Mluvíte anglicky? Czech ministers face ongoing ridicule for poor English skills

A special report by Czech Television revealed that the English-language proficiency of the new political administration leave much to be desired.

Expats.cz Staff

Written by Expats.cz Staff Published on 18.01.2022 16:19:00 (updated on 19.01.2022) Reading time: 2 minutes

English is a lingua franca for international communities in the western world. Its use is widespread in international politics. English is the common language of the EU, NATO, and other international alliances of which the Czech Republic is part.

With Czechia due to take over the rotating presidency of the EU Council in the second half of this year, concerns are being raised about the new cabinet's English-language proficiency. Despite its pro-EU, international focus, and vow of “at least one foreign language spoken without any problem” by each member of the government, deficiencies revealed by Czech TV and other media outlets suggest a broken promise.

The issue made recent world headlines while a Monday report by Czech Television drove the point home when reporters for the national broadcaster approached ministers to ask questions in English.

Watch the full Czech Television report here.

Minister for Science and Research Helena Langšáldová floundered when asked in English about her priorities. Eventually she apologized and asked for the interview to be stopped. Commentators noted that her evident lack of English is surprising given her previous position on the EU Committee of the previous parliament, where she would have been expected to regularly work in English.

Defense Minister Jana Cernochová refused to even try to answer questions in English, preferring to flee reporters on the grounds of being late. And when Minister of Agriculture Zdeněk Nekula was asked in English about the Czech presidency of the EU Council, he first replied in Czech and then switched to German.

The most embarrassing example of all came from new Environment Minister Anna Hubáčková. She refused to speak in English at any point, except when mentioning the EU’s “Fit for 55” climate target. But even here she erred, accidentally referring to the EU program as “fifty for five.”

Some cabinet members do have strong English skills. Pirate Party leader Ivan Bartoš impressed the most when questioned by Czech TV describing the Czech Republic’s priorities with regard to the distribution of EU funds with fluency. But some members of the cabinet were visibly uncomfortable about being asked to communicate in English.

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Such public demonstrations of language ineptitude have led to growing concerns about the Czech Republic's suitability for the EU presidency. Ministers have insisted that interpreters will be able to help them through tricky negotiations, but a lack of international communication skills will still prove hard to hide.

A report late last year found that Czechs have the fourth-worst English proficiency of any EU country. Academics studying Czech culture have proposed that the Czech Republic’s low English levels may be linked to the country’s relatively isolationist cultural tendencies, claiming that many Czechs show little interest in events beyond the nation's borders.

The good news? English-language teachers are plentiful in the Czech Republic.

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