.

Thank you.


Best ergards

Hanka


Team CzechClass.101.com

CzechClass101.com Verified
Tuesday at 11:03 PM
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Hi Maria,

Thank you for leaving us a comment.


yes, this is correct what you are asking/saying.

Typically, one consonant becomes voiceless to match the next, i.e. ''včera'' pronounced ''fčera'',

and sometimes one consonant becomes voiced in order to match the next, i.e. ''kde'' pronounced as ''gde''.

This is just because pronunciation becomes easier this way.


However, voiced ''v'' has no effect on proceeding consonants:

svůj (own) singular , svoje (own) plural, tvůj (your) singular, tvoje (your) plural.


Words with ''sh'' are most often pronounced ''sch'', i.e. naschledanou (good bye).


I hope this has answered your question. If you have more, don't hesitate to ask.

Good luck with your studying.


Hanka


Team CzechClass.101.com