Serbian is a Slavic language, one very similar to the languages of Bosnian and Croatian. Serbian is the official language of the nation of Serbia, which is located in Eastern Europe, and borders Romania, Bulgaria, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the Adriatic Sea. It was the official language of Montenegro as well, until 2007, when it was replaced by Montenegrin. Serbian remains the official language of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and is recognized as a minority language in a number of other surrounding nations, including Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic. If you are planning to visit Serbia or the surrounding area in Eastern Europe, or if you’d just like to begin learning the Serbian language, mastering the following phrases will help you on your way.
Serbian vs. English
Most Eastern European languages are very different from English. This is mainly because English is among several languages that developed from Latin, Anglo-Saxon, or other Indo-European languages. English is classified as a Germanic language, and those languages that developed from Latin are often referred to as Romance languages; they include French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian. Serbian, on the other hand, is a Slavic language, and therefore has an entirely different system than any Romance or Germanic language. The inherent differences between Slavic and other types of languages make it a very difficult language for English speakers to learn.
Perhaps the most challenging difference between Slavic languages, like Serbian, and English is the incorporation of a Cyrillic alphabet. Cyrillic is present in most Slavic language systems. Each language has a unique Cyrillic alphabet, but they are all based on traditional Cyrillic script, a writing system that differs greatly from the Latin alphabet used in English and many other languages. Cyrillic alphabets have their own characters and sounds, so in order to learn a language that incorporates Cyrillic, an English speaker must first master an entirely new alphabet. The most widely spoken language featuring a Cyrillic alphabet is Russian, and Russian learners have to learn how to write and sound out the characters before they can master even the simplest of words.
The Serbian Cyrillic alphabet in particular was developed in 1818 by a Serbian linguist named Vuk Karadzic, and the alphabet is still in use today. Serbian is unique among Slavic languages, in that fluent speakers of the language are equally familiar with the use of the Latin and Cyrillic alphabets. Serbian incorporates both alphabets almost equally, and any phrase in Serbian can be written using the Latin or Cyrillic alphabets. Technically, Cyrillic Serbian is the official script for the country, but it is helpful for Western visitors that the Latin alphabet is equally popular. For our purposes, we will use the Latin alphabet to learn Serbian words and sentences. This will allow for easier pronunciation and understanding for English speakers wishing to learn Serbian phrases.
Basic Serbian Phrases
The following are some of the first phrases that people master when learning a new language. These include standard greetings and manners, allowing you to become familiar with talking to people in a very general sense. The phrases will be listed in the order of: English word, Serbian equivalent, and phonetic pronunciation. Capitalization indicates that that specific part of the word should have verbal emphasis on it. In Serbian, the verbal emphasis is most commonly placed on the first syllable of a word, though there are exceptions to this rule.
Hi / Hello – Zdravo – z-DRAH-voh
How are you? – Kako ste? – KAH-koh-steh?
Please – Molim – MOH-leem
Thank you – Hvala – HVAH-lah
Thank you very much – Hvala puno – HVAH-lah poo-noh
You’re welcome – Molim – MOH-leem
Yes – Da – DAH
No – Ne – NEH
Goodbye – Dovidenja – doh-vee-JEH-nyah
Good morning – Dobro jutro – DOH-broh YOO-troh
Good night – Dobro vece – DOH-broh VEH-cheh
Good evening – Dobro vece – DOH-broh VEH-cheh
What is your name? – Kako se zovete? – KAH-koh she zoh-VEH-teh
My name is – Zovem se – ZOH-vehm seh
Excuse me = Izvinite – eez-VEE-nee-teh
Pleased to meet you – Drago mi je – DRAH-goh mee yeh
Once you’ve practiced and become comfortable with basic Serbian phrases, you can move on to more helpful phrases that will be useful while traveling in Serbian-speaking areas of the world. Learning this phrases will help you explain to people that you are not incredibly familiar with the language,or the area in which you’re located, and also enable you to ask for help should an emergency occur. These helpful phrases include:
I don’t understand – Ne razumem – neh rah-ZOO-mehm
I can’t speak (language) – Ne govorim (language) – neh GOH-voh-reem (language)
Do you speak English? – Govorite li engleski? GOH-voh-ree-teh lee ENH-glehs-kee?
Police – Policija – poh-LEE-tsyah
I need your help – Treba mi pomoc – TREH-bah mee POH-mohtch
I am lost (masculine) – Izgubio sam se – eez-GOO-byoh sahm seh
I am lost (feminine) – Izgubila sam se – eez-GOO-bee-lah sahm seh
I am sick (masculine) – Bolestan sam – BOH-lehs-tahn sahm
I am sick (feminine) – Bolesna sam – BOH-lehs-nah sahm
May I use your phone? – Mogu li da telefoniram? – MOH-goo lee dah teh-leh-FOH-nee-rahm
Car – Automobil – ow-toh-MOH-beel
Bus – Autobus – ow-TOH-boos
Train – Voz – vohz
Taxi – Taksi – TAHK-see
Trolley – Trolejbus – troh-LEY-boos
These phrases will help you speak about time in Serbian, in a general sense:
Now – Sada – SAH-dah
Later – Kasnije – KAHS-nyeh
Morning – Jutro – YOO-troh
Afternoon – Poponde – poh-POHD-neh
Evening – Vece – VEH-cheh
Night – Noc – nohtch
Before – Pre – preh
Noon- Podne – POHD-neh
Midnight – Ponoc – POH-nohtch
Today – Danas – DAH-nahs
Yesterday – Juce – YOO-cheh
Tomorrow – Sutra – SOO-trah
It will be helpful for non-native speakers to be able to count in Serbian, at least from zero to ten. This will help you to order food, purchase tickets, and even book a hotel room:
Zero – Nula – NOO-lah
One – Jedan = YEH-dahn
Two – Dva – dvah
Three – Tri – tree
Four – Cetiri – CHEH-tee-ree
Five – Pet – peht
Six – Sest – shehst
Seven – Sedam – SHE-dahm
Eight – Osam – OH-sahm
Nine – Devet – DEH-veht
Ten – Deset – DEH-seht
Practicing these phrases until you are very comfortable with them will get you off to the right start when it comes to learning Serbian. These phrases should allow you to navigate a Serbian-speaking nation, and to communicate somewhat easily with a native Serbian speaker. More information can be found in Serbian guidebooks and language handbooks, but this basic outline of Serbian phrases should build a solid foundation for learning the unique Serbian language.