If you have ever wondered how difficult the Serbian language is to learn, you might find the answer on this site. It is stated that it takes 1.110 class hours to learn it and obtain language proficiency. However, the time that it takes to learn a language is rather individual and it depends on a few factors such as motivation, method of learning/teaching, and time devoted to learning via listening, reading, and practicing. Some students are highly motivated, whereas others need constant additional motivation.
In this article, I will try to provide an introduction to the Serbian language in general. You may read more about typical questions students have when they are thinking about taking up this language. What’s more, one of my students has kindly shared his experience.
Write as You Speak
The Serbian language (srpski jezik/српски језик) is one of the South Slavic languages. It is used in Serbia (Србија), and you may use it as well in Montenegro (Црна Гора), Croatia (Хрватска), Bosnia and Herzegovina (Босна и Херцеговина), and Republic of Serbia (Република Српска).
There are thirty sounds and thirty letters in the language. Vuk Karadzic Stefnovic’s principle “Write as you speak and read as it is written,” might seem tempting and create an illusion that it is quite easy to learn the language. However, the number of pronouns, genders, cases, and other things might well put you off. Long tables with information don’t seem to work very well all the time.
For example, I had this difficulty while learning the German language. In fact, I still do and haven’t reached proficiency in German. Some of my students had the very same problem while learning Serbian, so I had to think of some more creative ways to try to teach them. For instance, I use a lot of colours and pictures and I always make audio recordings with examples, vocabulary, and anything else that my students find confusing and necessary to learn. Additional practice is essential.
If you are curious about the language, you can read about the Serbian language in the media where you can find out more about other people’s opinion and statements. Specifically, I recommend having a look at this website. It’s written in Serbian, but there are also articles in English. you will understand how hard is serbian to learn? or how easy is serbian to learn?
Latin or Cyrillic Alphabet
I think that it is a widely known fact that you can use both alphabets. The most common question is whether you have to learn both of them. Well, I do insist on both if you are learning for more than just tourist purposes. As a tourist, you might easily get by with English as well. If you want to get deeper into the language, and that means the culture as well, it is important to learn both alphabets.
To my surprise, some students even claimed that Cyrillic is easier to use and read. You get quite comfortable reading it in no time. Moreover, not all signs are written in Latin, not to mention the books and newspapers. For native speakers there is no difference in these two alphabets while reading or writing. I can read a book written in the Latin alphabet and take notes in Cyrillic without even noticing.
Ekavian or Ijekavian
Another question that I get from students is: what is the difference between the words mlijeko and mleko? These are two different dialects. The first one is called ijekavica and the other ekavica. People are going to understand both words. I have noticed that foreigners sometimes feel more comfortable when they pronounce some words using the ijekavica dialect. People who grew up using ekavica, as I did, have difficulties in using ijekavica because they are not always quite sure when to use ije and when to use je. If you want to know more about this difference, have a look at this video.
Pronunciation of Some Letters
The greatest difficulty is with the letters č, ć, š, đ, ž, lj, nj, dž (ч, ћ, ш, ђ, ж, љ, њ, џ). For Spanish speakers, a big issue might be distinguishing s from š and z from ž. And for the majority of people, the most difficult issue is to differentiate č from ć and đ from dž. I have tried to consult some of my colleagues to see what I can do to make these things easier for my students and some of them have told me that foreigners will never learn to pronounce these sounds correctly. I strongly disagree and believe that practice is everything.
This may help:
Here are some words that you can try to pronounce. The meaning in these cases is irrelevant. Pay attention to where you place your teeth, tongue and mouth. Try to be as natural as possible.
- Č: ČAČKALICA, ČIČA, ČAŠA, ČIČAK, ČAČAK, ČINIJA, ČAS, ČIVILUK, ČAPLJA, ČONOPLJA, NAČIN, ČORBA, ZAČIN, ČIZMA
- Đ: ĐEVREK, ĐERAM, ĐUVEČ, LAĐA, GAĐATI, GRAĐA, ĐUMBIR, ĐURĐINA, ĐAK, ĐUVEGIJA
- DŽ: DŽAK, DŽOMBA, ODŽAK, ODŽAČAR, DŽABA, DŽIN, HADŽIJA, DŽEBANA
A Student's Point of View
Some thoughts on learning Serbian from Chris, a Serbian student. Who explains how hard is it to learn serbian:
I was worried that the lack of resources would prove to be quite a challenge. While I may not be fluent, through my experience in learning Serbian, I found that the lack of resources was not nearly as much of a problem as I thought. While it may be easier to find resources to learn languages like Spanish or Russian, I was still able to find some resources for learning Serbian available online and in books.
The most difficult part of the Serbian language, at least for English speakers, is the grammar. The many cases in the Serbian language that affect the endings of nouns were quite new to me as an English speaker who had only prior studied a romance language. However, finding a teacher makes this challenge of learning Serbian grammar much less difficult. The pronunciation of words in Serbian is also much easier than in many other languages, because the Serbian language is phonetic, meaning more or less that the words sound how they look. However, there are some sounds in the Serbian language that we don't have in English, such as the lj and nj sounds. Also, I believe some letters are pronounced differently than in English.
Learning vocabulary can be a pain in Serbian, as I am sure it can be in any language. However, learning vocabulary is not hard with practice. Just about every person I have told that I am learning Serbian has asked me, ‘Why Serbian?’ To be honest, I am not entirely sure of the greatest reason as to why I chose to study Serbian. I have always liked the way the language sounded. It seemed like it sounded a lot softer than Eastern Slavic languages in my opinion. I also liked Serbian music. Again I am not sure why, but it always had an appealing sound to me. Besides these factors, I also hope to work somewhere in the Balkans in the future, perhaps as an embassy worker or other similar international worker, so learning Serbian is of great importance to ensure I have a chance at getting a job like this.
Suggestion: Listen to Ethno music from Serbia, which includes some lovely pictures.
To conclude, learning the Serbian language is quite an adventure as you can see. But, which language isn’t? It is not one of the most difficult languages to learn, and it all depends on your motivation and on finding a teacher that suits your needs and individuality. As you read, there are enough resources for learning, even online. Remember, Serbian people are very friendly and you can always count on our help, especially when it comes to learning our language. now you say! how hard is serbian to learn?