‘Is Serbian hard to learn?’ is probably one of the first questions people ask when they consider learning this beautiful language. By “hard”, they usually mean whether they will need to spend a lot of time learning Serbian until they can speak it in public with confidence.
I don’t have a simple answer to this question. Serbian is a complex but also very logical and poetic language.
Many different variables need to be considered before you can know how hard it will be for you to learn Serbian. It depends on what languages you already know, how high your motivation is, and whether you have the opportunity to speak it with someone as an exercise.
Let’s look at some aspects of the Serbian language that can affect the difficulty:
How Many People Speak Serbian?
Serbian belongs to the Slavic group of languages of the Indo-European language family.
Serbian is an official language in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro, being spoken by about 12 million people. It is also a minority language in a number of countries in Central and Eastern Europe.
Serbian Language Has Two Scripts
Two alphabets are used in the Serbian language: Cyrillic and Latin. Both alphabets are almost equivalent. The only difference is in the use of glyphs.
Cyrillic is the traditional script for Serbian, in the form given by Vuk Karadzic. His principle was completely implemented in Cyrillic in the 19th century: “one letter per sound”. So, there are as many letters as sounds (30), making it completely phonetic. This principle is represented by saying, “Piši kao što govoriš i čitaj kako je napisno.” (“Write as you speak and read as it is written.”).
The Latin alphabet is also phonetic, but some double letters are pronounced as one sound.
The Cyrillic alphabet is very specific. For many foreigners who want to learn Serbian, it may look like mastering this script is not very easy. However, once you learn how the letters are spoken, it’s pretty easy to pronounce the words correctly.
Serbian, written in the Cyrillic alphabet, is the official language. But luckily for foreigners, the Latin alphabet can be found everywhere (menus in restaurants or bars, train stations, bus stations… ) and they don’t need to learn it to be able to function if they come to Serbia.
Where Foreigners Make Mistakes
When meeting people all over Europe and across the world, both on trips and meeting them in my country, I tried to convey the spirit of Serbia and, among other things, introduce them to our language. Many of them had a problem with learning numbers and pronouncing words that contain the sounds ć, č, đ, š, dž, lj or nj. As they repeated the word a few times, aware that they were mispronouncing it, they spoke louder and louder. Such situations often made us laugh to the point of tears.
Getting acquainted with the Serbian language slowly, they realized that learned words cannot be used constantly in one and the same form. They just learned one thing, and then another, and a third rule followed and they simply got tired of all those rules. I explained to them that this is the case when it comes to the Serbian language.
Is Serbian Hard To Learn for English Speaking People?
Bulgarians or Italians (for example) find it somewhat easier to learn the Serbian language, while for the English speakers it represents, as they say, “pakao”( bloody hell). The most difficult word for them to remember is ” ljuljaška ” (swing), while ” poslastičarnica” (pastry shop) and ” šćućuriti” (squat) are the most difficult for them to pronounce. Changes in some verbs such as “sećati se” (remember) are also particularly difficult. We hardly utter the longest word in the Serbian language in one breath, with that word being “prestolonaslednikovica” (heiress to the throne). Curse words are what foreigners tend to “pick up” very quickly, mostly in traffic, and they are usually very interested in their meaning. They are often untranslatable, and when we try to translate them literally, they often comment on how the action being described is physically impossible. It also happens that during learning, they come across words that are written and pronounced the same, but have a different meaning, which further confuses them.
Let‘s Talk More About Cases In Serbian
By default, cases will give you the most trouble. Some languages have cases and some do not. English has none, Finnish has about fourteen cases, while Hungarian has about eighteen. It all depends on the definition. The absolute record holder in the number of cases is the Czech language spoken in the Caucasus, which has sixty-four cases. That language is now extinct, so efforts are being made to preserve it. Serbian only has seven cases, but even then, many foreigners who try to learn our language have a hard time understanding them.
It was very difficult for them to follow the rules about the cases. Instead of “ja mogu” (I can) I often heard “ja možem” (this doesn’t mean anything but Serbians know what you wanted to say 😊). For the word “ćirilica” (Cyrillic) it was always easier for them to pronounce with “s” or “c”. They mixed the genitive and accusative, declensions themselves, and verb forms.
So, Is Serbian Hard To Learn?
Although everyone here speaks at least a little English, and many speak other foreign languages, foreigners can not avoid encountering the specifics of our language. Some people fall in love with it, while for others, it becomes a daily headache.
It happens that even after learning the definitions, foreigners simply don’t know how to apply what they have learned. It takes a lot of practice in speech and working with an expert to master. The case system in particular, whether it is nouns, adjectives, pronouns, or numbers, requires a lot of focus. After a couple of years of living in the country and learning the Serbian language, mistakes are repeated in the use of some words in sentences, as well as shifting the emphasis to another syllable that can often make people on the street laugh. Even those who speak Serbian as their mother tongue do not master some lexical, spelling, and morphological things during their lifetime, so we should not be surprised that foreigners have a problem learning the Serbian language.
With good resources, adequate literature, and contact with people whose mother tongue is Serbian – success is pretty much guaranteed. Patience and willpower are very important, as is the goal set at the start. If you approach with fear and have a certain “guard” towards the Serbian language, you will not achieve anything.
For foreigners, the Serbian language is very beautiful, sonorous, and fluent. They love the culture, cuisine and are happy to return to Serbia to try our sarma again. They also want to visit some other natural treasures, sights, or go out for a good night out. And, of course, to learn a new word or two. 😊 The Ling App can also help with learning new phrases.
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