Mistake 1: Skipping the present perfect and focusing only on the past aorist and past imperfect3
Even though Bulgarian has many past tenses, it doesn’t mean we use them all, all the time! The first two tenses you’ll come across in the grammar books are past aorist and past imperfect (минало свършено/несвършено) - but these aren’t necessarily the most important ones.
There will be many times when you can hear the average Bulgarian use the past aorist when he should have used the past imperfect.
BUT it is more important to know the forms for the present perfect because we use it more often than the past imperfect. Here are a few instances when you’ll need to know the present perfect:
When asking a question about someone’s experiences:
have you been there? have you read this..? / Бил ли си там? Чел ли си това?
When talking about an experience without a specific time:
I was in America many times. I’ve read this book, but it was long time ago. / Бил съм в Америка много пъти. Чел съм тази книга, но беше отдавна.
When talking about your childhood:
Dad told me that when I was little, I liked to play with dolls. (I don’t remember this, but my Dad told me!) / Татко ми каза, че като съм бил малък, съм обичал да си играя с кукли.
When you don’t remember something:
Yesterday, I got so drunk I kissed Katia, I don’t remember anything. / Вчера така съм се напил, целунал съм Катя, нищо не си спомням.
When talking about history:
Han Asparuh founded Bulgaria in 681 year. / Хан Аспарух е основал България през 681г.
Mistake 2: Learning the aspects of the verbs separately
A lot of grammar books can be confusing when explaining the aspects of the verb. You might be left at the end wondering whether these verbs are the same thing, if they have the same meaning, and why there are verbs that have perfect counter forms but others don’t?
To summarise it for you: the aspects of the verbs put emphasize on different things.
Most verbs have a perfect counter verb (or one made by adding prefixes). In a lot of cases grammar books say that certain verbs do not have a perfect form because they do not have a counter verb. However, in Bulgarian we use a similar form (by adding a prefix) that acts as though a perfect aspect of this verb existed.
Long story short, try learning the two aspects of a verb together. Try to find the perfect form of each new verb you encounter, including those that are made by adding prefixes. Practice using these verbs in different sentences, so you can understand how to use it in two contexts.
Here are some examples:
Отивам (imperfect) / Отида (perfect) - go
Отивам на плаж всеки ден. - I go to the beach every day.
(The emphasis is on the going, the repetitive action. So this is imperfect)
Искам да отида на плаж. - I want to go to the beach.
(Here the stress is on the place: the beach. You want to be on the beach, not to “go/travel” to the exact place. So this is perfect)
Ще отида до магазина. - I'll go to the grocery shop
-Къде си? – Отивам до магазина. - Where are you? I am going to the grocery shop.
Пиша/Напиша - write
Искам да напиша книга. - I want to write a book.
(The desired result is the book, not the action of writing. There is emphasis on the book, so this is perfect)
Ще пиша цял ден. - I will write for the whole day.
(Here the action is stressed, the writing. So this is imperfect)
Ще ми пишеш ли писма? - Will you write me letters?
(The action would be repetitive, the person expects more of the action of writing, the consistency, rather than 50 letters at once, right?)
Ще ми напишеш ли писмо? - Will you write me a letter?
(Here there is a single letter, a quick action. It is most likely the person is expecting the letter itself, rather than the action of writing)
Another good way to check if you have to use imperfect or perfect aspect is:
Do you have a single verb in the sentence? If yes, it’s imperfect!
Do you have two verbs, and one of them is: want/have/will? If yes, then it is most likely that the other verb is the perfect aspect!
Do you have two verbs, and one of them is: want/have/will, and you also have a time indicator such as: every year/day/always? If yes, then in this case the time indicator is more important, so you have the imperfect aspect!
Mistake 3: Overstressing sounds or not pronouncing them correctly
Students often stop when they have to say a short preposition before the noun, such as with:
в/с - в магазина , с кола
Don’t stop your flow! Instead, you can say: вмгазина/фмагазина; скола. I know it looks wrong, but this is the way we say it when we talk fast.
Another mistake in pronunciation is adding a second softer vowel, so you can pronounce the word easier. I always notice foreigners saying: плювам instead of плувам. or пуух instead of плъх.
I know that it’s hard to pronounce groups of consonants that you've never heard before but the trick is to practice! Don’t forget to practice the “clear” vowels too. Bulgarian words are not pronounced as in Russian, where there are soft sounds everywhere, but on the contrary – they are quite hard and short.
At first it might be difficult to hear these sounds when Bulgarian speakers talk quickly. But with some practice you’ll notice that we say them short and hard, so be careful with your own pronunciation. Practice saying words by breaking them into parts at first, and slowly say them all together. Record your attempts on your phone and listen to how you sound. This will help you mark your own progress.
Mistake 4: Using too many personal pronouns
In English, you say the personal pronoun in almost every sentence because otherwise others won’t know who you are talking about. For example, if I just said “write” you don’t know if I mean “I write/you write/they write/we write.
But in Bulgarian, the conjugation of the verb is different depending on the subject of the sentence, which means you don’t need to say the personal pronoun in every sentence.
For example: Пишеш is “you write” without having to say ти.
Really, you should only say the personal pronoun only when you want to emphasise it:
Как не обичаш да пътуваш?! – Аз много обичам да пътувам.
How you don’t like(love) to travel?! – I love to travel!
Mistake 5: Not being exposed enough to Bulgarian
It’s hard to get to know a new language if you are not exposed to a variety of sources. If you live in Bulgaria and hear Bulgarian speech all the time, you’re in a good position. But if you are living abroad, you have to really try and surround yourself with a lot of Bulgarian.
Listen to Bulgarian radio or songs, watch YouTube vloggers, read articles and even follow Bulgarian people on Instagram or Facebook. Even when you don’t understand much of it at first, listening to the language helps you get used to its rhythm and sounds.
I would also suggest translating the lyrics of a song you like. It will help you expand your vocabulary and it can be much more fun than just learning from textbooks!
There are many struggles you can come across when studying Bulgarian, and these were just five common mistakes. But don’t feel down—remember that you can always correct yourself and your habits. Best of luck with your Bulgarian!
Hero image by Borislav Zlatkov on Unsplash