Out of laziness, I've reused the same structure and some of the same phrasing as in my post about Finnish. What're you gonna do about it?
If I were to give advice right now to my monoglot Anglophone friends on how to start studying Slovak by themselves, I'd tell them the following:
1) Despite being associated with Eastern Europe, don't let hearsay or its relative obscurity discourage you. It's not exceedingly difficult to learn the basics when you have a sufficiently open mind and realize that learning any language is like a lot of things in life from cooking to standup comedy to sex. It takes practice, sometimes a little self-confidence, and other times a little humility.
2) Nevertheless, it'll also help to keep things in perspective, and realize that the language is not endowed with much learning material for outsiders. This means that you have to make do with the relatively few resources that are available and won't have the luxury of being picky when looking for a textbook or dictionary (as you would be when studying FIGS or another higher-profile language such as Arabic or Mandarin). In addition, it'd be your lucky day if you were to meet a Slovak through something like Couchsurfing, Meetup or just a chance encounter through work or school outside Slovakia since the speech community isn't that large or dispersed to begin with. Getting a personal connection to the language will depend at on some luck and likely a trip or two to Slovakia.
3) Use material on the internet as supplements or reference material
when you're coming to grips with the basics. Tutors are expensive and rather few while the time difference when you're not in the same time zones as Europe will make online lessons a pain to schedule. There's too much in the way of distractions or temptation to goof off on YouTube or Facebook when you're supposed to be learning with an online course (especially at the beginning). Build a base of knowledge in Slovak the old-fashioned way, with a textbook, course audio in a MP3/CD player, lined paper and pen or pencil at hand. A bidirectional dictionary between English and Slovak is optional at the beginning, but you can forget scrounging for a respectable reference manual of Slovak grammar issued in English. The only one of note ("A Grammar of Contemporary Slovak" by Józef Mistrík) has been long out of print, and no one has still bothered to write a Slovak counterpart to "Czech: An Essential Grammar" in Routledge's series of reference grammars. I'm not big on flash cards, but feel free to make them for yourself if you'd like.
Since I recommend that you avoid using an online course as your primary learning resource at the beginning, be prepared to shell out about $50 for "Colloquial Slovak" (q.v.)
4a) Recommendation for the first textbook
- Colloquial Slovak
(textbook and audio) by James Naughton.
It's very slim pickings for self-contained courses for total beginners to learn Slovak. This is the usual offering in the "Colloquial..." series with 16 chapters each led off by a dialogue or two, followed by notes on grammar and then some exercises backed up by an answer key in the appendices. Be grateful that this course exists since Naughton put together a serviceable work with decent explanations of grammar, lists of vocabulary that aren't absurdly long, and some dialogues that are somewhat ha-ha funny. The only real weakness is the lack of exercises but that's common to courses in this format. The few other courses in hard copy that exist for English-speaking beginners are really meant for classes as they lack answer keys (e.g. "Beginning Slovak" by Oscar Swan, "Slovak for You" by Ada Böhmerová).
4b) Recommendations for reference material
In case you need a second opinion on the grammar explanations in "Colloquial Slovak", your best bet is to print out the rather sparse notes on grammar in Slovake.eu
which are available without registration or cost.
For a bidirectional dictionary in hard copy, the best one for a beginner is Anglicko-slovenský / Slovensko-anglický praktický slovník
published by Lingea. The list price of 20 € could pick up a fair bit depending on shipping costs from Slovakia to your address, but fortunately you can also look things up for free in an online version
of this dictionary on the publisher's website. A hard copy of the larger version of this dictionary is available for 59.90 €.
Once you're in the second half of "Colloquial Slovak" and have the barest abilities to get the gist of a simple sentence in Slovak and/or recognize some words in that sentence, you might want to take note of aspectual pairs of verbs that you encounter or see exceptions in declension of some nouns. For that, you could use the online monolingual dictionaries of Slovak
. Just enter the word in the field in the top left, and press "Find". The hard copies of these monolingual dictionaries are expensive and your Slovak needs to be fairly advanced to take full advantage of them.
5) Recommendations or ideas after finishing "Colloquial Slovak"
- Review some basic grammar using the Peace Corps' material for Slovak. You can use a textbook
, workbook (with answer key)
, and bare-bones reference manual on grammar
that's all in Slovak (followed by a laughably brief translation to English). This was all meant for volunteers attending classes in basic Slovak, and so the teacher and exposure would complement these books.
- Consolidate and then build on your knowledge with "Beginning Slovak" by Oscar Swan or either of the series "Krížom krážom" by Renáta Kamenárová et al. or the textbooks published by Comenius Unversity. Expect to set aside between $100 and $200 for each of these materials since Swan's course is expensive but thorough enough for a beginner's self-instructional course with its fat textbook and 6 CDs while the resources from Slovakia aren't that cheap to begin with and you'll have to pay something for customs/international shipping.
"Beginning Slovak" dates from the end of the Cold War, and is something like an old course from FSI adapted for a course for undergrads with its droll dialogues followed by notes on grammar and a lot of exercises including audio drills. Unfortunately it has no answer key, and the full set can cost over $150 (make sure you're getting the 6 CDs and the book).
"Krížom krážom" is meant to for classrooms and explanations and instructions in Slovak only. The series consists of four textbooks (with audio) each corresponding to CEFR A1, A2, B1, and B2. There's also a workbook of grammar exercises for students at A1 and A2 looking for more practice in the basics. Each book includes an answer key, and so someone who's just completed "Colloquial Slovak" could probably do self-instruction and jump in using the book for A2 (or even B1) instead of A1.
The textbooks published by Comenius University form heterogeneous competition to "Krížom krážom" with A1 and A2 covered by the series "Tri, dva, jeden - Slovenčina"; B1 and B2 are covered by the series "Slovenčina ako cudzí jazyk - B - Hovorme spolu po slovensky!" (the old volumes for A1 and A2 seemed to have been phased out in favor of "Tri, dva, jeden..."). "Tri, dva, jeden - Slovenčina" consists of a set of textbook plus CD for each of A1 and A2 (it's unclear to me if an answer key is included) while "Slovenčina ako cudzí jazyk - B - Hovorme spolu po slovensky!" consists of a pair of books for each of B1 and B2, and a reference manual of grammar. Only the workbooks have full answer keys, and like the "Krížom krážom" series, these books from Comenius University use only Slovak for explanations of grammar and instructions.
- If you have enough discipline to learn online, sign up for Slovake.eu
which has free courses meant for A1, A2, B1, and B2.
- To train your ear and see the basics in action, watch short videos of Slovak as used in everyday situations at Slovak in Slovakia
or learn a few things from the Learn Slovak
series by Radio Slovakia International.
- Native comic strips on the internet are rather few with Slovak translations of popular strips such as Garfield or Peanuts even fewer on the web (although Slovak versions of popular strips in hard copy are fairly easy to find in the big-name Slovak bookstores Martinus
and Panta Rhei
). However, Martin Šútovec
is well-known and in addition to his political satire
which could be tough for learners to figure out because of the political/cultural references, he also has an archive of a few hundred strips combined of the more accessible ...som Grogy
. If in Slovakia, you might be lucky enough to find a treasury of Jozef Babušek's "Jožinko" which was a popular strip running in the communist era
- Books in Slovak for children and teenagers/youth (knihy pre deti a mládež
) might also be worth looking into as a beginner or intermediate student, although buying them outside Slovakia could become expensive when shipping and customs are accounted for. As mentioned earlier, Panta Rhei
are big-name local bookstores, and do stock lots of kids' books, although you'd need to be reasonably comfortable reading Slovak since the online ordering is in Slovak only. Note also that some translations of popular or familiar children's literature such as this collection of comic strips of "Le petit Nicolas"
are into Czech
instead of Slovak. This is not a big problem for Slovaks and reflects the realities of the high mutual intelligiblity between Czech and Slovak as well as how unprofitable it still often is to translate into Slovak. In any case, learners could be in for a surprise when they end up with a Czech translation of a book they believed was in Slovak (a clue in the product description is when the book's language is marked as Czech (Jazyk: český
or similar) rather than Slovak (Jazyk: slovenský
- Travel to Slovakia, and if possible befriend Slovaks so that the language comes alive. It can get very lonely and discouraging studying a language which has few learning resources and a fairly insular speech community.
After a certain point in your studies, you may want to move on to more advanced material or books/movies/songs/TV shows natives would enjoy. It's probably just as well since the market for Slovak textbooks for advanced foreigners is a mirage. Unfortunately, there's nothing like "slow news" in Slovak, and unless you're a literature fiend, delving into Slovak literature
(even when free) may not be to your taste. Fortunately, there are a few other options depending on your interests. Slovakia is a hockey nation, and in addition to following the local and international leagues on hokej.sk
, you could go to nhl.com in its Slovak
version with game reports and articles in the language. YouTube also has some goodies which you can try out ranging from video recipes
to sometimes coarse comedy/humor with Meliško
or hockey players
Start a search on YouTube with "slovensky" ((in) Slovak), "slovenčina" (Slovak language), "slovenský film" (Slovak film), "komédia" (comedy), "rozprávky" (fairy tales), "Meliško" (the (infamous) Meliško), "recept" (recipe) etc. Whatever's in your imagination...