Oxford is one of the few British universities where Czech language and literature can be studied up to honours degree level (and beyond). For some of the older background see: Slavonic studies at Oxford: a brief history (PDF)
Beginners are regularly admitted to the course. The central focus of literary study is on Czech writers from the period of the late-eighteenth century up to the present day, but options are also available for study of the earlier literature and the history of the language. An introduction to reading Slovak is also provided, from later in the second year, as Czech and Slovak are linguistically very similar, and there is also scope to study Slovak authors.
Undergraduates on the course at present should consult: Current student information (on WebLearn)
Czech (with Slovak) at Oxford
Most undergraduates coming up to read “Czech (with Slovak)” at Oxford are beginners, but we can also supply appropriate language and literature teaching for native (or semi-native) speakers. Most are studying another modern language (most often French, German or Russian). It is also possible to study “Czech (with Slovak)” in one of the various Joint Schools (with English, History, etc.). It is NOT possible to study “Czech (with Slovak)” without a second subject at Oxford. The degree course normally lasts four years, including a year abroad, which may include studying at university (or teaching English) in the Czech Republic (over the years undergraduates have spent time variously in Prague, Brno, Olomouc, Ostrava and other places).
Czech and Slovak, spoken mainly in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, are very closely related languages of the Slavonic group, and speakers of both can understand each other quite easily. Another close relative is Russian, though differences of vocabulary are considerable. Some knowledge of Latin, with its similar system of cases and declensions, can also help learners.
For beginners, the basic textbook we shall be using is Colloquial Czech (new revised edition, 2011).
Beginners will receive about three hours of intensive Czech language classes per week,and more advanced students will be catered for as appropriate. All attend a weekly lecture and a seminar on Czech literature. These continue throughout the year. There will also be tutorials for essay work on Czech literature; these tutorials are usually held in Hilary and Trinity Terms.
Literature teaching, conducted mainly in small seminars and personal tutorials (in addition to the above), at first also involves (for beginners) a considerable degree of checking and reinforcing of basic linguistic understanding.
Due to the demands made on beginners by Czech, a highly inflected language with a large proportion of unfamiliar vocabulary from the English point of view, the Czech side of the course will inevitably involve a particularly heavy work load. It is essential that those admitted to read this subject demonstrate a high linguistic ability and are highly motivated.
The Slovak language is linguistically very close to Czech, but study of Slovak is normally only introduced later in the Honours course. Undergraduates are expected to acquire a reading knowledge of Slovak, which is tested via translation in Finals. There is also opportunity to study a range of Slovak authors.
In a small subject like Czech (with around six undergraduates in the first year at present), and with a mixture of one-to-one and small-group teaching, there is good scope for flexibility. Native speakers can expect to receive more demanding work and be stretched from the very start, while those who struggle in any particular area can be given special attention. The Taylor Slavonic library has a very large and excellent Czech collection, catering for research needs as well as undergraduates.
For further details of the degree course in Czech (with Slovak) please go to the Course Handbooks.
The beginners’ textbook which we are using is:
James Naughton, Colloquial Czech (Routledge, 2011)
Amongst recent dictionaries, Josef Fronek’s have been well-received by users for their clarity of presentation:
Josef Fronek, English-Czech Czech-English Dictionary (Anglicko-český a česko-anglický slovník), Prague: Leda, 1998 etc.
Josef Fronek, Velký česko-anglický slovník, Prague: Leda, 2000. (Large, Czech-English.)
Josef Fronek, Velký anglicko-český slovník, Prague: Leda, 2006. (Large, English-Czech.)
The following are also useful, amongst other things, for showing ‘aspectual pairs’ of verbs. The second has a very wide range of Czech vocabulary for reading literature:
Ivan Poldauf, ed., Anglicko-český česko-anglický slovník, Prague: SPN, 1994 etc.
Ivan Poldauf, ed., Velký česko-anglický slovník, Čelákovice: WD Publications / New York: Hippocrene Books, 2000 etc.
+ phrase-books etc. e.g. Berlitz, Collins, BBC, Rough Guide and Oxford Photo Dictionary
Short stories: Milan Kundera, ‘Falešný autostop’; Bohumil Hrabal, ‘Pábitelé’; Ota Pavel, ‘Zlatí úhoři’; Jan Neruda, ‘Doktor Kazisvět’. These are from: Kundera, Směšné lásky (pub. Atlantis or 68 Publishers); Hrabal, Pábitelé (or Pábení from collected works, pub. Pražská imaginace); Ota Pavel, Zlatí úhoři (pub. Československý spisovatel); Neruda, Povídky malostranské (numerous editions)
Two plays: Karel Čapek, R.U.R. (many editions) and Václav Havel, Vyrozumění (e.g. in volume Hry). In the third term: Mácha, Máj (a classic 19th-century poem)
Translations and background reading:
For further bibliography and other material please go to Czech and Slovak Literature Resources.
Václav Havel, The Memorandum, Selected Plays; Ivan Klíma, e.g. My Golden Trades; Milan Kundera, Laughable Loves, The Joke; Karel Čapek, R.U.R., Three Novels: Hordubal, Meteor, An Ordinary Life, War with the Newts; Bohumil Hrabal, The Death of Mr Baltisberger, Closely Observed Trains; Jan Neruda, Prague Tales; Ota Pavel, How I Came To Know Fish; Josef Škvorecký, The Cowards; Jaroslav Hašek, The Good Soldier Švejk – and anything else you can find by these or other Czech authors.
J. Naughton, ed, Traveller’s Literary Companion to Eastern and Central Europe (Brighton: In Print Publishing, 1995), esp. chapters on Czech Republic and Slovakia; Jiří Holý, Writers under siege : Czech literature since 1945, Brighton: Sussex Academic Press, 2008.
Hugh Agnew, The Czechs and the Lands of the Bohemian Crown, Maria Dowling, Czechoslovakia; R. W. Seton-Watson, A History of the Czechs and Slovaks; Piotr Wandycz, The Price of Freedom: A History of East Central Europe; Lonnie R. Johnson, Central Europe: Enemies, Neighbors, Friends; Peter Demetz, Prague in Black and Gold; Derek Sayer, The Coasts of Bohemia; Erhard Gorys, Czech and Slovak Republics (includes a brief history); Time Out Guide: Prague; Lonely Planet, Blue Guide.