How Long Does It Take To Learn Czech?
- Mille Larsen •13 mins read
Czech is a Slavic language closely related to Slovak, but also to Polish and a little more distantly to languages such as Russian and Bulgarian.
It's spoken by around 10 million people, most of whom live in the Czech Republic, a Central European country with loads to offer in terms of travel, cuisine, and more.
I've previously written about how I suggest that you go about learning Czech, but one thing that I haven't addressed is how long you can expect it to take.
For an average English-speaker who puts in about an hour per day, every day, and who aims for an upper-intermediate level of Czech, it could take 3-5 years. Calculating the time it takes to learn a language depends on a lot of factors, however, and the student's experience with language learning, motivation, and study method can influence the total amount of time significantly.
The above estimate is calculated with the language learning calculator, which is a tool I've developed for figuring out how long it takes to learn any language.
The tool factors in language difficulty, experience, motivation, the desired end-goal, study frequency, and the time put in and outputs a ball-park estimate. The calculations are highly dependent on subjective factors, though, and to learn a little more about what kind of things play a role in figuring out how long it takes to learn Czech, keep reading.
What About Czech Specifically Takes Time?
One of the most obvious things to consider is how difficult Czech actually is for the average English speaker.
In terms of complexity, all languages aren't equal. And while Czech would be relatively easy to master for a Polish speaker or a Ukrainian because of all the things that these languages have in common, Czech has very little in common with English.
One major difference is in pronunciation. The Czech language has several letters and sounds that don't exist in English. It even has one letter, "Ř" which exists in no other language (and which is, to be frank, really difficult to pronounce).
Like many Slavic languages, when learning Czech you also need to get used to two versions of most consonants. There's a "hard" form and a "soft" form and they can be quite difficult to distinguish.
Another typically Slavic thing about Czech is the grammar, which can give most language learners a headache. The Czech case-system, in particular, is something that stands out.
Czech has 7 cases, each of which has a unique declension form for nouns. You need to master those and be able to recognize and use them correctly in order to understand Czech and to be understood because much of the "meaning" of a sentence is expressed through cases rather than with filler-words like it's mostly the case in English.
Czech vocabulary, too is hard for an English speaker. I say "hard" but what I really mean is that there are very few short-cuts like it's the case with other languages that have more in common with English.
Czech has a few German loan-words, but they're very different from the original German words, and they're not even close to the same amount as the French loan-words in English.
At this point, you might point out that Czech is written with the Latin alphabet, unlike Ukrainian and Russian. That ought to make it easier to learn, right?
Not really. A lot of people tend to assume that languages using "foreign" alphabets, like Cyrillic, are much more difficult to learn than the languages that are written with the same alphabet as English. But this isn't the case.
You could learn an alphabet like the ones used in Russian or Greek in a couple of days. The Korean alphabet is also known for being easy, and while the Thai, Arabic, and Hindi scripts might take longer to learn, they hardly represent a real challenge.
So, to sum up, there really aren't any elements of Czech that I could confidently classify as "easy to learn". It's not as difficult to learn as Arabic or Chinese, though.
The FSI classifies Czech as a "category 3" language, which is a category of languages that they have experienced to take roughly 1100 classroom-hours for their students to learn to a lower-advanced level.
What does this mean for you?
Well, the FSI offers intensive courses to highly talented, experienced, motivated, and focused students who learn foreign languages in order to work as diplomats in foreign countries.
There are many reasons why you might not fit into that category (although you also might be even more talented) so I advise you to take the "1100 hours" with a grain of salt.
What Level Of Czech Are You Aiming For?
When asking how long it takes to learn Czech, you need to first decide what you actually mean with "learn Czech".
What's your end goal?
You might say that you're aiming to become fluent in Czech, but to you, what is fluency actually?
Some define fluency in a language as speaking, understanding, reading, and writing it at a high, native-like level (like the C1 or C2 level in the CEFR-system). This will demand a lot of work and time, and despite your efforts, you might speak the language with an accent for life. (But this isn't necessarily a bad thing).
An average person, studying an hour per day, might need as much as 7-10 years of daily study before reaching a C2 level in Czech.
Others, like me, consider fluency to be able to get by in a language. If you can communicate with random Czechs in the streets of Prague without relying on any other language, hand gestures, or guesswork, you're, in my opinion, fluent.
This level of fluency, which probably represents a B1 or B2 level of Czech, is much easier and faster to reach. You might not be capable of writing academic papers in Czech, but you'll be able to actually live your everyday life in the Czech Republic while speaking Czech every day. And then you can always keep improving.
Reaching a B1 level of Czech is doable in something like 3 years.
What's Your Experience With Language Learning And Studying In General?
Another thing that plays an important role is your background.
Linguistically and academically.
The more languages you already know, the easier (and faster) it'll be to pick up a new one. If you've successfully taught yourself languages in the past and you know what method works for you, you'll know exactly how to approach learning Czech.
And even better: If you already know another language, closely related to Czech, you'll be able to shave off a huge part of the total study-time because the language will simply be less foreign to you.
But even if you only have a little experience with foreign languages, you'll have an advantage. Having studied French in high-school, or having grown up in a bilingual environment will be helpful because you'll have surpassed an invisible barrier that many beginners face when starting to learn foreign languages.
That barrier is to mentally accept that there are other ways of communicating than speaking your native language. This might seem strange - of course, there are other ways of communicating. But that's your logic speaking. What I'm talking about is the feeling that only English makes sense and that everything else is "incorrect ways of speaking".
If you've ever asked yourself "why do they have to say it in that strange way" or "why can't they just do it like we do in English, it's easier" when learning new, difficult concepts in languages, you know what I'm talking about. This invisible barrier exists for each new language you take on, but the more experience you gain, the easier the barrier will be to break down.
And then there are the people who have only ever spoken English for their entire life. If this is you, learning Czech might be a bit (or quite a bit) more time consuming than if you were an experienced language-learner (or "hyper-polyglot" if you've been watching the same YouTube videos as I have!)
But fear not! You can still learn Czech, and if you approach the Czech language right, you can reach your goals quite efficiently too. If you're good at being disciplined, used to studying, note-taking, doing reviews, and setting and meeting goals, you'll be much better off than someone who has none of that going for him or her.
So what difference does experience make when learning Czech? It could mean a big difference. Someone who's extremely experienced might learn Czech in half the time of someone who's inexperienced.
Motivation Is, Obviously, Extremely Important
Maybe this is a no-brainer.
But motivation is everything when it comes to language learning. If you're only moderately motivated, things will progress slowly, new information won't stick because it's simply not that interesting to you, and you'll run the risk of skipping a study session here and there or maybe giving up altogether.
Motivation can make or break your Czech studies!
So if you're not that motivated about Czech, I suggest that you try and get a little excited, or it'll be an uphill battle.
Someone who's completely in love with the sound of Czech, who enjoys Czech television, and who's excited about the grammar will learn it much more efficiently and quickly than someone who's only driven by gaining a new skill to put on the CV.
And it's not just about "not giving up". If you're highly motivated and excited about Czech, your brain will perceive the language differently. It'll more easily let new information in, and any initial resistance to foreign vocabulary will be weakened by the fact that it just "seems more important".
It's hard to become a good violin-player if you hate the sound of the instrument!
The Time You Put In And How Consistently You Study Czech
The more you study Czech and the higher, the frequency of your study sessions, the faster you'll learn.
Okay, this might sound like another no-brainer, but there's actually more to it than just adding up numbers.
For one thing, the amount of time you study isn't simply a question of dividing the 1100 study-hours that FSI says that it takes to learn Czech with the length of your daily study sessions.
You can actually study too much and, of course, too little.
I'm not saying that studying 8 hours per day won't make you reach your goals faster than if you only studied an hour per day. Sure, you'd get there much faster.
But not 8 times faster.
The reason is, of course, that the longer you sit down and keep studying Czech in on stretch, the less focused you'll become, the less the information will stick, and the more your brain will start to hate this thing that you're trying to cram into long-term storage.
I've found that to maximize the efficiency of your studies, you have to study something like 45 minutes to 1½ hours per day. If you can do more than this without eventually burning out or losing motivation, go for it, but just know that your time will become less and less profitable in terms of learning, the longer you keep going.
On the other hand, if you only study 15 minutes per day, it'll take you forever to learn Czech. Not "1100-hours'-worth-of-15-minutes"-forever but "even-longer-than-that"-forever.
When studying 15 minutes per day, you simply won't have enough time to properly review what you did yesterday, practice what you know, and cover new material. You simply won't be getting anywhere.
And then there's frequency.
Have you ever heard the expression "2+2 = 5" ?
I'm going to assume that you have. I think that this expression is really good when it comes to study-time frequency as well.
The more often you study, the better.
And this isn't because the total amount of hours will add up faster, but rather, because the more often you tune your brain into the Czech language, the easier the information will get in there.
Studying 7 hours one time per week is not nearly as good as studying an hour per day, every day. If you only study once a week, you'll simply forget most of what you've covered in the following days and you'll spend the rest of the week not focusing on Czech.
If you study every day, you'll keep the language alive in your head. Sure, you'll need you to wake up the Czech part of your brain each time you sit down to study, but it won't get into hibernation.
And guess what's even better than studying every day?
Studying several times a day.
If you study Czech 6 times a day, 10 minutes each time, you'll keep your brain soaked in Czech throughout the day. Even when you're not actively studying, your last 10-minute session will still be working its magic inside of your head, and before the effect of it is gone, you'll pick it up again with a new study session.
Studying for short bursts like that is actually easier to fit into a busy schedule as well. You can learn Czech while drinking your morning coffee, while commuting, in your coffee break, on your way home, while doing the dishes, and before going to bed! (I've written a short list of tips on how to find time to study here).
Conclusion: How Long Does It Take To Learn Czech?
So how long does it take to learn Czech?
Anywhere from 2-10 years, depending on you, your goals and your motivation.
In the above, I've tried to outline some of the factors that play a role, but in reality, it's extremely difficult to correctly estimate how long it takes to learn Czech or any language.
In my study time calculator (to which I linked earlier) I've tried taking most of the variables discussed in this article into consideration. But they remain pretty subjective and don't factor in important questions such as your learning style and your method for learning Czech. And these are biggies!
So the real answer is probably the one that most people will be giving you: It depends.
(But do try my calculator!)