And now for something completely different from current politics... and yet, sadly, just about as depressing. A few B92 blog readers have emailed me asking if I have any tips on teaching their wives/girlfriends/boyfriends Serbian. Here's what I know - if you have any tips to add please do.
#1. Be nice. Serbian is a very hard language to learn.
In the first throes of love or infatuation, your new partner will inevitably volunteer to learn your language. Then he or she will actually try to learn some. Unless he or she is a language-genius or you live fulltime in Serbia surrounded by non-English speakers, the task will soon become overwhelming. Shortly after that, lessons will languish, the promise will be broken. years of bickering ensue.
OK, Serbian is not as hard as most Asian languages are for Westerners. Learning to speak Thai, for example, would crush me into oblivian. On the other hand, it's not easy. Serbian is especially hard for educated Westerners because the Romance languages (latin, french, spanish, etc.) we were rigorously trained in in school have hardly any relation to Serbian. Many words, in fact, suich as "malo" and "bog" have *completely* different meanings in the West.
Also, some words just don't translate at all - when my step-daughter tried to translate Serbian poetry into English for a school class, she discovered many words just didn't have English equivalants. Partly that's because Serbian is a far older and more complex language than English. Thankfully at least the spelling is way easier, even with extra letters in the alphabet.
Lastly, please don't judge your beloved's porgress in Serbian by your own experiences learning English. After all, you've been surrounded by English your whole life both in school but also on TV and in popular music. Even if you don't know much to start, it's not a freakishly foreign thing. We Westerners probably never heard or read a single word of Serbian until we met you. We're starting at a harder place.
#2. Finding classes or tutors is almost impossible outside of Belgrade
I advertised in the local paper and radio stations in Sombor when we moved there last fall for a tutor (having my husband tutor me was like when he tried to teach me how to drive stick shift - grounds for possible divorce.) Despite the fact that quite a few people speak English in Sombor and unemployment or underemployment is fairly high, nobody contacted me to make a little extra cash as a tutor. Finally, working through friends I met someone.
#3. Few useful books exist
Most people buy the "teeach yourself" books plus CDs (there's one for Croatian and one for Serbian) and try to use those. These are OK for turism purposes, you'll learn to check train times and order in a restaurant. But they are not structured in a useful way for learning the language as a whole. Plus much of the vocabulary isn't useful for everyday life. I've gotten to about page 10 in this book many times and then given up.
Rosetta Stone who do language course CDs for something like 25 languages do not offer Serbian (or Croatian) yet. However, there's a course call Pimsleur Language Program who offer Croatian language tapes. You can buy them online - I got mine via Amazon.com. These are actually really fun and easy, I enjoyed my lessons, working away at them during my commute every day to and from work in the USA.
Until one day my car broke down and my husband gave me a ride to work. When I started my lesson for that day, he began to laugh so hard that he actually started crying. Why? Turns out the Pimsleur course teaches you extremely formal, old fashioned lanugage. So I was saying the Serbian equivilant of "Forsooth my lady..."
Finally, in a Croatian bookstore I found a good basic grammer book for Croatian - which is frankly similar enough to Serbian that it will do fine. Lessons are translated into English, German, French, Italian and Spanish all in the same book. It's called: Dobro Dosli, by Jasna Baresic, published by Skolska Knjiga. I LOVE THIS BOOK. It's been a big help. I'd love one for Serbian... but don't think it exists.
#4. If you mix up Croatian & Serbian, only a few Croats are mean to you
Serbians have all been pretty nice when I messed up and used the Croatian word for something. Depending on their personalities, Croatians have been polite to downright nasty if I used Serbian by mistake. The two languages are more alike than Croatians like to pretend. Basically if you say 'Bog" at the end of every conversation in Croatian, you've covered yourself. If you are a former Yugoslavian who has an accent that's neither one nor the other, then most Croatians assume you are from Bosnia.
Got any more tips? Lemme know...: