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Czech Republic


Basic statistics

The population of the Czech Republic was 10,512,922 at 30 June 2013.

The number of people representing  national minorities is a very small proportion of the population of the country: Slovakian (1.41%), Roma (0.05%), Polish (0.37%), German (0.18%), Ukrainian ( 0.51%), Hungarian (0.08%), Russian ( 0.17%), Vietnamese ( 0.28%), Belarusian (0.02%) and, in smaller proportions,  Bulgarian, Greek, Serbian, Croatian etc.  This data is based on the census of 2011. However, in the census respondents can leave the "nationality" field empty; they can also write down any nationality or ethnicity they want. Most Romani people state “Czech” as their nationality. Thus, the real number of Roma in the country is much higher – it is estimated to be around 220,000.

The vast majority (95.8%) of the population of the Czech Republic speaks Czech. Czech is also the language of Parliament (for debates, drafting and promulgating laws), as it is for all other relevant State bodies.


Legal frameworks

The Constitution of the Czech Republic (adopted on 16 December 1992, in force on 1 January 1993) does not contain any provisions on language or languages. The only relevant article is Article 1, which states “The Czech Republic is a unitary and democratic State of sovereign right, founded on respect for the rights and freedoms of man and citizen.” The phrase “respect for the rights of man and citizen” is what serves to protect the rights of minority nationals in the Czech Republic.

The Constitution does not contain any statement concerning the official or state language, and there is no Czech law which would define “the official language” or the language of official communication.

The status of the Czech language as the official language is, however, implicit in some legal regulations.

Minorities, which "traditionally and on a long term basis live within the territory of the Czech Republic" enjoy some privileges. As of 2013 there are 14 such officially recognised minorities, which are (alphabetically): Belarusians, Bulgarians, Croatians, Hungarians, Germans, Greeks, Poles, Romanians, Russians, Ruthenians, Serbians, Slovaks, Ukrainians, and Vietnamese. Among the privileges of the officially recognised minorities are the right to have signs within the municipalities also in their language, right to have information about elections in their language (in both cases when the minority comprises at least 10% of the municipality's population), right to education in their own language, cultural rights including state support for the preservation of traditions.

Citizens belonging to the officially recognised minorities enjoy the right to use their language in communication with the authorities and in courts of law. Article 25 of the Czech Charter of Fundamental Rights and Basic Freedoms ensures the right of national and ethnic minorities to education and communication with the authorities in their own language. Act No. 500/2004 Coll. (The Administrative Rule), paragraph 16 (4) (Procedural Language) ensures that a citizen of the Czech Republic, who belongs to a national or an ethnic minority, which traditionally and on a long-term basis lives within the territory of the Czech Republic, has the right to address and conduct dealings with an administrative agency in the language of the minority. If the administrative agency does not have an employee with a knowledge of the language, the agency is bound to obtain a translator at its own expense. According to Act No. 273/2001 (About the Rights of Members of Minorities), paragraph 9 (The right to use language of a national minority in dealing with authorities and in front of the courts of law) the same also applies for the members of national minorities in courts of law.

There is no law regulating the use of language in the field of culture in the Czech Republic.

Names of places and roads are mostly in Czech except in those circumstances provided for in the law on ethnic minorities (Act on rights of members of national minorities and amendment of some acts N. 273/2001). There is no legislation within the Czech Republic which governs the use of languages on public signs. It is therefore implicit that there is no law against signs, notices or other information of a private nature being publicly displayed in a minority national language or even in a foreign language.

Consumer protection is regulated by the compulsory (but not exclusive) use of the Czech language.

Law 634/1992, modified in 2005, stipulates that any information on a product given in written form must be in Czech. Following European directives, the consumer protection law states that any description of the contents or instructions for use must be in Czech.


Legal provisions concerning the linguistic integration of migrants

Since 1993, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports (MSMT) has run (voluntary) preparatory classes for pre-primary age children to address the issue of migrants. At national level, an integration programme has been launched which aims to help migrants settle into society. Via the programme, the State takes the initiative in helping migrants find permanent accommodation and learn Czech. The programme was initiated by the Home Office, but NGOs and not-for-profit organisations assist in its implementation. Lessons in Czech provided through this programme are free and must be offered to the migrant by the MSMT within 30 days of any decision on whether to grant asylum.


Principal legal provisions in force concerning the use of regional or minority languages

The proportion of the non-Czech population varies with districts and regions of the Czech Republic. There are numerous but dispersed groups of Slovaks and Roma. No national minority occupies a prominent position on the current ethnic map. Due to history, there is a significant concentration of members of the Polish minority along the state border with Poland where, in the districts of Frydek-Mistek and Karvina, they amount to more than 8% of the local population.

The Government has set up the Council of National Minorities, which includes fourteen national minorities: Belarusian, Bulgarian, Croatian, Hungarian, German, Polish, Roma, Ruthenian, Russian, Greek, Slovak, Serbian, Ukrainian and Vietnamese. The Council is an advisory, initiative-taking and co-ordinating body of the Czech Government for matters of policy towards national minorities and their members. It is really this Council which has the final say in determining the real rights of minority languages within the country.

Since March 2007 the Czech Republic, which has signed and ratified the European Charter on Regional and Minority Languages, has allowed the Charter to be applied to the administrative and legal domains. Signs can also now be bilingual. The measure, however, applies only to linguistic minorities which make up more than 10% of the population. In effect, this is only the Polish communities of Moravia and Silesia. Others do not meet this proportional requirement.
Languages in education

The 24 September 2004 law (as amended) on teaching in nursery, primary, secondary and professional schools stipulates that the language of instruction is the Czech language, but members of national minorities have the right to be educated in the language of the relevant national minority under certain conditions (see the next paragraph) and the Ministry may permit the teaching of some subjects in a foreign language and a foreign language may be the language of instruction at tertiary professional schools.

A municipality, a region or the Ministry shall ensure education for members of national minorities in the language of the relevant minority at nursery, basic and secondary schools, namely in the municipalities where a Committee for National Minorities has been established.   Should at least eight children claim to be members of a national minority a class of nursery school may be set up; should at least ten pupils claim to be members of a national minority a class of basic school may be set up.  A nursery school or basic school with the language of the national minority may be established provided that all classes have on average at least twelve children or pupils who claim to be members of the national minority in one class.

Should at least twelve pupils claim to be members of a national minority a class of the relevant grade of secondary school may be set up; a secondary school with the language of the national minority as a language of instruction may be established provided that all classes have on average at least fifteen pupils who claim to be members of the national minority.

In organising education in the language of a national minority, municipalities, regions or the Ministry shall take into account the accessibility of this education. Education in the language of a national minority may be also organised by a union of municipalities or municipalities, or a municipality and a region may mutually agree on the manner of organisation, including funding. If conditions mentioned above are not satisfied, a head teacher with the consent of the founder may specify in the School Educational Programme subjects or their parts which may be taught bilingually, both in the Czech language and the language of the relevant national minority.

At schools with instruction in the language of the relevant national minority, school reports, apprenticeship certificates, and diplomas on completion of education shall be issued bilingually, both in the Czech language and in the language of the relevant national minority.

The most common practice is to create minority classes within Czech language schools. In the Czech Republic, only the Polish national minority possesses a relatively full educational network within which subjects are taught in Polish, thanks to its concentration in the regions of Karviná and Frýdek-Místek.

Pupils in minority schools receive a diploma which is written in two languages (Czech and the minority language).

The German minority in the Czech Republic is currently undergoing a process of linguistic assimilation, accelerated by the geographical dispersion of the community and a low rate of endogamy.

The Slovaks in the Czech Republic also seem to be undergoing a linguistic and cultural assimilation: the number of speakers is declining and the awareness of belonging to a particular ethnic grouping is diminishing. This change in the linguistic situation is certainly promoted by the phenomenon of receptive bilingualism and the “semi-communication” which takes place between Czech and Slovakian speakers, since each is able to understand large parts of the other’s language.

In conformity with the legislation in force in the country, people belonging to national minorities can found their own private teaching establishments with no restrictions and ask that these establishments be integrated in the school system of pre-school and school establishments in the same way as those founded by other citizens. So far, it has been mainly the German and Polish minorities who have taken advantage of this. The Czech Republic has financial obligations towards this type of school establishment. 

Literacy and the issue of pupils whose mother tongue is different from the language of schooling (Czech)

A number of centrally organised initiatives have been put into practice to ensure the development of the expected level of literacy which would enable all the pupils and students to fully participate in and benefit from the education provided.

Support to pupils with mother tongue different from the language of instruction:

  • Support has been provided by means of direct integration with additional assistance. Education in a mother tongue other than Czech is realised on the basis of special regulations, usually in extra-curricular classes.
  • Grant programme of The Ministry of Education (MSMT) for pupils – asylum seekers
  • Grant programme of the MSMT for foreigners-pupils-citizens of EU
  • Grant programme of the MSMT to support free Czech lessons for foreigners-pupils outside EU

Individual activities, though centrally organised, are carried out in a decentralised way due to the fact that within each school different compositions of pupils may occur. The grant system which entitles individual organisations or bodies to apply for the grant enables the schools to respond to their specific requirements in relation to the linguistic background and needs of the pupils. 

Romani language

The situation regarding the Romani language reflects a process of linguistic assimilation, particularly among the younger generation of Roma. Although, in a traditional Roma context, the native language and origin are fairly well preserved, this is less the case in an urban context. The situation is complicated by the fact that, unlike the Slovak language, the different Romani varieties are recently transplanted dialects which have not gone through any real territorial transition. This particularity means that speakers of Central, Vlax and Sinti Romani all come together. The Romani language is generally promoted in the context of safeguarding and developing the cultural heritage of the Roma, e.g.  the introduction of Curriculum Framework for Romani language and two European Language Portfolios for Romani children in basic schools have received extensive support from the Ministry of Education, which had all the documents including the Teachers´ Handbook, translated into the North-Central dialect, the Lovari language and the Czech Language. These translations are also available to other countries on the website of the Council of Europe.

The most significant development for Romani was its introduction as a discipline in higher education. Romani Studies have been available at the Charles University in Prague since 1991 and at the Purkyně University at Ústí nad Labem since 1992. The Palacký University at Olomouc and the University of Pardubice also offer classes in Romani. There are also a number of Romani teacher training courses at university level. However, most Romani Studies courses are taught within the framework of educational or social studies and learning the Romani language is only part of the course.


Financial support mechanisms aimed at encouraging the use of national and regional or minority languages

On an annual basis, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport announces a Call for submissions of grant applications to support minority language education and multicultural education. Based on the selection process results, additional resources are allocated to increase the offer of especially less taught and minority languages.


Teaching foreign languages within the education system

Since the 2006/7 school year, the first modern foreign language has been introduced as compulsory from the age of eight/nine in primary schools. It is possible to start even earlier, at the age of six or seven.

Since 2012/13 two compulsory foreign languages have been introduced within basic (i.e. nine-year compulsory) education, one within primary school (starting at least in the third grade) and one within lower secondary school (starting at least in the seventh grade). The choice of languages is quite wide. English prevails as the first foreign language followed by German and French. German is the most frequently taken-up second foreign language followed by French, Italian, Spanish and Russian. If the school has sufficient conditions and if there is sufficient student demand, other languages may be offered as a second foreign language.  

Upper secondary general schools may offer a third foreign language as an optional subject in all grades provided the school includes this third language into its school education programme.

Some nursery schools may introduce a foreign language (based on mutual consent between the school and the parents). These schools may include a foreign language into their own individual education programmes which each school has to develop on the basis of Framework Education Programme for Pre-Primary Education.

A standardised part of the compulsory upper secondary school-leaving exam taken in a foreign language (or foreign languages) was introduced in 2012.


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