Why is Serbian so hard to learn?

Written by Danica Gómez Marković

is it hard to learn Serbian

Or is it?

The Serbian language is so difficult. I hear this a lot. Students enroll in a course and the Serbian language becomes a nightmare for them. Let me give you some advice on how to approach learning Serbian from my 5-year experience teaching it.  

Languages are complicated in different ways

It is important you know that people worldwide have similar necessities, and therefore, want to express similar things. In different languages, you will find different ways to express the same thing. For example, in Serbian we say I’m hungrygladan sam (masculine) or gladna sam (feminine), but in Spanish, you would say I have hungertengo hambre. I call that linguistic wealth, but for some people, it might be a pain in the neck.  

When you start learning a new language, you need to take some things into consideration:

  • your mother tongue
  • other languages you speak
  • languages you hear in your surroundings.

Depending on these learning a new language can be more difficult or easier.

Avoid getting frustrated

Easier said than done, right?

I communicated with most of my beginner students in English,  a language with no cases and gender. For most of them, it was very difficult to understand why there were so many changes in Serbian. Especially if we talk about nouns, adjectives, and pronouns. Let’s look at this example:

(in English) Last year I went to Prague.

(in Serbian) Prošle godine sam išla u Prag.

We will only focus on “last year”. If you look at your dictionary to see what is the term in Serbian, you would find this: prošla godina. But then why is it different in the sentence we used?

Unless you are one of those people who are truly interested in the why (as in why does this change this way) because it helps them learn, understand, and connect the dots, stop right here.

stop right here. learn serbian

Most of my students were not in this group. If you are one of them, best thing you can do is to say to yourself: it’s just like that. Remember that one. It’s just like that. It’s just different. And all I need to do is to accept it and move on.

It can be a waste of your time and nerves to wonder about these differences and you run a risk of demotivating yourself. 

What else can you do?

If you’re having trouble memorizing something, search for a bunch of examples, make your own, and do anything that would make a thing which seems weird in the beginning become a part of your day-to-day. Give it time and “your ear” will get used to it. 

What if nothing helps?

If you feel you’re getting nowhere with Serbian, before you give up, ask yourself these questions and be honest: 

  • Do you study or use Serbian on a daily basis (outside of your language course)?
  • Are you doing your homework?
  • Have you sent all the writings to your teacher? 
  • Overall, are you using all the opportunities to actually get out there and practice the language?
  • Did you make it a part of your life?

If you have at least 3 answers ‘yes‘, you’re on the right track. Maybe you’re just not noticing your progress. But it is there. Sooner or later you’ll surprise yourself.

If most of your answers are ‘no‘, think about your motivation and what made you want to learn Serbian in the first place. Try focusing your studying and activities on the outcome you want to get. Maybe it’s just to speak Serbian with your friends. Or to be able to buy something in a shop.

A recipe for success

Most language experts agree that, when learning a language, you need to be constant. You need to have some kind of contact with the language every day. If 15 minutes per day is all you have, that is great. This amount of time will not represent a burden on your daily schedule. That is how you make the language a part of your routine.

You only need to take it bit by bit. To really learn a language you need to go slow, and dedicate a lot of time to reviewing and repeating. After you feel like you’ve mastered something, only then should you introduce new stuff. Most people are not fans of repetition and always want to experience some new content. That is also fine. You can work with different kinds of content on the same level. Introduce new activities and materials. Interact with people, that is never boring. Make speeches or writings on topics of your interest. The results will come with time.

My message to you

After reading this, you need to take your learning path into your hands. Find your motivation and language activities you like doing. Use the people and resources you have at your hand. It might be difficult in the beginning, but after a while, you’ll definitely see progress. And remember: the responsible for your language learning is you. No matter how slow your language learning is going, the most important thing is that you are making progress. Congrats!

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