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Lesson Transcript

Martin: Welcome back to CzechClass101.com! My name is Martin.
Brandon: And I’m Brandon! This is Pronunciation, lesson 5,The Top 5 Czech Pronunciation Mistakes. Wow, Martin, it’s already the last lesson in our series!
Martin: That’s right! You’ve come such a long way, listeners. In this lesson, you’ll learn another important aspect of Czech pronunciation.

Lesson focus

Brandon: That’s right, in this lesson, we’ll be going over the top five pronunciation mistakes in Czech. So what’s our first one?
Martin: Pay attention to final consonants and unvoicing. As we have learned, final consonants in Czech are fully pronounced, including the letter “h”, which is usually voiceless in English. However, in case of the voiced consonants “b, v, g, ď, z, ž, h” that are at the end of a word, they need to be unvoiced when speaking. This is often a problem for English speakers who forget to unvoice them.
Brandon: Can you give us some examples?
Martin: Sure. “Led” with a “d” at the end, which means “ice”, needs to become “let”. “Hrad” with a “d” at the end, meaning “a castle”, needs to become “hrat”. Or “hlad” meaning “hunger” becomes “hlat”. A voiced “h” as a final consonant needs to become “ch” - “c+h” in speech. For example, “batoh” meaning “rucksack” becomes “batoch”, while “sníh” meaning “snow” becomes “sních”, and so on. And finally, the voiced “ž” - “z” with an accent - becomes devoiced and sounds like “š” - “s” with an accent - sh at the end of a word. For example, “Věž” meaning “tower” becomes “věš”, “lež” meaning “a lie” becomes “leš” and so on…..
Brandon: Now the opposite rule for unvoiced consonants applies for consonants found in the middle of a word. If the unvoiced consonant is followed by another consonant, it needs to be voiced.
Martin: Exactly. Words such as “svatba” meaning “wedding” written with a “t” in the middle will become “svadba” in spoken Czech. “Prosba” meaning “a request” written with an “s” will become “prozba” with a “z” in spoken Czech.
Brandon: All right, let’s move onto the second common mistake...
Martin: Knowing about the unaspirated letters k, t, and p versus the aspirated final consonants k, t, and p,
Brandon: Unaspirated means you don’t let the air come out of your mouth like when you pronounce these similar sounds in English, except when they are at the end of a word.
Martin: Right. Unlike in English where the “k” and “t” are aspirated, the Czech “k” and “t” are not aspirated anywhere in the word, except at the end. When they are at the end of a word k, t, and p are pronounced with a slight puff of air like in English, but less strong!
Brandon: Let’s put this into context so you know what we mean, listeners.
Martin: Words such as “hluk” meaning “noise”, “žít” meaning “to live”, or “sup” meaning “vulture” have aspirated k, t, and p sounds at the end. Let’s hear them in the words again. “hluk”, “žít”, “sup”
Brandon: Listeners, did you notice the difference?
Martin: Now here are the examples with the [k, t, and p] sounds again. Listeners, please repeat after me: hluk (pause), žít (pause), sup (pause).
Brandon: Now let’s continue with the third common mistake.
Martin: This one is related to letter “ch”, “r” and clustered consonants. The problem is that learners have trouble pronouncing the sound of the letter “ch”. They tend to pronounce it like the [k] sound in English, but that’s incorrect.
Brandon: So how can we learn the correct pronunciation? Could you give our listeners some tips?
Martin: Okay. Ch as a single letter in the Czech alphabet needs to be pronounced from the back of the throat. The best way to pronounce it is to listen to a native speaker and try to repeat it, or if you are familiar with Spanish, the Czech ch has the same pronunciation as “j” in Spanish, for example, in the name Jose.
Brandon: Martin, let’s give our listeners some words that use this consonant. Listeners, please repeat after Martin.
Martin: “chalupa” (pause) “chalupa”
Brandon: meaning cottage (pause)
Martin: “chleba” (pause) “chleba”
Brandon: meaning bread (pause),
Martin: “chemie” (pause) “chemie”
Brnadon: meaning chemistry (pause),
Martin: “chodit” (pause) “chodit”
Brandon: meaning to go (pause). Great. Now, how do we pronounce the letter that looks like ‘r’?
Martin: Czech “r” does not have the typical English rolling sound, but should be pronounced with your tongue touching the upper gums behind your teeth, followed by a short vibration. It should not be a rolling sound made deeper in your mouth.
Brandon: Martin, let’s give the listeners some examples. Listeners, please repeat after him.
Martin: ”Rak” (pause) “Rak”
Brandon: meaning “crawfish” (pause),
Martin: “ryba” (pause), ryba
Brandon: meaning “fish” (pause)
Martin: “práce” (pause), práce
Brandon: meaning the “work” (pause),
Martin: “opera” (pause), “opera”
Brandon: meaning “opera” (pause),
Martin: “prodat” (pause), “prodat”
Brandon: meaning “to sell”(pause),
Martin: And finally,“proč” (pause) “proč”
Brandon: meaning “why” (pause). Very good. And now let’s take a look at the clustered consonants. “Clustered consonants” can be problematic for learners to pronounce, mainly because you cannot rely on vowels to release each individual sound each time. But let’s tackle it, listeners, we believe you can do it! Here are some Czech words that contain many consonants in a row - if you can master these with us you’ll be well on your way.
Martin: Sure, some of the words are, for example, “prst” meaning “a finger” or “skrz” meaning “thru”. These words are made up of consonants only! We also have “čtvrtek” meaning “Thursday” has č, t, v and r, or “strčit” meaning “to push/or to plug into” has s, t, r and č. Both of these words have four consonants clustered together.
Brandon: And how can our listeners practice this pronunciation?
Martin: With short words, it helps to try to say each letter in the word, and then speed up the pronunciation a little. You should get the right result. Try the word “prst” first. Go letter by letter - p..r..s..t…, p...r...s...t and then quicker and quicker.
Brandon: What about longer words?
Martin: With longer words, divide the pronunciation in half. Say the first half first and then the second half. It will become easier to get the pronunciation right. “str...čit”, “str...čit”.
Brandon: Alright. That is a good tip. Now we know how to practice these more difficult words. Our fourth common mistake relates to the diacritics in Czech. There is a difference in pronunciation between the same letter with or without diacritics.
Martin: That’s true. These sound marks that we call diacritics are the marks applied above a letter to create additional sounds other than those in the English alphabet.
Brandon: These can be applied above consonants as well as above some vowels. They include the length mark, the circle and the small hook. Since the small hook creates the most difficulty we will focus on this one.
Martin: The small hook is also called ‘“háček’ While š, č, ď, ť, and ň can be pronounced quite well by English speakers because there are similar sounds in English, “ř” and “ž” on the other hand are a real challenge for some people. “Ř” especially gets a lot of weird pronunciations as “ž” by learners because a different articulation is needed to master it. “Ř” is a single sound pronounced like a strong trilled “r” with the tip of the tongue touching the upper teeth.
Brandon: It may feel like you’re speaking with a lisp at first, but if you do a lot of practice, you will be able to do it. Martin, can you give the listeners some words using this “r” consonant please? Listeners, repeat after him.
Martin: říjen (pause) říjen
Brandon: meaning “October” (pause),
Martin: řídit (pause) řídit
Brandon: meaning “drive” (pause),
Martin: přítel (pause) přítel
Brandon: meaning “friend” (pause)
Martin: peřina (pause) peřina
Brandon: meaning “featherbed” (pause),
Martin: And finally, příloha (pause) příloha
Brandon: meaning “attachment” (pause).
Brandon: All right, now can you tell us why diacritics are so important?
Martin: Well, with the letters “r” and “ř”, it’s easy to make a mistake because whilst “horký” means “hot”, “hořký” with the hook above the “r” means “bitter”.
: Another example is “žvýkat” which means “to chew” and “zvykat” which means “getting used to”.
: Here we have the hook above the “z” and even a length mark above the “ý”.
Brandon: I see. This is how important sound marks are. The meaning is completely different. Okay, let’s move onto the fifth and last pronunciation mistake.
Martin: The last one is about the pronunciation of the soft consonants ď, ť, ň and di, ti, ni.
Brandon: These soft consonants are often pronounced as hard consonants by learners, because they simply don’t know what to do with them.
Martin: Right. Di, ti, and ni will often be pronounced as dy, ty, ny because the sound is non-existent in English. To get the right pronunciation of ď, ť, ň , put the tip of your tongue against the back of your upper gum and above the front teeth and pronounce the usual d, t, or n, but much softer. It helps a lot if you open your mouth and smile slightly when you’re pronouncing the soft ď, ť, or ň. After that, add the letter “i” to each of the soft consonants, and you will get the sound of di, ti, and ni.
Brandon: Martin, can you give some examples using these consonants to our listeners? Listeners, please repeat after him.
Martin: Divadlo (pause), divit se (pause), tikat (pause), ticho (pause), nic (pause), nikdo (pause).
Brandon: Great! Listeners, those were our top five tips for avoiding pronunciation mistakes in Czech!


Brandon: Well, that’s all for this lesson, and for this series. We hope you’ve enjoyed it and found it useful. Remember to check the lesson notes, and leave us a post at CzechClass101.com if you have any comments or questions.
Martin: We’re happy to help!
Brandon: In the meantime, thanks for listening, and we’ll see you again in another series. Bye everyone!
Martin: Ahoj!