I found that not very many people in Prague speak a lot of English, so learning some Czech will probably be useful. Locals generally respond very well if you at least recognise the effort they have made for you, even if you only know a word or two of Czech. Here are some useful phrases:
Hello - Dobrý den
Yes - Ano
No - Ne
Please - Prosím
Thank you - Děkuji
We found that most Czechs are more than happy to give an impromptu lesson in Czech - one taxi driver even listed off several phrases when we asked him, and then made us repeat them all in turn so that he could correct our pronounciation :) That was the best taxi journey I've ever been on.
Don't be too daunted if Czech looks too confusing - many Czechs speak German as a second language so if you did German at school, now is the perfect opportunity to go up into the attic and dust off all your old exercise books!
everyone says "Prosim," all...the....time. they pick up their cell phones and say, "prosim?" they give you your change back and say, "prosim!"
so what does prosim mean? according to my guidebook, it means please. but it seems like they use it for hello and thank you and all sorts of other stuff. i don't really know for sure, but it's a really big word - big like aloha or coca cola or something.
if you'd like to say it too, it sounds like pro-seem. roll the 'r'.
In generall czech people are very weak in foreign languages. So if you ask someone for help you may see frowning face. This does not mean any signs of hostility but simply a person does not understand and does not want to communicate. Due to communist era a lot of especially older people do speak only a little bit of russian. It is much more better with young generation who can speak at least basic of english or german. In Prague it should not be problem to order in english or german in restaurants especially in the centre. In the countryside it might be more problem to speak with a stuff but menus are usually in two languages. The more west the more german language, of course, due to boarders with Germany. I would reccommend to learn few word which warm up the people faces, they will be happy to hear you trying to pronounce czech words. There is an english - czech dictionary web site.
Czech is not an easy language to learn, but making the effort to learn to say Hello, Please and Thank you, really is worth the trouble. Locals will be pleasantly surprised and you might get a smile or a new friend just for trying...
Hello = Dobry den
Please = Prosím
Thank you = De Kuji Vám
To me as a Norwegian this language is almost impossible to learn, It's hard to pronounce the words correctly.
Some words like Dobriden (Good day) and the word for Thank(Dekuij) is usefull
a funny sentence without a single vocal is this "strc prst skrz krk" meaning stick your fingers in the trouth
Just as in any country, local people really appreciate when you make an effort to speak their language. Even if it is just the word "hello" or "thank you", so learn a few basic words. They will really value your attempt to learn Czech, and as they are generally very friendly people, will easily help you and share a lot of things with you.
Even if English is the international language, Czech is still theirs so don't expect to have menus in English, or for them to understand everything you say.
It might seem like a very obvious tip to some of you, but trust me, I have witnessed many times tourists complaining and saying "How can they not have a menu in English!!!!"
So, I bought a Praha lanyard, a KGB (We're Still Watching You!) t-shirt, and a Praha bottle opener at the souvenir shop beside the bridge tower. The young lady at the cashier said to me, "Prosim." I asked her what it meant. She said it means thank you or hello. I said to her, "I thought thank you was "Dekuji." She said, "Yes." So now I'm confused... I asked her one more question, "What does Bes Do Perdele mean?" She was sipping on some water at that time and I had her blowing water/chunks through her nostrils. Hahaha! She couldn't tell me what it meant. Everyone in that souvenir shop was laughing so hard!
I told my Czech co-worker my story when I got back and he said that it's even harder for women to translate it to men. So remember, always learn a few useful verses (for comedic effect) when visiting other countries.
Czech, a consonant-rich Slavic language, is said to be the most difficult European language to learn.
Some of the sounds can be very difficult for English speakers to produce.
Fortunately, many Czech's speak English, particularly in Prague city centre.
Among the older generation, Russian & German are also quite common.
As you walk around Prague, it gets really hard to believe that it was less than 25 years ago that the Velvet Revolution occurred, ultimately leading to the fall of the Communist Party and the birth of the Czech Republic. I guess it would be fair to say that the city has really embraced most of the opportunities that came with this new way of life, especially when it comes to the tourist industry. That's why you most likely won't have any problem visiting the city on your own, even if you don't speak the local language. Practically everything is available in several languages, or at the very least in English, from restaurant menus to information at museums and instructions for using public transportation. Translation might be a little off sometimes, but you can't blame them for not trying!
Language can be a bit of a barrier, but you might do well speaking a little German. Czech is very difficult and I found that even with a book of 'useful' phrases, they weren't very useful the way I was pronouncing them!!
Some of the younger people will speak English, but don't count on it.
Here are the very basics:
Yes: Ano (AH-no)
No: ne (neh)
Please/You're welcome: Prosim (PROH-seem)
Thank you: Dekuji (Dyeh-koo-yih)
Hello: Dobry den (DO-bree-den)
Goodbye: Nashledanou (NAH-sleh-dah-noh-oo)
The first time I went in May 1999, nobody really spoke good English,except in pricey restaurants and I had to speak German (Which is fine by me). When I came back in September 2000, most people had a pretty good command of Anglisky. So the moral of the story is, if you cant handle Czech accented consonants, dont worry :)
I saw some Russian signs around Prague's train & metro stations though, clearly dating back to Communist times... and the metro trains seem to be Moscow Metro rejects, but they still work! :)
I read lots of things here on VT about problems with menus and such, but on my trip, never had a problem not finding someone who spoke English. Every restaurant we went in had English on the menu, and someone who spoke the language well, usually the first person we met there. Tourism is important and as their language is not much like what tourists speak at home, it is important for businesses to have German, English, French, Japanese speaking staff.
Language can be a problem sometimes, especially with older people. Most Czechs older than 20 has some knowledge of Russian (since they learned it in school), but be aware that it is culturally sensitive due to the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia, and some people might be offended if you try it. Still, as a last resort and with some polite excuses, it could work.
A language tape would be the best to help with pronouncing the slavic languages. :: Written language guides don't help with the pronunciation. And then there's the fact that "ano" means yes... :: See also - http://www.locallingo.com/countries/czech_republic/language/ and also - eurotravels' site on VT for more info.
Czech language is very hard (sometimes even natives don't speak well) so you'll need dictionaries. But some 'usefull' phrases, which you can find in that books, are mostly wrong and they don't exactly mean what they are suppose to. So many young people speak English and German (mostly teenagers and businessmen), a lot of people speak Russian, but don't try to talk to them by using that language. Many people don't like Russians so much because of some historical events so when you'll talk to them in Russian they'll simply walk away or tell you that they don't understand. The best way how to get some informations is to go to one of the many INFO kiosks in downtown or just go to some restaurant and ask the waiter - most of them speak English.