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Guide to Studying Abroad in Prague Without Speaking Czech

April 24, 2024
by Parker Peterson

Check your Czech: Prague Culture and Language Barriers while Studying Abroad 

Although I didn’t know any Czech going into my eight week study abroad program, language wasn't a barrier to experiencing the culture in the Czech Republic. Growing up, the only language options offered in school were Spanish and French. I took Spanish and am conversational in it, and Spanish/French/Italian/Latin have some similarities, so they’re easier to understand and learn. Czech, however, is a very different language from English and Spanish, so I had no experience with it. I tried downloading Duolingo and learning Czech before studying abroad Prague, but it was too difficult to learn in such a short time. Going into my experience abroad, I knew I couldn't speak Czech with the locals, but I didn’t see this as a setback in my experience. I knew there were ways for me to connect with people there, even with a language barrier. 

A group of study abroad students posing for a photo

My friends and I on the Charles Bridge on our last night in Prague.

Learning the Most Basic Words 

Knowing a few of the most basic Czech words helped me connect with people and let them know I tried to learn their culture. Upon arriving in Prague, CEA CAPA held an orientation for all the students, where we met people and learned what we’d be doing for the next eight weeks. During orientation, they taught us some of the most basic and important Czech words and phrases. We learned “hello”: ahoj, “good day”: dobrý den, “thank you”: děkuji, “I don’t speak Czech”: nemluvím česky, and a few others.  

Having a basic Czech vocabulary was very helpful, because every time I entered a store, café, or building, I said “dobrý den” and when I left, I said “děkuji” and the locals seemed to appreciate it. Most of the locals understood that my friends and I were American and didn’t know Czech, but they liked it when we tried to say hello and thank you in their language. 

Experiencing the Culture During Class 

I took two study abroad classes during my summer in Prague: Linear Algebra and “The Golden City of Prague: Past and Present,” which was an art history class. In my Golden City class, we learned about the culture and history of Prague by going out and experiencing it in person. I really appreciated that each day of class, we had a “field visit” to different places in Prague.

A building with many windows

St. Vitus Cathedral from one of our class trips to the Prague Castle. 

We went to castles, museums, monasteries, churches, and more. It was really cool to see the culture of Prague in real life, rather than just learning about it in the classroom. This was a great way to learn more about Prague and experience the culture and history while also getting credit for a class. We also didn’t need to speak Czech for the class since it was taught in English and our teacher translated all the important information we needed to know. I got a glimpse of what life is like as a Prague local, and that was so memorable. 

A large building with many arches and a skylight

The National Museum from one of our class field trips.

Experiencing the Culture on my Own 

I think one of the best ways to experience a new culture is to go out and do what the locals are doing. My roommates and I really tried to immerse ourselves in Czech culture by leaving our apartment and constantly going to new places. We tried many different restaurants, cafés, parks, beer gardens, and more. We wanted to live like locals and do what they did on an average day. Almost every day, I went to a different café before class to try out local coffee and pastries.

Two drinks on a table next to textbooks and notebooks.

Studying for my Linear Algebra midterm at Rose Latte.

I found so many good spots and my favorite, Rose Latte, was right near my apartment. The owner didn’t speak much English but he was so kind to me and made one of the best lattes I’ve ever had. I also went to a local gym in Prague, Xplore Fitness, which was a really good gym and around $8 for a day pass. I connected with Czech people there and experienced life as if I was a local.  

My study abroad friends and I also loved to go to parks and beer gardens for sunsets, which a lot of locals did. Our favorites were Riegrovy Sady and Letna (both have beautiful parks and a beer garden). We walked there for sunset, and there were hundreds of blankets filled with people chatting and drinking Pilsner and cider while watching the sun set. We also went to different restaurants around Prague to experience what Czech people ate on an average day. We didn’t eat a ton of traditional Czech food, but Prague has so many different restaurant options with a large variety of cuisines. One of our favorites was Zluta Pumpa, a Mexican restaurant in Vinohrady.  

A group of people sitting on grass in a park

Watching the sunset with my friends at Riegrovy Sady.

Welcoming Culture in Prague 

I still recall one time I was leaving school and about to take the tram home, but it started downpouring out of nowhere. It was raining harder than I ever saw, and I had to take shelter because I was already drenched. I stopped inside a little market for a minute to buy a snack and wait out the rain. The owner didn’t speak English at all but motioned for me to sit in his chair. I told him it was okay, and I’d be leaving soon, but asked if he had any umbrellas. He didn’t, but he took off his hat and offered to give it to me. I was so grateful but insisted that I’d be okay and didn’t need his hat. The man persisted and wouldn’t let me leave without taking his hat for shelter, and I really appreciated the gesture.

A study abroad student wearing a hat

Wearing the hat from the market owner while waiting out the rain.

I thought this story really demonstrates the strength of the community and culture, and how I connect with people without speaking their language. 

Parker Peterson is the Summer 2023 Alumni Ambassador in Prague, Czech Republic, and is currently studying at University of Michigan Ann Arbor.
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