Learning a language is never easy, but Serbian is probably one of the most difficult languages you can learn! With seven cases of the noun, leading to countless word manipulations, this isn’t a language you can learn without some professional assistance.
I’ve been learning Serbian for almost two years now. While I’m now on the verge of advanced in my capabilities, I’d be much further if I got professional help earlier on. Combining my self-taught and professionally-taught experiences into one, here’s the best way to learn Serbian, from my experiences.
Don’t try to learn cases of the noun starting out.
Noun cases are the grammatical way that writers show how nouns or pronouns relate to other words in a sentence. The Serbian language has seven of them. Don’t worry if you don’t know what I’m talking about, because you will learn to see where they exist rather quickly!
A quick example. You can take the work “vode” in it’s original, singular form. This word means ‘water’. However, depending the context of the sentence (or the case) you might use “voda” or “vodu”. They all mean ‘water’ still! The meaning of the word doesn’t change.
They won’t make sense to you right off the bat anyways and it’ll be very frustrating trying to get these down without a nice vocabulary. If you learn them after a few months, when you’re making progress with your learned words and phrases, then it’s easier because you’ll have examples in your head and things to relate it to. Everything ‘fell into place’ when I already had a foundation to base the rules off of.
Think about the phrases and verbs that you use the most in English and make a list.
These are the words you should learn first! Of course certain slang words aren’t going to work in all languages, but for the most part, the words used most in the English language are the same words used in the Serbian. If you’re in Serbia, you also want to know any basic phrases that will help you navigate a culture where you can’t yet communicate (although all young people speak at least basic English here).
Who, what, when, where, how.
I’m hungry. I’m tired. I’m good, you?
Thank you. Nice to meet you. My name is Michelle. Here you go. Please.
Where is the bathroom? Excuse me, do you speak English?
Don’t try to use idioms.
Idioms are “a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words“. Examples of these would be:
- It’s raining cats and dogs.
- I am over the moon for you.
- I can see the light.
- I feel so stabbed in the back.
- Kill two birds with one stone.
- It takes two to tango.
The list goes on! I’m sure you can think of a few other common ones off the top of your head. These won’t translate in English to any other language properly. They’re unique to the English language!
Don’t worry too much about being correct grammatically.
The point of learning Serbian isn’t for people to think you are Serbian because you speak so perfectly. It’s to get your point across and have them understand what you are trying to say! Of course the end goal is to have someone think you’re a native, but that requires years of practice. The speaking grammatically correct portion will come later.
Don’t try to make sense of all their exceptions.
There are so many “rules” you’ll learn and then you’ll realize that there are plenty of exceptions to break these rules. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out “why” they’re exceptions and where else they apply and, honestly, it made things worse. My professors didn’t even know how to explain them to me or where else they’re used. Just try to remember them and use them as best as you can.
If you have a connection who speaks the language fluently, ask them to correct you from the start.
When I first started learning my husband never corrected me and I formed really bad habits that were hard to change as my progress improved. This kind of goes against my whole “don’t try to learn the cases of the noun starting out” point, but honestly, what I mean is say it correctly, but don’t necessarily try to understand whyyy it’s correct. Just learn how to say it right and then later, when you learn the cases, you can make sense of why it’s correct.
Download the app WordTheme.
This is what I use to store all of my Serbian words. It’s like a dictionary app but also has revision games to help you practice! It has crosswords, find the translations, and other games like that. It’s by far the best I’ve ever used.
Listen to music you like, not music that’s traditional.
My favorite artists have totally different genres but that’s okay. It’s music that I actually enjoy listening and so it makes me more inclined to learn the words and sing along! My favorite artists are Edita, Senidah and Oliver Dragojević! Oliver actually sings in Croatian but as you’ll learn, it’s currently a similar language to Serbian but with slight differences.
Plenty of people will try to tell you what’s the best music and what you should listen to, but trust me, if you don’t like it you won’t learn it! I know all the words to at least five of my favorite Serbian songs. I don’t know even one word of some of the ‘popular’ music that just isn’t my taste!
My last tip would be to stay organized with it and keep your notes nice.
There is nothing less helpful than going back to your notes for help and realizing they don’t even make sense to you! Take nice notes from the start. Don’t do that thing where you say you’ll go back and organize them later… we rarely do!