The Czech Republic, in Central Europe, is a country that's known for its ornate castles, native beers and long history. Prague, the capital, is home to grand 9th-century Prague Castle, a preserved medieval old town and statue-lined Charles Bridge. Český Krumlov, a small town in the South Bohemia region, is notable for its wealth of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque buildings, many of which house restaurants and shops.
The main language spoken is, not surprisingly, Czech. The Slovak language can often be heard, as there is a sizable Slovak minority and both languages are mutually intelligible up to a certain point. Czech people are very proud of their language, and thus, even in Prague you will not find many signs written in English (outside of the main tourist areas). Many older people, especially outside the large cities, are also unable to converse in English, so it's good to learn some Czech or Slovak before your arrival. However, most young people speak at least some English. Most Czechs speak a second and often a third language. English is the most widely known, with German the most widely spoken second language among older people. Russian was compulsory in all schools during the communist era so most people born before c. 1975 speak at least some Russian (and often pretty well). However the connection with the communist era and the Soviet-led invasion in 1968 has given this language some negative connotations. Other languages, like French or Spanish, are also taught in some schools. The Czech and Slovak languages are very difficult for English-speakers to grasp, especially if you're not really familiar with the other Slavic languages, including Russian. However, if you can learn the alphabet (and the corresponding letters with accents), then pronunciation is easy as it is always the same - Czechs and Slovaks pronounce every letter of a word, with the stress falling on the first syllable. The combination of consonants in some words may seem mind-bogglingly hard, but it is worth the effort! The Czech language has many local dialects, especially in Moravia. Some dialects are so different that they can sometimes be misunderstood even by a native Czech speaker from a different region. However all Czech people understand the standard Czech (as spoken in TV, written in newspapers and taught in schools) and should be able to speak it (but some are too proud to stop using their local dialect). Some of them are even unable to speak standard Czech but write it correctly. The vocabularies of Czech and Slovak are similar, with occasional words not understood. The younger generation born after the dissolution of Czechoslovakia is growing apart in the two separate countries, and they have problems understanding one another.
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