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Mutually intelligible?

September 16, 2017



81% is pretty good!

I got the impression that it was a little like the situation with Ukrainian and Russian; Ukrainian (and Slovak) speakers are exposed to a lot of Russian (and Czech), where Russian (and Czech) speakers aren't exposed to a lot of Ukrainian (and Slovak), so disregarding relative ease, the speakers of Ukrainian (and Slovak) have much more passive understanding of the other language.

Does that ring true in your experience, or not?


I grew up in Czechoslovakia, and my grandma only spoke Slovak, which made my bilingual relatives only speak Slovak to her. In that sense, my past exposure was way above average. OTOH, the years of U.S. immersion and the acquisition of English have taken their toll.

My atypical background makes my direct experience less than perfectly suited for answering the directionality question empirically. In Czechoslovakia, I felt Slovaks understood me just as much as I understood them, not more, not less. I suspect that the average Czech used to understand Slovaks less than vice versa because of cultural dominance. And I also suspect the asymmetry got only worse since the "Velvet Divorce" of 1993, plus we understand each other less overall.

Some of the questions in this quiz were quite tricky. Wonder how others did.


Ahhh, I see. That makes sense. I imagine that's pretty cool in terms of having more ability to understand Slovak, though :) even if English has taken precedence now.

I had a Slovak penpal years ago, but we lost touch before I even decided to study Russian, let alone developed more interest in Slavic languages/nations in general, so I never really had the chance to have that conversation with her :/ I'd love to look her up on Facebook, but I can't for the life of me remember how to spell her surname...

(I got 48% (non-native in either language but with quite a substantial background in Slavic languages in general), but I think that an awful lot of that was purely by chance - there was a small handful questions where I understood enough and had intelligent enough guesses that I was proceeding on actual knowledge, but for the most part, if I could've actually skipped the questions where I was going "... I understood less than 10% of that sentence," I'm pretty sure my overall result would be very different!

Frankly, if I retook it again immediately, I strongly suspect my result would be different, because I'd get the same very few questions right and the majority would just be random guesses unless I actually fed the questions, at least, through Google or something. Possibly when I've 1) finished the Czech tree and 2) am less shattered, I might glean more, although I wouldn't want to bet on it.)


"plus we understand each other less overall."

I disagree as a Slovak. Even my 2 year old nieces watch Czech programmes. I think there was no change in intelligibility on our side and small on yours.


Young children in general do not have the concept of "foreign language", and neither are they as inhibited and prejudiced as grown-ups are. They just pick up and internalize whatever they see/hear and make sense of it as best they can.

I remember discussing this subject with a Transylvanian Rusyn, who grew up in a trilingual area, with all 3 languages unrelated to each other (Romanian = state language, Hungarian = predominant language in the village, and Rusyn = home language). By the school age she chattered in all 3 freely, without systematically studying any of them.


I got 60%, mostly through eliminating the obviously wrong options and taking lucky guesses. Got two words with the help of Hungarian, namely čižma (csizma in HU) and orgovan (orgona in HU), and cintorin with the help of Rusyn (цынтарь in RUE)


The pre velvet revolution generation was exposed way more. TV anchors were always one from Czech and one from Slovak side so news were read one in one and the next in the other language. There were other Slovak programs on Czech tv and vice versa. Not so much since the split. There is, apparently, still fairly large exposure of Czech on Slovak TV as they broadcast foreign TV series that were already dubbed into Czech directly. You rarely get to catch a slovak movie or documentary on Czech tv. The younger generation still understands the basics but most would have a lot of issues with this quiz.


Exactly, generally it is no problem to understand for younger generation (I myself was born in 1990, so Czechoslovakia is basically total history for me) and when it is even quite short exposure to Slovak really helps. Actually Slovak was never treated as a foreign language in Czechia. For example at universities in Czechia there are loads of Slovaks and it is no deal when they write their theses in Slovak, everyone is ok with it. Also even when you can't hear Slovak on Czech TV's so often now, it isn't even subtitled.


And Slovaks speaking Slovak do appear in Czech TV from time to time. Reportes reporting news from Slovakia but also moderators like A. Banášová or Anetta Kubalová (although her inclusion received some negative emotions). And at Czech universities one meets a lot of Slovak speaking schoolmates and also teachers.


That makes sense! Thanks for clarifying :D


This is certainly partially true. But generally Ukrainian and Russian aren't that similar (I am Czech native speaker with knowledge of both Ukrainian and Russian, so I know it a bit :)). Actually a lot of elements of Ukrainian (especially vocabulary) are in my opinion much closer to Polish than Russian (but maybe that's because I'm mostly used to west Ukrainian dialects in Galicia and Zakarpattia). Even though a lot of Czechs have certain problems with Slovak (especially eastern dialects), they always understand it to a huge degree. I suppose that every Czech who would be exposed to Slovak let's say for a week would have no problem with understanding it (of course except for some particular words). I doubt Russian people have the same with Ukrainian.


Even in my limited experience, I agree that Czech and Slovak seem very very similar, more so than Russian and Ukrainian (at least in terms of shared vocabulary). I do think that the similarities between Polish and Ukrainian are more superficial, though - with the disclaimer that most of my Polish and Ukrainian is gleaned from the trees here on Duolingo (and the Ukrainian tree is not that extensive), when I did the Ukrainian tree as a rusty Russian speaker, it was the vocabulary that was different. With a few exceptions (like the way мати is much more commonly used than иметь, for example), once I had a grasp of the vocabulary, Ukrainian was much more familiar to me than not. Polish otoh was really tough (and not just because of the spelling ;-p LOL), and despite having finished the tree, there were still things I didn't feel I had even a semi-acceptable grasp on. There is a lot of shared vocabulary (and the Ukrainian tree was pretty handy prep for the Polish tree in that regard!!), but the grammar was much less familiar to me.

... I kind of got sidetracked here!

But yes, agreed, I think unless a Russian speaker had significant exposure to Ukrainian/border dialects, it would take more than a week to be truly comfortable understanding it. Structurally, they're very similar, and some of the vocabulary is similar or the same, but some quite common things are really not, so I think it would take a while and some effort. That said, I'm not a native Russian speaker, so I'm definitely guessing and extrapolating there based on my own experience which isn't gonna be the same!

(Ukrainian is kind of odd for me a non-native Russian speaker; I understand more having done the tree, although I have neglected it pretty badly, but prior to doing the tree I know that hearing Ukrainian, I would sometimes not understand a single word and other times understand completely with no difficulty whatsoever, and most of the time it's somewhere in between. It's weird and slightly disconcerting!)


The thing is, Eastern Slovak dialects are often not even properly understood by Western Slovaks, so judging intelligibility based on them is not really wise. By standards of mutual intelligibility, Czech and Slovak spoken in Bratislava are 1 language while bratislava Slovak and Slovak from the Ukrainian borderland are 2 languages.


35% for me as a native Serbo-Croatian speaker. For some reason I noticed I get more of Slovakian than of Czech.


That is not just a coincidence! Central Slovak, which is the base for the official language, has quite some amount of South Slavic elements https://sk.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Stredoslovensk%C3%A9_n%C3%A1re%C4%8Dia#Tzv._juhoslavizmy


Slovak is kind of a "median" Slavic language that has 60% or better lexical commonality even with some peripheral Slavic languages. On this map, made by a Ukrainian linguist, Slovak is Слц. https://static.gazeta.ua/img/cache/gallery/701/701681_4_w_1200.jpg?v=0 But there is also another reason why other Slavic speakers may find Slovak more intelligible: it's very euphonic and clear, with a good natural rhythm to it, and it's free from "difficult" sounds :)


I scored 39% as a non native of neither language (Czech/Slovak) I feel thats pretty good :)


94% orgovan got me. But had they put more animals and/or plants in, it would have been worse. Still, I am NOT going to work on the Slovak - EN course!!!


Orgovan got you because you probably do not know Hungarian :)


88% which is surprisingly high score considering that I spend with Slovaks just one night a year. Funny thing, they know Czech films and TV shows better than I do.

  • 1727

Thanks for sharing, 94% for me... it shows that I grew up 5 kilometres from the border :-)

ps.: Dodnes jsem netušila, co je slovensky "žubrienka", je to ale dost podpásovka...


94% too. The questions were quite easy for me. I think that the language in South Moravia is much closer to Slovakia than the other regions. So I have little advantage.

Já jsem zas nevěděla, co je lienka. Ale největší podpásovka je "Kdy kvete orgován? - To není otázka ze slovenštiny, ale z botaniky :-)

  • 1727

High five :-) Yes, South Moravia (depending where exactly) should have almost as much (or just as much) advantage as Wallachia (= east Moravia) where I am from.

Lienka je nejroztomilejší hmyz a má ve slovenštině i roztomilý název, což mi pomáhá si to pamatovat :-) Jinak moje mamka právě zabodovala 100%, na můj dotaz na "orgován" říkala že to je přece jasné že "bez" (rozuměj šeřík) kvete na jaro (já jsem u této otázky víceméně tipovala) a "žubrienka" to prý přece zní jako "žebra" čili jasně že je to nějaký vodní živočich... ;-)


67% (2 guessed) as a Polish speaker. Slovak seems more similar. I'm starting the Czech course soon though so it will most likely change then :)


Is Slovak so different from Czech? What were you guys speaking when you were still one country?


We used both languages in parallel. Check out kacenka's post about the mutual exposure.

And yes, the two languages are appreciably apart when one is looking at it from the position of a non-Slavic student. Slovak tends to feel closer to other Slavs than Czech does. Many have dubbed Slovak the only "Central" Slavic language because of this familiarity effect.


Note that this quiz is focused on different words. Just because people had a score of 51 percent for example, does not mean they only understand 51 percent of Slovak overall. I am a 24 year old native Slovak speaker who spoke Slovak to Czech people aged from 10 to 75 years old, of many possible social and geographics backgrounds and nobody ever misunderstood me enough to seriously impact the conversation. The intelligibility is probably mildly assymetric, but it should be said that a test done on 18-30 year olds showed that this assymetry is within the margin of error:


"Our second research question was aimed at potential asymmetries in intelligibility. Our hypothesis was that Slovak speakers would be better at understanding Czech and that Slovene speakers would be better at understanding Croatian than the other way around. This hypothesis was only partly confirmed, since we did not find a significant difference in intelligibility levels for Czech-Slovak and Slovak-Czech. While there was indeed a difference in score in favor of Slovak participants, both sets of scores were so high that the difference was not significant."

Another factor is that while I have heard tons of people complaining about supposed decline of mutual intelligibility among youth, note these 3 things: 1. It was always middle aged people complaining about rotten youth, I never encountered a young Czech person whom I would have trouble communicating in Slovak, even long discussion 2. It was usually Slovak people complaining about Czechs, in a "those damn Czechs don't even know Slovak" vein. 3. It was heavily exaggerated and based on anecdotes in the vein of "well, I heard a Czech mom translate a Slovak word for her 5 year old son, oh the humanity".

I would say there is a grain of truth in it because Czechs generally want everything translated into Czech at all costs, even Slovak books, and it is far harder to get a Slovak book in the Czech Republic compared to getting a Czech book here in Slovakia. That being said, I don't think there is any real problem in personal communication and if I had to say a yes or no answer to the intelligibility question, then it is a clear YES. As for youth only understanding the basics and not more complex conversation, seeing as pretty much all my Czech friends were born after 1993 or in 1993 and we talk about anything like I do with my Slovak friends, I find that doubtful unless we are talking about 5 year olds who have not even mastered the full Czech vocabulary let alone Slovak. I would actually think more technical texts might be even easier for Czechs without Slovak exposure as much of the higher register Slovak vocabulary has been just straight borrowed from Czech or used the same Latin, German and Greek loanwords that Czech does, actually, due to widespread borrowing in the last 150 years I would say modern Slovak is far more intelligible with Czech than 18th century peasant Slovak, that had widespread Hungarisms, words from obscure German dialects etc.

As for foreign learners, my mother is Ukrainian and understood Czech after learning Slovak at the age of 20, through obviously she had exposure to it. Anyways, I think a foreigner who knows Czech should also understand Slovak after even a minute exposure to it. Note that standard Czech is in SOME aspects closer to Slovak than to colloqual Prague Czech for example pěkný (standard CZ), pekný (standard SK) vs pěknej (common Czech), so if you only strictly learn standard Czech from a book by heart you might end up not understanding ANYTHING but the news and books. I have read about non-Slavic foreigners who know Czech but don't understand Slovak, but I also saw at least 1 person reporting they understood people in Slovakia better than people in Prague due to our clearer pronounciation and slower speech and they were learning standard Czech, not Slovak! So I guess when it comes to foreigners it depends on the person.

Anyways, to demonstrate a more typical situation, here is a text in Czechs:


Pokud něco potřebujeme nebo po něčem toužíme a máme peníze, jdeme nakupovat. Na nákupy se dá jet autem, nebo autobusem, či vlakem, v případě že to máme daleko. Nakupujeme v obchodě, nebo v obchodním středisku, protože tam je více obchodů na jednom místě. Peníze jsou obvykle mince a bankovky. Když nemáme peníze, můžeme se zeptat kamaráda, jestli nám půjčí. Pokud máme více než osmnáct let, můžeme si koupit polskou vodku a cigarety. Ale nemůžeme si koupit marihuanu, protože obchod s drogami je v Polsku nelegální.


Pokiaľ niečo potrebujeme alebo po niečom túžime a máme peniaze, ideme nakupovať. Na nákupy sa dá ísť autom, alebo autobusom, či vlakom, v prípade že to máme ďaleko. Nakupujeme v obchode, alebo v obchodnom stredisku, pretože tam je viac obchodov na jednom mieste. Peniaze sú obvykle mince a bankovky. Keď nemáme peniaze, môžeme sa spýtať kamaráta, či nám požičia. Pokiaľ máme viac než osemnásť rokov, môžeme si kúpiť poľskú vodku a cigarety. Ale nemôžeme si kúpiť marihuanu, pretože obchod s drogami je v Poľsku nelegálny.

Here is also a Polish version to dispel myths I have seen on the web about how we only understand Czech due to Czechoslovakia and how Polish is the closest language to Slovak etc.:


Gdy coś jest nam niezbędne albo gdy czegoś pragniemy i mamy pieniądze, to robimy zakupy. Na zakupy można pojechać samochodem albo autobusem czy też pociągiem, w przypadku gdy do sklepu mamy tylko kawałek drogi. Zakupy robimy w sklepie albo w centrum handlowym, bo tam jest więcej sklepów w jednym miejscu. Pieniądze to zwykle monety i banknoty. Jeżeli nie mamy pieniędzy, możemy spytać przyjaciela czy nam pożyczy. Jeżeli mamy więcej niż osiemnaście lat, to możemy sobie kupić polską wódkę i papierosy. Nie możemy sobie kupić marihuany, bo handel narkotykami jest w Polsce nielegalny.

If you compare Czech and Slovak to Polish, it is clear that if we (Slovaks and Czechs) considered ourselves one nation, we would consider ourselves as speaking 1 language. The difference is lot less than say between two "dialects" of Arabic.


Anyways, I think a foreigner who knows Czech should also understand Slovak after even a minute exposure to it.

I will be happy to return to this thread after there are test subjects. Their opinion is more valuable than yours or mine, at least to me.


I agree. But I would guess a factor would be the exposure of the learner to a different Slavic language. I think native Slavic language speakers will generally do far better in this than others, if my mother is any indication. Her native language is not Slovak yet after learning Slovak she understands Czech as well as any typical Slovak native. Of course, the fact that she lives here in Slovakia and watched Czech media like a typical Slovak certainly helped.

Mind you, I say foreigner with exposure. I have seen an English native who learned Slovak write that not only he does not understand Czech but he does not even understand some western dialects of Slovak! He also mentioned watching no TV. I think if someone only strictly learns a language from a book they will have serious problems with Czech or Slovak, both have a significant variation from standard, and I would say Eastern Slovak differs from the standard (based on central) and Western Slovak more than Czech does from these 2. In fact if you compare old Slovak dialects before influence of mass media, the difference between any of them can be as great as CZ/SK difference or even greater. Consider this for example: http://www.majgemer.sk/narecie/sirkovskym-narecim-nasa-je-krajsa-ako-vasa

Gemer dialect of Sirk, from central Slovakia, but very different from official language "Na jär, pred Velkó nocó, na Smrtnú neďelu, zmo aj u nás mali edon pekní zvik. Vinášäli zmo "Héhanu" (Morenu). Už pár dní pred ťím bulo treba urobič zo slami takva daš, šva sä podobalo na ženskú postavu. Ag sä to robilo? Do krížä sa zbili takia ťenšia drúški. Ťiato sä obalili slamó, ktorá sä na ne prichičila "na rukách", aj "na driaku" špárgó. Hlava sä urobila tag, ež sä stará štrinflä vipchala slamó, potom sä farbó namalovali oši, obrvi, nos a na vlasi sä použili klki. Na hlavu sä dav šepec (od staré maťeri). Najlepši túto Héhanu veďeli robič ťetka Šundrlíška a viobliakač zas ťetka Belicka."


"Buľi raz dvojo kmotrove, co furt vjedno chodziľi na jurmaki. Raz tiž tak išľi z jurmaku a našľi gvera. Ta znace, že ešči ftedi ľudze tak ňechirovali o gveroch, ňebulo teľo vojakoch. Išľi tak popod ľešik a naraz jeden zbačil gver a takoj ku ňemu ucekal… Ten druhi še tiž mocno zradoval, ta vžaľi totu fujaru a hutorili sebe: "Kmotre, ja budzem do ňej duc a ti budzeš prebirac". Ta začaľi vera ľudze tote dvomi hrac. Jeden kmoter pocahnul za kohucik, kuľka utrafila do druheho kmotra, co prebiral a ten še takoj prevracil umarti na žem.[5]"


"Nuž ale, ke com si ho vivoliua, no tak, teda bude že jako svadba. Tak, v Malackách bívali jarmaki, tak sem si k téj svadbje, on sa visuoviu, že ked aj svadba nebude z muzikú, ale nevjesta musí bid ovjenčená. No tag musela sem do tích Malaceg ít a pokúpit si to, co nevjestička potrebuje. Žeňichovi košilu a on zas prsté ki, ja péra do vjenca a paprika a rúžički a fšelico. Poščal mi štiri koruni na papriku, lebo už mi nezbili. A to mi bude vitíkat asi po celí život, že mi poščal štiri koruni na papriku.

Tak teda došua domú, našua si kerá mi uvjeje vjenec, kerá mi šati ušije, kerá mňa teda obleče. A mňeua sem ušetreních z Rakú z repi pjecto korún. Za to sem si robiua tú svadbičku. Nakúpiua, uš cukr, pekar ňeco upékeu. Roďičú sem mňeua v Jabuoňovém, museua sem ít bez žeňícha ich volat. A šecko zestaviua si sama."

Mutual intelligibility now might be slightly lower than say, during Husák, but to be honest, people who claim how it is dying are ridiculous. Truth is, official Czech and official Slovak are probably more intelligible now than 2 villages 20 km from each other used to be in the 18th century. Not only would not be Slovak not really intelligible with Czech back then, it wouldn't really be intelligible even with itself! People overrate the Czech and Slovak differences because we are used to a great uniformity of language today, more so on the Czech part where "Common Czech" is widespread, but it was not always this way. Those Gemer dialect examples where "šva" is used instead of "čo" are less than 50 km from the area that birthed the dialects that were used to codify official Slovak, yet the average modern Slovak man outside this area would probably find the Czech "co" far more transparent.


"I think native Slavic language speakers will generally do far better in this than others, if my mother is any indication. Her native language is not Slovak yet after learning Slovak she understands Czech as well as any typical Slovak native."

I think it depends on the individual. I’ve always been constantly surprised by the mutual intelligibility/overlap in vocabulary etc between Slavic languages (even those which aren’t that closely related), but I’ve known natives who disagree with me/lament that X language is really far from their native language. So while in theory I think a native speaker of a Slavic language has a really great foundation for the next Slavic language... in my experience, a non-native speaker with a have-a-go/can-do attitude may do better in their second/third/fourth Slavic language. Native speakers will likely have more inbuilt passive understanding, of course, but in terms of actual communication, I think attitude can be much more important. Two people who have similar levels of determination, sure, the native Slavic speaker will have a massive advantage, but a Slavic speaker who just can’t much be bothered can be outperformed (in my experience).

... I may be stating the obvious ;) but just my two pennorth as a non-native enthusiast for Slavic languages.


This is a great truth.


51 % and I got quite a few lucky guesses. Not sure what this says about me :)


Young and/or a Westerner?


I've got 56 % which is not so bad for someone born in the north of Bohemia after the dissolution of Czechoslovakia, I would say :D


Ahoj. Ako dobre rozumieš tomuto textu :)?

"Pokiaľ niečo potrebujeme alebo po niečom túžime a máme peniaze, ideme nakupovať. Na nákupy sa dá ísť autom, alebo autobusom, či vlakom, v prípade že to máme ďaleko. Nakupujeme v obchode, alebo v obchodnom stredisku, pretože tam je viac obchodov na jednom mieste. Peniaze sú obvykle mince a bankovky. Keď nemáme peniaze, môžeme sa spýtať kamaráta, či nám požičia. Pokiaľ máme viac než osemnásť rokov, môžeme si kúpiť poľskú vodku a cigarety. Ale nemôžeme si kúpiť marihuanu, pretože obchod s drogami je v Poľsku nelegálny."

56 percent je dobré vzhľadom k tomu, že ten test naschvál obsahoval práve tie slová, ktoré sa v slovenčine líšia od češtiny.


This is a thing that I have always been curious about. How does the Slovak language sound for Czech native speakers? Let me explain better what I mean by that.

My native language is Portuguese. I have been exposed to Spanish quite a lot since my childhood – my hometown is a vacations destination for Argentines. So I always thought of Spanish as a second language, because it is very similar to Portuguese. Sometimes it seems stronger, sometimes it seems funny, sometimes we can end up mixing them inadvertently, special during summer :p

When I study about language intelligibility I realise that my experience with this Portuguese-Spanish relationship is not a good parameter, because not every language has such a "relative language" with so many similarities, and even if they do, there is always something different in the way people see these similarities. So, given all of this, what do you guys think about Slovak?


47 %, slovenian (slovinski) native speaker.


I am curious, is your comprehension of Slovak better than that of Czech?


I have not tested it out, but theoretically it should be so: no shift from u & a to i & e after palatal consonants in Slovakian, which makes some words and case endings in Czech at first sight unrecognizable for me, though the lexical distance should be the same. Another source for confusion for me: in the spoken language the "ř" (it does not exist in Slovak and Slovenian) somtimes sounds like "ž" for me.

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