Czech courses in high demand among Ukrainian and other foreign students

Today the city of Prague launched free language courses for refugees while private schools offer free or discounted classes with capacity filling up

 William Nattrass

Written by William Nattrass Published on 23.03.2022 13:16:00 (updated on 27.03.2022) Reading time: 3 minutes

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began on Feb. 24, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees have already arrived in the Czech Republic. Prime Minister Petr Fiala today told the Czech Parliament that the number has passed the 300,000 mark.

As attempts are underway to register those arriving and provide all possible assistance for their integration into everyday Czech life, the country's language schools are seeing a huge surge of interest in learning the Czech language.

New courses have opened up for refugees from Ukraine provided either for free or with a discount, and calls are growing for state subsidies to be provided for such initiatives.

The Academic Grammar School and the Language School of the Capital of Prague launched two intensive Czech language courses for Ukrainians aged 15 to 19 today, and another two groups are to start on April 4. 

"This is a project in cooperation with the Prague City Hall that is funding the course," deputy school principal Aleš Novák said, adding that both the course and textbooks are free of charge for Ukrainian students.

The school will run four such courses with up to 15 people in each and three are already fully booked. As the demand is very high, the capacity will soon not suffice, Novák said.

Speaking to Expats.cz, Karolina Wencelová from the SOLARIS language school described how “many Ukrainian students are looking for Czech lessons, and volunteers are offering courses to Ukrainians separately to government programs.”

Integrating government support with these private programs will become a greater priority as the number of Ukrainians looking to live and work in Czechia continues to grow. Marcela Hergesselová, a spokeswoman for the Association of Language Schools, pointed out that free courses can’t be offered in the long term.

“Many language schools have naturally offered free courses, but they can’t do so indefinitely, as teachers must be paid,” Hergesselová told ČTK.

Calls for the Education Ministry to subsidize Czech language learning among refugees come as Education Minister Petr Gazdík put the cost of integrating 100,000 Ukrainian refugee children into the Czech school system at around CZK 17 billion.

Given the budget limits set for the Education Ministry this year, it’s not clear where this money will come from. Moreover, reports that over half of the refugees arriving in Czechia are children mean the figure of 100,000 given by Gazdík is likely to be a conservative estimate.

Finding additional funds to support private language courses for children and adults would drain the state budget even more. Yet one saving grace, according to experts, is the relative similarity of the Ukrainian and Czech languages. Compared to students from western Europe, for example, Ukrainians face far less difficulty learning to speak and understand Czech.

Nonetheless, Ukrainian script is in Cyrillic, so students have to learn the Latin alphabet first. “However, many Ukrainians speak English, so they are already familiar with the script thanks to this,” Petr Vlk from the Pygmalion language in Česká Těšín, told Idnes.cz.

Yet even with the relatively shorter time which Ukrainians need to learn Czech, language schools could soon face more demand than they are capable of meeting. The situation isn’t helped by the fact that demand from non-Ukrainian foreigners has also spiked in recent weeks.

“We’ve also seen a huge increase in foreigners interested in learning Czech in Prague. Interest in in-person courses has also picked up, having died down during the pandemic,” Wencelová told us.

Balancing a huge wave of interest from Ukrainians with increased demand from other foreign nationals will put a squeeze on the supply of private Czech tuition over the coming months. Whether demand can be met without more state aid is uncertain, but after securing a visa and accommodation, learning Czech will be high on the list of priorities for refugees arriving in the country. 

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