Are you learning Czech? Good! Then this article might be just for you. Here are some tricky words in Czech that might look similar to words in other languages but have an absolutely different meaning. This might cause very embarrassing, yet very funny situations from time to time.

For instance, don’t be surprised when you hear Czech people tell you they have studied gymnasium and have maturita. That doesn’t mean that they spent their youth in a gym to become adults:). Gymnázium is a type of secondary school here in Czech Republic (as well as in Germany) that ends with a final school-leaving exam (similar to GCSE in Britain) called maturita.

The word preservative has caused many Czech people fits of laughter, including myself.
Prezervativ in Czech means condom. So the sentence “doesn’t contain preservatives” on a package of chips sounds really weird, even to people who know these words are just false friends. The correct Czech term for preservative (as for the additive in food) is konzervant.

Don’t expect much traffic at a trafika. Trafika is a tobbaco shop where you can buy cigarettes, newspaper, public transportation tickets and such. Traffic (= provoz) has nothing to do with it.
There is a difference between literary, literally and literární. Literary is English equivalent of literární, literally, meaning really, is translated as doslova (= word for word).

Transparentní transparent (= transparent banner)? Transparent in Czech means the same as banner in English. Transparent in English is an adjective for transparentní or průhledný, which means see-through.

Roman, Roman and román. Roman is a Czech male given name. Román is a word for a novel. None of these two Czech words have anything to do with the Roman empire. Maybe there is a man named Roman who actually thinks his household is an empire, but that doesn’t change anything.

Similar to Roman empire, I suffered from a terrible and unstoppable fit of laugter in a history class when we were talking about the Ottoman empire. Otoman is an archaic Czech word for couch (nowadays we say rather pohovka or gauč), so guess what I imagined. Yes, an empire full of couches. I think that would be really cool! Unfortunately, the teacher didn’t share this opinion.

If you’re looking for example for furniture, don’t be surprised if you get a prospekt. That doesn’t mean you might have a prospect of getting a chair in the future, that’s a brochure. Also, if you’re looking at pieces of land for your future house, you might hear the word parcela. Don’t worry, you’re not getting the land in a cute package, that’s the Czech word for a plot. And by the way, plot in Czech means fence.

Sounds complicated? No, don’t worry, it’s not. And it makes learning fun! Also, incorrect translations are a source of great laughter. My favourite translation mistake appeared in subtitles for a chick-flick movie (unfortunately, I don’t remember which one anymore, but if you recognize it, let me know, I’d love to watch it again). Two older ladies meet at a wedding, one asks the other: “Who dressed you? The Great Depression?” Apparently, the translator didn’t have any knowledge about American history whatsoever, since the exact translation was: “Who dressed you? The big melancholy?

Yes, I know, nobody’s perfect and everyone has to learn somehow. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes because without making them, there is no way of learning! And if somebody laughs at you during the process, well, let them laugh. And, if possible, join them.

Have fun learning!

Author: Dagmar Wiesnerová