Czech as a foreign language

Jožo is from Slovakia, Olga is from Ukraine, and Suong is from Vietnam. They now live in the Czech Republic and go to a school where a language other than their mother tongue is spoken – Czech. At home with their family they still speak their mother tongue, a language that they like and do not want to lose. It is often the only language of communication that every member of the family understands. They have learned how to speak Czech well, and they have Czech friends with whom they speak Czech. Nevertheless, in school they still have difficulties with the language.

Should schools take into account the fact that the medium of instruction is not the mother tongue of some students? Should they study Czech in a different way than those students who have grown up speaking it? Can we imagine what it is like to move to another country while a student, and begin attending a school which works in a completely different way, and at which everyone speaks a language that we don’t fully understand?

In the text below we focus on what the situation is like for students at Czech schools who have a different mother tongue: what Czech is like as a foreign language, and what we as teachers can do to make learning at school easier for these students.

  • What is…?

Czech as a second/foreign language (ČJCJ): A foreign language is any language that is not a person’s mother tongue. For people whose mother tongue is not Czech, Czech is the language second to the mother tongue to which the child has been exposed since birth.

In other countries, Czech is used as the second language of Czech emigrés and their descendants (especially in the United States, Canada, Slovakia, Germany, Austria, Croatia, and Romania). Now, for a growing number of speakers (e.g. children from mixed-language families, descendants of Czech speakers abroad, families living long term or permanently on the territory of the CR, etc.) Czech is no longer a foreign language, as it is becoming an important medium of communication in their everyday life, their “second mother tongue”, thus fulfilling the role of a second language.

Czech for foreigners: There is a long and rich tradition of teaching Czech for foreigners, both in the Czech Republic and abroad. This field involves practical instruction in the Czech language for speakers of other languages, but it should be distinguished from another field called Czech as a foreign language, which focuses specifically on training Czech native speakers to teach Czech as a foreign target language (today, this is a separate programme of study offered at some educational and arts faculties at universities in the Czech Republic).

The Common European Reference Framework – provides a general framework with which to prepare language syllabi, directives for curriculum development, examinations, textbooks, and so on, all across Europe, with the objective of unifying European education and examinations. It describes what students need to learn in order to use a language for communication, and what skills they need to develop in order to be able to communicate effectively. In this country, Czech for foreigners is currently taught to adults, who, for example, can attend language schools (state-run or private) and sit an exam in Czech as a foreign language based on their level of language knowledge and communication skills (levels A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2); the biggest interest is in exams in Czech at the second-lowest level, A2).

Czech as a medium of instruction – the language in which students including foreign students are taught at school.

The education of foreigners - § 20 of Act No. 561/2004 Coll. (Education Act) is devoted to the education of foreigners, and guarantees all foreigners equal access to education as enjoyed by citizens of the Czech Republic. For a foreign student to gain admission to a primary school, the child’s parent or legal representative is not required to present any documentation evidencing their authorisation to reside in the Czech Republic (this has been in effect since 1 January 2008, Act No. 343/2007 Coll.). Foreigners also have access to preschool, secondary, and higher technical education on the condition that by no later than the starting date of the course the student submits proof of their authorisation to reside in the Czech Republic for a period longer than ninety days.

The type of residence permit plays a role in the integration of students into compulsory school attendance:

Children of EU citizens – unlike other foreign students, these (along with citizens of Liechtenstein, Norway, Iceland and Switzerland) have the opportunity to attend language preparation classes, where at no cost they undergo preparation for their integration into the basic education system.

Language preparation classes – Czech language instruction adapted to the needs of these students. This involves a minimum of 70 hours of instruction in the basics of the Czech language, and where possible this takes place in cooperation with background country support for teaching the mother tongue and culture of the student’s background country, coordinated to run alongside regular lessons at Czech schools. The regional authorities decide which schools will run these classes, and a list of them can be found here. The school principal informs the foreign student’s parents or legal representatives about the availability of this option.

Children of citizens of third countries – Where the student’s parents are not citizens of a state in the European Union or of Liechtenstein, Norway, Island, or Switzerland, and are not asylum-seekers, such students do not have a chance to attend language preparation classes. To provide support for this group of student-foreigners the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport runs grant programmes, the competition for which is announced each spring. The implementation of successful grant projects proceeds over the calendar year, which means that projects do not correspond to the course of the academic year.

Applicants for international protection and asylum – Previously, the education of students in this category was provided in conformity with the Guidelines for the School Attendance of Asylum Applicants, which, among other things, provided for the establishment of so-called “language support classes”: limited to a maximum number of twelve students, their objective being to provide students with language skills necessary for admission into a standard Czech school. Currently there are no published guidelines pertaining to this target group.

Regulation No. 147/2011 Coll. – The amended version of Regulation No. 73/2005 Coll. On the Education of Children and Students with Special Educational Needs and Gifted Children and Students deems a student disadvantaged by, among other things, insufficient language skills in the medium of instruction, which entitles such a socially disadvantaged student to language support. Schools can provide such support (e.g. an individualised education plan, teaching assistant) based on a pedagogical assessment of the student’s educational needs, the progress and outcome of the student’s education, or in cooperation with a school counselling facility.

  • Topic

Since 1989 and since the Czech Republic became a member of the EU, new factors have influenced communication in the Czech school environment (known as “educational communication”). Defining the components of this communication requires not only a linguistic approach to examining language activity as such, but also the examination of other factors of no less importance for shaping communicative contacts in the school environment, including both student-teacher contact and student-student contact, as the personalities of the participants in the communication situation (teacher/student, native/non-native speaker of a given language) reflect the influence of their social, regional, and religious anchoring, which is manifested, for example, through various norms of behaviour, practices, the use of various sign systems, and so forth. These are communication difficulties which can have a negative influence on the course of educational communication and on the life of the student body, or on the relationship which takes shape between majority and minority groups. Consequently, high demands are placed today on the professional skills of teachers. While the grammar curriculum forms a very large and diverse component of teaching Czech as a foreign language, it is also important for teachers to be informed about the so-called sociocultural anchoring of other countries and the connections between language systems, between both closely related and unrelated languages. At present there is no developed system for teaching Czech as a foreign language (ČJCJ) to students of different age groups and different backgrounds who often start attending Czech school not from the first grade but later (such students often start school during the school year, and admissions occur at every grade-level). The Guidelines of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport intended for basic schools are formulated in general terms and understandably focus on administrative affairs, not on the issue of teaching methodology in different subjects. Basic schools currently or previously located in the vicinity of a refugee camp, and schools with large shares of minorities permanently resident in the Czech Republic, have the greatest share of educational experience in teaching foreigners in ethnically mixed classes.

Even though no detailed system for teaching Czech as a foreign language to student-foreigners has yet been developed, we can at least note some basic information that we consider to be important in the given field and that should help explain the basic principles applied in teaching this subject:

The text below draws upon materials on a website aimed at the integration of student-foreigners into the Czech education system: l The Czech language can be viewed from various perspectives: Czech as a first language; Czech as a foreign/second language; Czech as the medium of instruction. In each case it is the same language, and the same set of language tools, but approached from a different angle. It is important to realise that when we are teaching foreigners the Czech language, we are teaching them the same language as that spoken by native speakers, and the only difference is that the method used to do so differs from the traditional method used to teach Czech language, communication and literature.
Foreigners need to be taught Czech in such a way that they are able to use it, and in such a way that what they are taught makes sense to them and to everyone else. The foundation of this is communication and communication education – how and when to use certain words, language constructions, and phrases that enable them to orientate themselves and be understood in the Czech environment, how to use different language tools suited to different situations. The same applies to Czechs, but unfortunately the Czech language curriculum in schools is often designed in a way that suggests we give little thought to why we are teaching students what we are teaching them, and why we are doing it the way we are. This, however, is a separate issue which would warrant a separate paper.

It is important to be aware of how foreigners perceive Czech and how they can go about mastering the Czech system of grammar. It is pointless for foreigners to learn the case system by rote, as they cannot use the case forms correctly in a communication situation. We use words in their different morphological forms within a context (in a sentence, an utterance), so if foreigners do not learn them in a context they will not understand them and will not learn how and when to use them. Native Czech speakers have an automatic, established grasp of Czech grammar. In the phrase “Dám to pánovi” [I’ll give it to the man], Czechs know that here the word “pán” [man] must take the form of the third case, but foreigners have to learn that when the verb “dát” [to give] is used, the word “pán” [man] takes the suffix -u, or -ovi. The case questions “koho, co” and “komu, čemu” are not automatic for foreigners in the way they are for Czech native speakers. These too must be learned as forms in context. We learn a language in the context of a communication system and the grammatical structure of the sentence or utterance. The differences in the ways Czech native speakers and foreigners think when mastering the Czech system of grammar can be seen at:

An example of teaching Czech as a foreign language:
One basic element of Czech grammar which foreigners starting to learn Czech are presented with is the sixth or locative case. They are usually taught this case in connection with a response to the question “Where is...?” and we can see that we teach only the forms of words that we expect to answer the question “Where?” (e.g. the animate suffix –ovi is omitted). We teach the students a simple rule that states

Words that end in: change into the locative:
- a consonant OBCHOD +   V OBCHODĚ
- the vowel - A ŠKOLA -E/Ě VE ŠKOLE
- the vowel - O KINO   V KINĚ


- k, h, ch, g (+ foreign words) PARK + -U V PARKU

v hotelu
ve filmu
v pokoji
v kanceláři
v posteli
ve skříni
na stole na nádraží
na náměstí
Source: textbook by Štindlová, B.: Česky v Česku I., UJOP and Akropolis, 2008, p.31.

This approach is called parcelling and simplification. “At the heart of this approach is the question of how units should be structured; what is the optimal sum of information that students can infer without making mistakes; the order of individual parcelled units is then also important” (quoted from: Štindlová, B. et al.: Česky v Česku I., Manuál pro učitele [Czech in the Czech Republic I: a Teachers’ Manual], p.10). Štindlová also notes that “the most frequented types receive a targeted explanation, while the other forms are presented as “exceptions” or words to learn by memory”.

This example shows how important word endings (suffixes) are in Czech for expressing meaning. It is therefore important to concentrate on word endings, especially suffixes, when teaching Czech. There is a very interesting article by the author of a well-known textbook of Czech for foreigners, Lída Holá, called‘Dá se čeština číst odzadu?’ [Can Czech be read backwards?] , in which she gives a clear description of everything that a suffix is responsible for, and how important it is for foreigners to know this in order to speak grammatically correctly. A word’s suffix tells us, for instance, what part of speech it is – krásný [beautiful] (ends in -ý – so it is an adjective), krásně [beautifully] (ends in -ě – so its an adverb). The suffix also usually tells us the grammatical gender of nouns and adjectives, etc.

What methodological approach should we take? Where to begin? What should be taught and based on what?

We recommend looking at the existing textbooks on Czech for foreigners and drawing inspiration from one of the approaches used in them. Of interest for use in teaching the children of foreigners is the Methodology of Svatava Škodová (see below for more). Immediately below is a list of suggested textbooks and teaching materials:

For adult foreigners:
Štindl, O.: Easy Czech Elementary. Akronym 2008.
Štindlová, B.: Česky v Česku I/II. [Czech in the Czech Republic I/II] Akropolis 2008.
Holá, L.: NEW Czech Step by Step. Akropolis 2004.
Holá, L.: Czech Express 1, 2. Akropolis 2006.
Holá, L., Bořilová, P.: Česky krok za krokem. (B1). [Czech Step by Step] Akropolis 2009.
Cvejnová, J.: Česky, prosím. [Czech Please] Karolinum 2008.

For the children of foreigners:
Škodová, S.: Domino. Český jazyk pro malé cizince 1 (Učebnice, Metodika, Pracovní sešit, Poslechové CD). [The Czech Language for Young Foreigners 1 (Textbook Methodology, Workbook, CD)] Wolters Kluwer ČR, 2010.
Dousková, J.; Štenclová K., Fraňková, L.: Česky vesele a hezky. [Czech with a Smile] Centa 2005.
Hanzová, M.: Učíme se česky 1. [Let’s Learn Czech 1] Pansofia.
Hrubá, J.: Čeština pro děti cizinců. [Czech for Children of Foreigners] MSD, spol.s.r.o, Brno 2004.
Kamiš, K.: Učíme se česky 2. [Let’s Learn Czech 2] Pansofia.
Kotyková, S.; Lejnarová, I.: Čeština pro malé cizince 1/2. [Czech for Young Children ˝] Knižní klub, Praha 2005.

Web links: (Český den [Czech Day] – materials for teaching Czech as a foreign language) (Association of Teachers of Czech as a Foreign Language) (Library of the Association of Teachers of Czech as a Foreign Language)

Additional recommended teaching materials:

If you decide to use any one textbook, it is a good idea to stick with the same one. The vocabulary used in one textbook may be structured and work logically in sequence with progress across the curriculum, so it is a good idea not to mix too many sources.

Organising lessons for student-foreigners in schools

What should we do as teachers when we find a student-foreigner in a class where we have another 25 students, almost every one of whom deserves an individual approach? How can we provide that one student with quality instruction? How can we organise and plan it? How can we avoid being overcome by it all?

There are no simple answers to these questions. The information provided above suggests that support provided by the state is currently insufficient – there is a shortage of language classes, teaching materials, and further education for teachers and other school staff.

The latest auxiliary material published by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport on this issue is: Metodická doporučení k začleňování žáků-cizinců do výuky v českých základních školách [Methodological Recommendations for the Integration of Student-Foreigners into Education at Czech Basic Schools] .

Below we outline several important points that we recommend taking into account:

From the perspective of the school’s management:

What should I do when a student-foreigner and his/her parents first come to the school?

It is useful to prepare for the arrival of student-foreigners in advance and to know how one intends to proceed during their admission. It is necessary to try right from the start to establish cooperation with the parents, conduct a structured interview with them (through an interpreter if there is a language barrier) and request the necessary documentation (a school certificate or some other document on the student’s completed level of education), acquaint them with how the school is run and its organisational structure, the rules of school attendance (the procedure used to excuse a child from class, parent-teacher meetings, etc.), or even introduce them to the Czech education system as a whole. The school can use its website to post basic information about the school, school clubs, and the school dining room and present this information in different languages.

Important information of this type is available in nine different languages for downloading here.

A guide to the placement of student-foreigners in a grade-level

Experiences and practices abroad have shown that the most important factor for the placement of students in a grade-level is the age of the child, and that it is best to place a child in the grade-level that corresponds to his/her age (and the number of years of education the student had in his/her home country), or at most one (or based on research by teachers at UJEP two) grade-levels below.

Why should a student not be placed in a lower grade-level? Teaching a student-foreigner who does not understand the medium of instruction must initially focus on overcoming the language barrier. As we showed above, it should be based on the principles of teaching Czech as a foreign language, an approach which is not offered in lower grade-levels anyway. At the same time, it is necessary to realise that the student will be joining a class in which the students are several years younger than him/her. This age difference can play a big role in the student’s ability to form and maintain social contacts and in creating the right teaching environment for a student-foreigner.

Finally, it is necessary to note that § 55, par. 1, of the Education Act, which stipulates that a student may only attend basic school until the age of 17 (or to 18 in the case of an extension at the parents’ request), applies even to these students. If the student is placed in a lower grade-level, he/she may not complete basic education within the stipulated time frame.

The placement of a student in a grade-level is also guided by the recommendations that a larger number of foreigners should not be accumulated in one class (except in the case of a class for language preparation and support classes). The maximum number should be 3–4 student-foreigners in one class, so that they are able to integrate more easily into the community of their Czech peers.

From the perspective of the student’s teacher:

We recommend:

Prepare the class for the arrival of the student-foreigner, suitably acquaint the students with the cultural and social differences of the environment the new student comes from; in this respect transfer some of the initiative to the student – ascertain anything that he/she may find pleasant/unpleasant in order to avoid putting the student in an unpleasant situation.

Think about where to seat the student – it is recommended that the student-foreigner be seated with a student who can serve as a language model for the new student. It is a good idea to discuss the situation with the selected student.

Select sponsors – classmates who will initially assist the new student, and give the sponsors specific tasks – one will help the new student find his/her way around the school building, one will help the student to orientate him/herself in the academic subjects and educational tools, one will introduce the student to the other teachers. The students should assume these roles voluntarily.

Plan the method for teaching the student – put together an individual teaching plan, which will initially focus mainly on overcoming the language barrier. The plan should be preceded by a skills audit, in which all the important information about the student is collected and the student’s level of skills is identified (tips for assessing the student’s level of Czech language skills can be found here) .
In Czech we draw on the principles of ČJCJ and initially focus on oral communication, i.e. developing interpersonal communicative skills (interesting information on the connections between the development of communicative skills and academic language proficiency is provided by the well-known Canadian education professor J. Cummins) .

Interactive and illustrative methods - should be adopted for teaching regular lessons. Frontal teaching is pointless for students who do not understand the medium of instruction. Instead it is necessary to make more use of group work, project-based teaching, individualised approaches, etc.

Assigning student classification – is based on regulation no. 48/2005 Coll. and essentially indicates that lack of knowledge of a language is a serious factor which influences a student’s performance and must be taken into account (in assessing a student’s performance in the subject Czech Language and Literature). However, this does not mean that the teacher does not have to classify the student at the end of the school year. Various assessment options can be used – oral assessment, a classification level, or a combination of the two. We assess the student on the basis of his/her individual progress.

Cooperation between teachers – If each of the teachers who is teaching the student with a language barrier participates in overcoming that barrier (so that this is not just the responsibility of the student’s Czech language teacher, but rather all the teachers of the student’s academic subjects, who are also work on developing the student’s vocabulary) the student will make better progress.

Cooperation with parents – It is important to establish cooperation and a method of mutual cooperation with the parents. Discuss with them how they can help their child overcome the language barrier (by obtaining a tutor, enrolling the child in a language course, etc.). In this area we can also establish cooperation with school counselling facilities (ŠPP), educational-psychological advisories (PPP) and non-governmental non-profit organisations (NNO), which may have interesting information to offer on this issue.

  • Stories and examples

Antonio, age 14
A fourteen-year-old Italian boy named Antonio found himself living in the Czech Republic after his parents moved here in connection with their work for an Italian company. He was placed in the eighth grade at a Czech basic school, a grade-level to which the school principal assigned him on the basis of his age. Because he was from within the European Union, his parents were given the recommendation that he take a language preparation class where he would be able to learn Czech. Because the length of the courses in such classes is insufficient for a beginner, it was agreed that his parents would arrange for additional tutoring in Czech for Antonio. When he first arrived in his new class, the Czech language teacher devoted a grammar lesson to going over the grammatical category of aspect in the class. While the Czech students were able to grasp this grammar lesson, Antonio did not understand what it was about. The teacher tried for 25 minutes to explain this difficult (for foreigners and especially those who do not speak a Slavic language) grammatical category, but was unsuccessful. She was unable even to draw on knowledge of another foreign language with which to compare the two language systems and explain aspect by analogy. She realised that she would have to try a different approach. She bought a textbook of Czech for foreigners and adapted her lesson for Antonio according to its principles. She set up an individual work plan for him, in which she described the goals Antonio should achieve and on which he would be working. Because the content of this plan sometimes overlapped with the material she was working on with the rest of the class, she used it to fully integrate the student into the lesson. When this was not possible, Antonio worked individually on the assignments he was given. Owing to the use of this systematic approach and the clear instructions and assignments Antonio was given, he showed progress relatively quickly and his motivation to learn Czech grew.

When there is more than one student with no knowledge of Czech in the class
When a new German firm opened up in one Czech town, a relatively large number of Mongolian workers moved to the town. Many of them brought their children with them and they started to attend the local basic school. Ten new students with no knowledge of Czech and from a very different cultural environment arrived in the school. At first the school tried to handle this intuitively and with little planning, but it soon became apparent that the school needed a conceptual approach to the situation. The school principal turned to a local non-profit organisation with a request to organise parent meetings where they could agree conditions for further cooperation. The organisation had a letter with this information translated into Mongolian, and found an interpreter to take part in the meeting. The school suggested setting up an afternoon student group where the students would be taught Czech as a foreign language, and agreed with the parents that their children would attend this group. Lessons would take place twice a week and the parents of each child would contribute 50 CZK per week. The other rules attached to participating in the Czech education system were also explained at this meeting. The school principal obtained further information on possible funding sources for teaching these students, and applied for support as part of the Ministry of Education’s grant programmes. He also managed to negotiate with the education department of the regional authorities to introduce the position of a teaching assistant, which made the situation much easier for the students and their teachers.

TIP: In almost every region there are Centres for the Support of the Integration of Foreigners, established by the Ministry of Interior, which provide various services for foreigners (e.g. language courses, social counselling, interpreter services) and have contacts with non-profit and other organisations working in this area. Last updated 24.10.2011

  • Sources

Balkó, I., Zimová, L. (2005). O jazycích, zemích a kultuře našich spolužáků. [On the Languages, Countries and Culture of Our Classmates] Ústí nad Labem.

Čechová, M. – Zimová, L. (2002/2003): Metodický list k vyučování českému jazyku pro učitele žáků-imigrantů. [Methodology on Teaching Czech for Teachers of Immigrant Students] Český jazyk a literatura 53, Praha 2002/2003, p. 179–184.

Čechová, M., Millerová, Z. & Zimová, L.(2006). Metodická příručka o práci s žáky-imigranty ve výuce. [Methodological Handbook on Working with Immigrant Students in Class] Ústí nad Labem.

Šindelářová, J. (2005). Socio-kulturní zázemí žáků a studentů-imigrantů přicházejících ze zemí s odlišnou kulturou. [The Socio-cultural Background of Students and Immigrant Students from Countries with Different Cultures] Ústí nad Labem.

Šindelářová, J. (2008). Čeština jako cizí jazyk v evropském kontextu. [Czech as a Foreign Language in a European Context] Ústí nad Labem.

Štindlová, B. (2008): Česky v Česku I. [Czech in the Czech Republic I] Praha.


Education Act No. 561/2004 Coll. on Preschool, Basic, Secondary, Tertiary, Vocational, and Other Education. Prague 2004. (

General Education Programme for Basic Education – 2007 version (currently in effect). Prague 2007. (

Regulation č. 48/2005 Coll. on Basic Education and Certain Requirements for the Fulfilment of Compulsory School Attendance (

Regulation No. 72/2005 Coll. on the Provision of Counselling Services at School and School Counselling Facilities ( +)

Regulation No. 147/2011 Coll. on the Education of Children and Students with Special Educational Needs and Gifted Children and Students (

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