Slovak is one branch in the Slavic language tree, though Slovaks will insist (we agree) that their language is the cleanest of them all. Regardless, it’s a tough language, laced with conjugations and myriad endings, depending on the case being used. Take heart, though, more and more Slovaks speak English, German or both, and if not, the little phrase you pucker out will impress them mightily. We’ve included a little guide for those hardy souls who want to wrestle with the language.
Assume a British accent, if you don’t already have one, for the following examples.
The vowels a, e, i, o, u are pure sounds, as in Spanish or Italian, rather than English. Vowels can be either short (a, ä, e, i, o, u, y) or long (á, é, í, ó, ú, ý). Long vowels are simply prolonged versions of their short counterparts, preserving the same color.
short -a- as in the “aaah” you say to your dentist, e.g. mapa /ma-pa/ map
long -a- as in a prolonged “aaah” to your dentist, e.g. dáma /dhaaa-ma/ lady
-e- as in bed, e.g. mäso /mae-so/ meat
close to the -e- in bet, e.g. teraz /te-raz/ now
prolonged -e- as in there, e.g. prvé /pr-vhe-e/ first
short -i- as in graffiti, e.g. pivo /pi-vo/ beer
long -i- as in need, e.g. víno /veeee-no/ wine
-o- as in log, e.g. okno /ok-no/ window
prolonged -o-, like the -a- in talk, e.g. móda /moh-da/ fashion
the diphthong -uo-, like “whoa!” to a horse, e.g. môžem /mwhoa-zhem/ I can
-u- as in shoot, e.g. ruka /ru-ka/ hand
prolonged -oo- as in school, e.g. údolie /oooo-do-lye/ valley
the same as i, í
The consonants b, d, f, g, l, m, n, s, v, and z are pronounced approximately as in English. Meanwhile, k, p, and t are like in English, but without aspiration. The carrot “ v “ over some consonants softens them. Example: čo, pronounced /choh/, which means what. To complicate things, d, n, and t are usually softened when followed by e or i, becoming equivalent to ď, ň or ť. Examples: deti /dye-tyee/ children, neviem /nye-vyem/ I don’t know, držte /drzh-tye/ hold on, hold this.
-ts- as in oats, e.g. ocot /otsot/ vinegar
-ch- as in child, e.g. človek /chlo-vek/ man, human being
-dy- as in duty, e.g. ďakujem /dyak-oo-yem/ thank you
like -ds- in heads, e.g. medzi /me-tsi/ between
like our -j- in jam, e.g. džús /juice/ juice (they gave our word a phonetic spelling!)
-ch- as in the Scottish loch, e.g. chata /kha-tah/ cottage
-y- as in you, e.g. kraj /krai/ region
-ly- as in lurid, e.g. ľad /lyad/ ice
long l (no English equivalent) e.g. stĺp /stlllp/ pole
-ny- as in news, e.g. deň /dyeny/ day
rolled (like a Scottish r), e.g. ryba /rrri-ba/ fish
prolonged, rolled r, e.g. mŕtvy /mrrrrrrrtvee/ dead
-sh- as in she, e.g. šesť /shesty/ six
-t- in tune, like spitting through your front teeth, e.g. dosť /dost/ enough
becomes -v- as in van (found only in foreign words), e.g. WC /ve-tse/ WC
like -s- in pleasure, e.g. žena /zhe-na/ woman
199 is said as one hundred ninety-nine, sto deväťdesiat deväť, but without “and.”
The year 2001 is two thousand one, dve tisíc jedna.