First Lessons in Czech – Unplugged but Planned

I would like to provide a framework here of a first lesson in Czech as a Foreign Language which I have successfully delivered several times and developed over a period of a year. The basic outline comes from my dear co-teachers at university to whom I am really grateful for sharing it with me. The reasoning and details are mine.

Unlike EFL, the majority of Czech students are complete or false beginners, so you as a teacher can hardly expect that students will know any language at all on Day 1. As a result, it would be unwise to plan on the following:

  • icebreakers
  • dealing with organisation
  • students’ intros and socializing (especially in a 1-to-1 lesson, which are common, intros only take a moment)

What are the aims of a first lesson in Czech? Primarily, you want the students to learn something new and leave the class excited. You don’t want to burden them too much. They should understand the basic aspects of the language, ie. it is a heavily grammatical, inflected language, with three genders (masculine, feminine, neutral, all of which affects the nouns, adjectives, pronouns, numbers, and verbs), declined forms and conjugated verbs.

What do you need to take into account? Based on my experience, the students won’t have their textbooks, so you want to stay away from them. The lesson will mostly be audio-oral. There may not be a shared language, or you don’t want to use it in order to provide your learners with a successful language experience, therefore no crutch for the teacher. You have to do it in Czech and they must understand you.

Typically, a first lesson to beginners will consist of students introducing themselves to each other. Coursebooks seem to expect large international classrooms and students happily standing up and saying: Hi, I’m Juan, and I’m from Spain.  – What’s your name? My name’s Natasha and I’m from Ukraine. This type of a lesson may work well in an EFL class in the abovementioned context, but I believe is not really suitable in a Czech as a Foreign Language Class, even though first units of Czech textbooks are similarly structured. Why?

Firstly, just like in English, the verb BÝT (TO BE) is heavily inflected in Czech. I find it easier to limit the learners’s exposure to just some of its forms in the first lesson. Next, Czech has the formal and informal way of addressing people. The rules aren’t easy to grasp and it is better to leave them till later. In Czech, pronouns with verbs don’t need to be used, because the verb form itself defines the person and number. (pracuješ – ty pracuješ is basically the same thing). Including introductions in your first lesson may result in a chaotic experience.

What do I do, then? Over the past year, I’ve come to include two things in my lesson: (1) I introduce myself to each student and learn their names. I teach the word for the “teacher” – “učitelka” and for the student” – student (M) / studentka (F). (2) I teach the students to describe the world around themselves, in this case, the classroom. I keep social interactions between students to a minimum in the first lesson.

Procedure:

I say my name and write in on the board. I add my email address for students to contact me. I walk to each student and just say my name. They say theirs. Then I build up and show the words for učitelka/student, studentka: Next, I walk to each student and say: “Já jsem Kamila. Jsem učitelka.” The students respond, e.g. “Já jsem Sergej, jsem student. Já jsem Maria, jsem studentka.” Already at this very early stage, the differences between M and F are established and I watch very closely that students are correct. Then comes the third turn: “Já jsem Kamila. Jsem učitelka. Nejsem studentka.” This, again, is said to each student, who is required to produce the correct line: “Já jsem Sergej, jsem student, nejsem učitel.”

That’s basically all for the first stage. There hasn’t been anything written down on the whiteboard as I think it slows the lesson down, but some students like to write things down, so you can have a short consolidation session afterwards. There is no S-S interaction yet. In a one-to-one class or with false beginners, this stage is really fast and the teacher just needs to make sure student utterances are correct, correctly pronounced, and fluent. It really is worthwhile spending time on.

Next comes the classroom description. The teacher introduces by pointing at, one by one, everyday objects that the students will need. Even if you teach a class of false beginners, you will find something they won’t have known. I’ve seen many students in my life, and I am guilty of it myself, who did not know the words for a pen, pencil, ceiling, floor, bin, etc.

The exchange is simple:

T (one by one): Co je to? To je pero. To je tužka. To je strop. To je koš.

Repeat many times with different students until everybody is fluent and confident. If your students are false beginners, this stage will still be valuable, just can be cut shorter.

In the next stage, you want to introduce some adjectives to describe the nouns. Czech has an advantage here over English, because we have the question word “jaký”, which basically asks about the quality of something whether that be the colour, size, or state. “Jaký” also varies by gender and it is at this point that the difference will be illustrated.

Observe the forms of the adjectives (-ý, -á, -é) as well as the accord with the question word (jaký, jaká, jaké) and also of the added demonstrative pronouns (ten, ta, to):

T: Jaký je ten koš? Ten koš je čistý. (What is the waste bin like? It is clean. – masculine)

T: Jaká je ta tužka? Ta tužka je černá. (What is the pencil like ? It is black – feminine)

T: Jaké je to pero? To pero je malé. (What is the pen like? It is small – neutral).

Can you see how complicated the language gets even from the very start? How different the exchange is to English? It never stops amazing me, yet I love having the power to make it clear to the students.

At this stage, I like to write all the nouns on the board. With more advanced students, they can write them themselves. We correct the spelling and I get my three essential markers – blue, red and green. Blue is for the masculine gender, red is for the feminine, green is for the neutral one. (I know, I know, but that’s how we’re used to it). We make a circle around each word. If the students don’t know, I help them by telling them the adjective we used previously. I also establish the notion of M-F-N – either in English, or in Czech for my Russian students (that’s the language of my university students). I will be doing this for the first time in September with a new Vietnamese group and I think I will go either with English or with Czech. The language of the metalanguage is always a bit of an issue.

Now it’s time for a revision and usually the end of a lesson. Next I would suggest going over the phonetic system and basic pronunciation rules. Only after that I feel it sensible to summarize the conjugation of BÝT in the positive and negative forms and move on to Introductions and the problem of formal and informal dialogues.

So, that’s it for today. Did you learn any Czech? As always, I’ll be happy to read your comments and ideas about first lessons – in any language that you teach. Thanks for reading.

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9 thoughts on “First Lessons in Czech – Unplugged but Planned

  1. Clare

    How do you help students with the pronunciation of ‘three’ and ‘four’ in Czech and that dreaded trilled ‘r’ sound? I could only articulate it (sort of) by pushing my cheeks together and trying to trill the r followed by the ‘z’ in pleasure. If I said ‘three’ confidently I could just get away with ordering ‘tri piva’ but ‘four’ was a different matter!

    Diky for the post by the way. Always like reading how you teach Czech. On the CELTA course, I ‘teach’ 50 minutes of Czech. I realise now that I introduce far too many new words!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Clare,

      Thanks for a great comment. I’m glad you found the lesson useful for your CELTA course. Do get in touch, please, if there’s anything else I can help with.
      As for /ř/, it’s really easy, provided you can roll the /r/. I learnt the trick from my children’s speech therapist, who gets all the credit. We say /ř/ is just like /r/ in a cage. The “cage” is the teeth. Begin by rolling the /r/ a few times. Then close your teeth tight as if you wanted to bite something. The molars should be properly squeezed. Next, just repeat saying /r/ and the proper /ř/ sound should come out. No need for /z/. Once you’ve mastered /ř/, move on to /tři/. The combination of t-ř is one of the easiest to pronounce. /čtyři/ does take a bit of time so just break it down by syllables – or drink less 🙂
      Hope it helps, let me know how it goes.
      Very happy you like the blog. Cheers
      Kamila

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Clare

        Thank you! That’s a great tip and I’ve started practising.

        I forgot to thank you again for your help a few months ago with information on the Czech education system. My short article even appeared in “Language Issues”!

        I’m trilling my ‘r’ as I write.

        Clare

        Liked by 1 person

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