Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Fingers Crossed

My exams are coming up so "fingers crossed" that I pass.  In English, you put the middle finger across the index finger to "hope for the best", "wish luck" or to just show support.  You usually do it with both hands but one hand will work too.

Of course, when you only use one hand then it could be that you are telling a lie.  But let's focus on wishing luck.

In Czechland and Slovakia you don't cross your fingers.  Držet palce is the equivalent of "fingers crossed" but here it means "to hold your thumbs."  

Držím palce - I'm holding my thumbs

Budu ti držet palce - I will hold my thumbs for you

When I send an SMS (text message) I still have to use the "fingers crossed" emoji because there isn't a "holding thumbs" version.

German speakers also hold their thumbs.  You'll hear drücken die Daumen in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.

In Sweden it's hålla tummarna, in Poland it's trzymając kciuki and there are thumb holding equivalents in Slovenia, Croatia, Bulgaria, and Russia.  Even the Afrikaans speakers in South Africa "hold thumbs tightly" with duim vashou

It doesn't matter to me if it's "fingers crossed" or "held thumbs".  At this point I'll take all of the luck that I can get. 

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Language Difficulty

I'm headed to Prague on Friday to take my Czech citizenship test and my B1 language test.  I'm not worried at all about the citizenship test but I'm nervous about the language test.  Fingers crossed that it all goes well.

A common question I get is "how hard is it to learn Czech"?  The short answer is that it's hella' hard!  There are lots of reasons why Czech can be difficult to learn.  Some people take pride that "Czech is one of the hardest languages in the world to learn".  While there are times that it feels that way, there are way more difficult languages to learn.

The Defense Language Institute (DLI), in California, is the language school where the U.S., trains all of its military linguists.  Students study a foreign language full time, for seven hours a day, five days a week, with 3-4 hours of homework every day.  Completion of a basic course is basically more or less the equivalent of the CEFR B1 level.

The length of the course depends on the difficulty of the language.  All languages are rated from 1 to 4 with category 4 languages being the most difficult to learn for a native English speaker.

Category I languages have 26 weeks of instruction.  This includes French, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish.

Category II languages take 34 weeks.  This includes German, Romanian, and Indonesian.

Category III languages take 48 weeks.  All of the Slavic languages are 3's.  So Czech, Polish, Russian, Ukrainian, Bulgarian, and Serbian/Croatian.  Plus Farsi, Hebrew, Hungarian, Greek, Albanian, Hindi, Tagalog, Thai, Turkish, Urdu, Uzbek and Vietnamese.

Category IV languages take 64 weeks to complete the basic course.  This includes Arabic, Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Pashto.

I grew up during the Cold War and when I was in the military they still taught people how to speak German, Czech, and Polish.  These languages aren't even taught there anymore.  

The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) is the language school for the U.S. Department of State where American diplomats get their language training.  FSI courses have 25 hours of class each week with 3-4 hours of homework every day.  FSI has five difficulty categories.

Category I languages last 23-24 weeks which equates to 575-600 hours of training.  Category I languages are the Romance and Germanic languages, except for German.  So Afrikans, Dutch, Norwegian, Swedish, French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, and Spanish.

The only category II language is German.  The course lasts for 30 weeks which is 750 hours of study.

Category III languages last for 36 weeks (900 hours) and include Indonesian, Malaysian, and Swahili.

Category IV languages take 44 weeks to complete which is 1100 hours of training.  This is pretty much the same as the DLI Category III languages.  All of the Slavic languages - Czech, Slovak, Polish, Russian, Bulgarian, Serbian, Croatian, Macedonian, and Ukrainian.  The Baltic languages Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian.  Plus Albanian, Armenian, Azeri, Burmese, Farsi, Finnish, Georgian, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Hindi, Khmer, Lao, Pasto, Tagalog, Thai, Turkish, Vietnamese, Xhosa, and Zulu.   

Category V languages take 88 weeks to complete.  A whopping 2200 hours.  These are Arabic, Mandarin Chinese, Cantonese Chinese, Japanese, and Korean.

To me it's interesting how both DLI and FSI sometimes have different opinions as to a language's difficulty.  DLI had German, Romanian, and Indonesian as equally difficult while FSI says Romanian is easier than German but German is easier than Indonesian.  Or how DLI has Pashto at the same difficulty level as Arabic or Chinese but FSI has Pashto at the same level as Czech.

Here's the FSI language difficulty map for Europe.

So how hard is Czech?  Pretty dang difficult!  Especially for a native-English speaker.  Though not the most difficult language out there.  In the end however it really doesn't matter.  As long as I pass my exam.

Update: I found some graduation numbers for DLI.
  • Czech was taught from 1971-2002 and again in 2017.  The top year was 1985.  In total 3.420 people graduated from the Czech programme.  
  • Slovak was taught from 1984-1986, 1991-1993, and in 1995.  Only 144 completed Slovak.
  • German was taught from 1965-2018 and 1986 was the top year.  German had 13.699 graduates.

Monday, April 5, 2021

Easter 2021

Due to Covid-19 this is the second Easter in a row that hasn't happened.  Technically, shops should not even be selling Easter decorations because they don't fall under the exempt, necessary products that stores should be selling now.  Although I have seen a few decorations for sale here and there.  But definitely no Easter markets this year.

At Náměstí svobody the giant Easter egg was back but that's it.  It was made by Croatian artists and donated to Brno in 2018 and has been on display ever since.

Boží hod velikonoční is Easter Sunday.  Lamb is the traditional food served at Easter.  However, in the past, most Czechs and Slovaks couldn't afford lamb.  

So instead the tradition became to enjoy beránek which is a lamb-shaped cake.  Beránek is basically a pound cake and it is usually covered with powdered (icing) sugar or sometimes with chocolate icing.

I'm pretty sure that the lamb cake is popular throughout most of Central Europe.

Sunday, April 4, 2021


Brno is a student city and, under more normal times, there are many foreign students here under the Erasmus Programme.  Erasmus is the EU student exchange programme that was established in 1987.  It provides educational exchanges across the EU.  Some non-EU countries like Turkey, Iceland, Serbia, Norway, and Macedonia pay to participate in the programme as well.  Erasmus is the acronym for the EuRopean Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students.  

In 2014, all of the EU's programmes for education, training, youth and sport were combined under Erasmus Plus.

Under Erasmus Plus students don't pay any more tuition than what they pay at their home institution.  Students receive grants to help cover living expenses to study abroad and for work placements/internships.  Teachers and educational staff are also able to attend training courses across Europe.  

Every year around 300.000 students participate in the programme at over 4.000 institutions in 37 countries.  Spain sends the most participants followed by France, Germany, and Italy.  The most popular receiving countries are Spain, Germany, Italy, and France.

I don't know how true it is but I've heard that some 25% of Erasmus participants meet their future spouse/partner while on the programme.

After Brexit the United Kingdom decided to no longer participate in Erasmus.  So UK students can no longer study in the EU and EU students aren't able to study at UK institutions.  The UK has rolled out the Turing Scheme, named after Alan Turing, as its replacement for Erasmus.  It will allow up to 35.000 UK students to study and work worldwide.   

Erasmus provides more money to students than Turing to subsidise their foreign placements.  

Ireland has announced that it will fund students from Northern Ireland to continue to participate in Erasmus even though the UK pulled out of the programme.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Postage Price Increases

Česká pošta increased prices for some services today.  The price changes are mainly for registered letters, insured letters, and for money orders.  Prices didn't change for regular domestic letters or packages.

Doporučené psaní (registered letters) and cenné psaní (insured letters) up to 50 grams both increase 5 Kč (23¢).  Registered economy now costs 52 Kč ($2.40) and priority is 59 Kč ($2.73).  Insured letters are now 57 Kč ($2.64).

Normal domestic letters and post cards remain 19 Kč (88¢) for economy and 26 Kč ($1.20) for priority.  

A small package, up to 35 cm, is 89 Kč ($4.12) for economy and 99 Kč ($4.58) for priority.

There are four different types of postal money orders and they all increased 5 Kč for money orders up to 5.000 Kč ($231.19).  There are higher fees for higher value money orders.

Type A lets someone transfer the amount to a Czech bank account.  This costs 44 Kč ($2.03).

Type B lets someone send money from an account to be delivered in cash.  This costs 35 Kč ($1.62).

Type C lets someone pay in cash and have cash delivered.  This costs 53 Kč ($2.45).

Type D is a cash transfer in one working day and it costs 112 Kč ($5.18).

I don't know if it's due to Brexit but economy class is no longer available for packages going to the UK.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Czech 2021 Census

Sčítání 2021 is the national census which just began.  It runs from 27 March until 11 May.  If you don't want to deal with paper forms then you can do the whole thing online but the online submission must be completed by 9 April.  

The ČSÚ (Czech Statistical Office) anticipates that over 2/3rds of the population will complete the census online.  There are around 11.000 surveyors that will go out across the country to help those who don't have computer access.

Everyone, including foreigners, has to complete the census.  Failure to do so can result in a 10.000 Kč ($462) fine.  There will be fewer questions than last time and you can complete the census in Czech, English, German, Polish, Russian, Ukrainian, Vietnamese or Romani.

I completed the census in English.  Once question was about your mother language.  I found it funny that English wasn't an option.  You could choose Czech, Slovak, Polish, Ukrainian, Russian, German, Vietnamese, Romani, Sign Language, or Other.  I had to choose "other" and then write the Czech word for 'English'.

English wasn't an option as a mother language

I can't believe that it's been 10 years since the last census.  It will be interesting to see how different this year's results are from the 2011 results.

To mark the occasion in Brno, the Jošt statue's shield displays the Moravian emblem.  It will be displayed until 27 April.  After that I don't know if it will go back to displaying the Pahonia in support of Belarus or not.

Displaying the Moravian eagle is in support of identity and patriotism in Moravia.  It's got nothing to do with any sort of separatist movement.  There's no call for Moravia to break away from Czechland.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Extended State of Emergency

The government has extended the state of emergency  through Sunday, 11 April.  My citizenship exam and language exam are scheduled for Saturday, 10 April.  

So I guess sometime next week I'll get notified again that my exams will be postponed.  Again. 

Update:  Wow!  I received an e-mail on 30 March that my exams on 10 April will still take place even though the state of emergency, including the ban on travel between regions, doesn't expire until 11 April.

In order to enter the building to take my exams I will have to present a negative Covid test no older than 48 hours.  

My temperature will be taken.  I will be turned away if it is above 37,5℃.

A respirator mask will have to be worn the entire time. 

I don't know if I'm more excited to finally take my exams or if it's that I actually get to travel.  My last time on a train was back in July.  In order to book a hotel I had to provide confirmation of official exams.  Fingers crossed that everything works out well.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021


I didn't know that libraries were such a big deal here in Czechland.  There are approximately 5.410 public libraries here.  That's almost as many libraries as there are towns which is one library for every 1.900 people.

Relative to population that's about four times as many libraries than the EU average and 10 times more than in the USA.  Czechland actually has the densest public library network in the world.    

Soon after Czechoslovakia became an independent country the First Library Act was passed in 1919.  The law required that every municipality had to have a public library.  This was done to promote education and universal literacy.  Promotion of the Czech language was important as German was a dominant language of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.   

Even following the Velvet Divorce the law was still in place in Czech Republic until 2001 when the requirement was dropped in order to save money.  Since then about 11% of the country's public libraries have merged or closed.  

Brno's Jiří Mahen Library celebrates its 100th anniversary this year.  

It is the biggest public library in Moravia and the second largest in the entire country.  

Monday, March 22, 2021

Multiple Goodbyes

One thing that I've noticed about Czech and Slovak speakers is that, when it comes to ending a telephone call or video chat, they never just say "good-bye" once.  There are always multiple goodbyes.  Especially for an informal call, there's usually at least three different salutations given.

Of course, there's ahoj.  Some people say čau.  Many people say it twice - čau čau.  With my Slovaks, there's usually čauko.

With kids you'll often hear pa pa.

Nashle is a short, more casual version of na schledanou (good bye).

Zatím or tak zatím, is basically "until next time".

Měj se is pretty much "take care".

On a Friday, many people will wish you a nice weekend with hezký víkend.

Younger people may say čus which is the Czech version of tschüß which is the German version of ciao.

So at the end of a call you may hear something like "tak zatím...měj se...ahoj" or "hezký víkend...zatím...čau čau".  

One "good bye" is fine when it's face-to-face but there's usually three different versions when it's on the phone.  I've never really understood what's up with the multiple goodbyes but that's the way it is.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Off the Wagon

So I'm off the wagon.  Well, sort of.  Not only did I make it through suchej únor I still hadn't had a drink since Christmas when I had a glass of wine with dinner.  

My friend David and I usually go out for beers every four to eight weeks.  The last time was back in October before the state of emergency closed everything again.

A couple of weeks ago we decided on a virtual pub night.  My first beer since November.  I swear it was the best tasting beer ever.  It was lots of fun catching up and we need to do it again soon.

Then on Friday night we had another lads' night.  It had been a while since our last one.  Still not the same as meeting up with everyone at the pub but it was nice to at least get caught up online.  I'm so ready for things to get back to normal.