Learning Serbian

I am in lesson #4 of my Serbian language book and I have a few observations about the language.

  • I was surprised at many foreigners in Belgrade don’t bother to learn the language. I can see there point that many Serbs, especially younger people, speak English. Also, world wide, Serb-Croat speakers probably number 20 million, max (I just looked on wikipedia and they have the figure of 12 million.)  There are more people in California than that.
  • It is my goal to get through the book and have working vocabulary. I know I’ll never be totally fluent, but it would be nice to be able to follow a conversation. I believe it will be worth the effort to put into to study. As with any language, it offers insight into a different perspective into seeing the world. 
  • Being a slavic language, it feels like I am getting back in touch with my roots and speaking the language (or similar) of my ancestors. 
  • The dual alphabet of the Cyrillic / Latin is interesting. I don’t know of how many languages that have alternative alphabets. Of course the Latin is easier for a westerner and that is the one I am focusing on in picking up new vocabulary. But with so many signs in cyrillic, one can’t help but try to learn them. It is like a puzzle, and we are always trying to sound out the signs we see. 
  • The cyrillic differentiates Serbs from Croats and Serbs take pride in this. It is a remnant of the Byzantine Empire influence over Serbia. Serbia has always been a frontier between east and west, mostly being inside the eastern influence rather than the western side. 
  • I now understand why people who have learned one language can learn another easier than someone with only one language. 
  • Serb is similar to Spanish regarding verb conjugation. So far I have only learned the I ending -m, the you (informal “ti”) and the you (formal “vi”) -te The infinitive ending of the verbs is iti, for example govoriti means to speak. 
  • Nouns have three genders (Spanish only has two). Masculine nouns end in consonants, feminine is “a” and neutral in “o”. The is no articles in Serb so no confusion over the “el” or “la” of Spanish. The difficult part, and I am bitter about this, is that the ENDING OF NOUNS CHANGE DEPENDING UPON THEIR USAGE. For example, the word for coffee is kafa. In the nominative or basic form, one can easily see that it is a feminine noun. But when you are ordering a coffee, the ending changes to kafu because it is the direct object of the sentence. For example, Ja bih jednu kafu. (I would like a coffee.) Jednu is the number one, and this also changes depending on the noun it describes. 
  • Serbs get a big kick out of a foreigner speaking Serb. They have been very patient with me and my accent must sound funny to them. My Serb always illicit a smile and a laugh.
  • I am at the point in my learning that I am memorizing and using short phrases for common things. Below is a list of the phrases I have mastered:

Kako se zovete?  (What is your name?)

Zovem se Bill. (My name is Bill)

Molim bac (please and welcome)

Hvala (thank you)

Drago mi je. (nice to meet you)

Ya sam (I am) / ti si (you are) / vi ste (you are)

When you ask a question, throw a “Da li” in front of it. For example, Da li govorite Engleski? Do you speak English?

Ne razumen. (I don’t understand.)

New Phrases I want to learn this week

Izvolite – Can I help you?

Živolite!  – Cheers

Ja bih (kafu) molim bac?  – I would like a coffee please.

Dajte mi (kafu) molim bac? – Give me a coffee please. 

U redu – okay / all right