Czech command of foreign languages among the worst in Europe

One in 10 Czechs has minimal English-language skills, while just seven percent speak the language proficiently.

Expats.cz Staff

Written by Expats.cz Staff Published on 16.08.2022 16:38:00 (updated on 16.08.2022) Reading time: 4 minutes

Czechs are among the least likely in Europe to know a foreign language. Romanians, Bulgarians, and Croatians, for example, can all communicate better in English, a new survey shows.

In the latest findings by Education First, the largest private educational organization in the world, the Czech Republic ranks in the lower echelon of European countries in terms of English proficiency.

In a global comparison, the country has worsened compared to the previous year falling from 19th to 27th place representing the biggest drop across Europe. Elsewhere in Europe, including Russia and Ukraine, the average level of English has increased compared to previous years.

  • Of those Czechs who don't speak any foreign languages, the majority were over 50 and had at most a secondary education without a matriculation exam.
  • Some 45 percent of the population can communicate in some level of English, but one in 10 speak English at a minimum and 14 percent at a basic level.
  • About 15 percent of the population can boast of intermediate knowledge of English and 7 percent are very advanced.

The ability to communicate in English gives people access to a wider range of information, a more diverse network of contacts and, also leads to a more diverse range of job opportunities, the authors of the study added.

Staffing agency Grafton Recruitment confirms that English is required for four out of 10 job offers in Czechia. Overall it is five times more in demand than all other foreign languages combined. In 2021, 55 percent of job offers required knowledge of any foreign language.

A spokesperson for Grafton said that languages are most often requested by employers from corporate and customer services, IT, trade, and production as well as blue-collar jobs.

"While interest is growing in the case of German, French and Italian, we are seeing a decreasing number of vacancies requiring knowledge of Russian and Polish, which has fallen from the 6th to the 10th most requested languages year-on-year," Jitka Součková, marketing manager of Grafton Recruitment, said in a press release.

Data from the Czech Statistical Office (ČSÚ) shows that only a minimum of Czechs speak English at a professional level: 30 percent do not speak any foreign language, while the rest can speak a foreign language at a basic level.

Average proficiency is sufficient for preparing e-mails or participating in simple work meetings. A high level of language knowledge means the ability to prepare a work presentation, watch a movie in the original language version, or read a newspaper.

A very high level of English means that a person can easily understand more complex texts such as contracts, and can use and recognize the small differences between business, formal, and casual English.

In European Union countries, English is one of the most frequently taught foreign languages in secondary schools, followed by Spanish, French, German, and Italian. German, according to the ČSÚ is the most popular second language in Czech schools.

According to Eurostat data, the Czech Republic is among the top five EU countries with the largest number of secondary school students learning two or more foreign languages. In the Czech Republic, 98.8 percent of high school students learn two or more foreign languages, while the EU average is 59.3 percent of students.

However, those findings show that together with the French, Poles, Romanians, and Italians, Czechs are among the worst in terms of language proficiency in the European Union, besting only the Italians.

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The lack of qualified language teachers is currently a major problem faced by the Czech education system. "There is generally less money in education than what is offered by private companies," Pedagogical Chamber president Radek Sárközi told news server Seznam Zprávy.

The same situation exists in Czech elementary schools, where the teaching of two foreign languages is mandatory by law. A reform planned by the Ministry of Education should preserve the teaching of a second foreign language in primary schools, but the pupil will be able to choose another subject instead.

In a survey of the Pedagogical Chamber, only 15 percent of primary school teacher respondents said that teaching a second foreign language should remain compulsory. Some 21 percent of teachers want the second foreign language to be optional, so that the school will not have to offer it to pupils at all. The remaining 63 percent prefer the proposed government reform, which proposes to leave the language optional.

Sárközi recommends schools should work across the board with integrated teaching of one of the subjects and a foreign language. This is called Content and Language Integrated Learning, or CLIL. English is used in a variety of subjects, without heavy emphasis on grammar and rules.

Czech educators agree that in order to learn English at the highest language levels, it is necessary to practice the language in daily life, including watching TV and movies in a foreign language. In countries where films and series are not dubbed, but aired with subtitles children tend to have better opportunities for contact with a foreign language, especially English, experts said.

Additional findings from the research show a gender gap in language skills. Men demonstrated excellent language skills in research tests more often.

"In 2020, for the first time, men's knowledge of English surpassed that of women by a very small margin. However, this difference doubled last year. On average, the English skills of men in the Czech Republic, Denmark, and Spain significantly exceeded the skills of women," the authors of the study said.

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