Written by: Olivera Tolimir
When learning a new language, we often focus on grammar and learning new words so much that we forget to practice communication. Or we don’t forget but deliberately avoid communicating because we’re afraid of making a mistake. If you found yourself in the latter, check out our blog post about overcoming the fear of speaking Serbian. It will help you speak Serbian with confidence!
The truth is – mistakes will happen. And that’s fine. You shouldn’t worry much about it. Just remember that practice makes perfect. The more you speak, the better you become.
However, there are a few common mistakes that we’ll try to help you avoid. There’s a high chance some of them will still occur. Why? Because of the differences between your mother tongue and Serbian.
Depending on your native language, you’ll probably be more prone to some of the listed mistakes, and for others, you’ll think, “Why would anyone make such a mistake? It’s completely illogical!” But all these mistakes make sense if the correct Serbian form differs from another language’s proper form.
Let’s look at the five most common mistakes for those learning to speak Serbian!
The T-V Distinction
The T-V distinction has nothing to do with the kind of TV shows we watch in Serbia. These initials come from the Latin pronouns tu and vos. The difference doesn’t exist in English but appears in many other European languages (for example, German: du – Sie). We can see it in Serbian, too.
When we’re close to someone, or they’re about our age, we’ll address them as ti (you). But when we talk to older people or our superiors, rules of conduct dictate us to tell them Vi (you, but formal) when speaking to them.
This rule is not difficult to understand, but when you focus on a million other ones while speaking Serbian, it shouldn’t be surprising to start mixing ti and Vi.
Although older people in Serbia find it insulting when youth don’t address them accordingly, don’t worry. As soon as they hear Serbian isn’t your native language, you won’t have any problem with them.
Wrong Present Tense Form
We’ve already mentioned this topic in our blog post dedicated to the present tense, but repetition is the mother of study. So, what’s the catch here?
In Serbian, it’s not enough to learn a verb’s infinitive (a basic form) to know how to form a present tense. We must remember both the infinitive and the present tense when learning a new verb. Maybe you don’t struggle with this when writing or solving grammatical problems in your workbook. But speaking is a whole different story.
When you speak Serbian, you don’t have as much time to form a sentence in your head as you do when writing it. That’s why these mistakes occur more often while speaking Serbian.
For example, when you’re writing a text, you have plenty of time to do this in your head: “OK, trčati means to run, and if I want to say I’m running, I should remove –ti and add –m. Sooo, it should be trčam. Oh, no, it’s not. I need to change –a- into –i-. So, trčim it is!” But when you’re talking to someone in real-time, it’s easy to get confused and quickly say trčam.
It’s why you should speak Serbian as much as you can! Soon, it will be natural for you to say trčim, and you’ll feel trčam as an incorrect form, which it is!
Word order rules are pretty loose in our language. Still, they’re not arbitrary, so some mistakes occur to people learning to speak Serbian.
The most strict rules refer to some short words that don’t have their accent. A type of those words is auxiliary verbs. If you’ve forgotten what they are, you can remember them by checking out our blog posts about the past and future tense.
So, auxiliary verbs are like Santa’s little helpers. We can’t make the past nor future tense without them. But what’s their connection to the word order?
These short words can’t ever be at the beginning of the sentence. They’re usually in second place. So, correct sentences in future tense would sound like this:
- Ja ću ići sutra na posao. (I’ll go to work tomorrow.)
- Ići ću sutra na posao.
Forming a sentence like this is a typical mistake:
- Ja ići ću sutra na posao.
Am I Staying or Going?
The wrong choice between the accusative and locative case is a common mistake at the beginner’s level of learning Serbian.
We can use both cases to answer the question: “Where?” The difference is we use locative for location and accusative for direction. So, which one we’ll use depends on the verb in a sentence. If a verb signifies movement, we use accusative. If a verb marks a static state, we use locative.
Let’s look at the nouns škola, Srbija, and Florida.
- Accusative (feminine gender, singular)
Idem u školu. (I’m going to school.)
Putujem u Srbiju. (I’m traveling to Serbia.)
Odlazim na Floridu. (I’m going to Florida.)
- Locative (feminine gender, singular)
U školi sam. (I’m in school.)
Radim u Srbiji. (I work in Serbia.)
Živim na Floridi. (I live in Florida.)
All my People, Brothers, and Children Speak Serbian
Look at the three nouns in this subtitle. How many of them have regular plural in English?
That’s right: only one – brothers! Well, in Serbian, neither of these nouns has a regular plural! This rule may be easier to remember for English native speakers, because children and people are irregular in their language, too.
Look at the table below and compare:
- a man (čovek)
- a brother (brat)
- a child (dete)
- men (ljudi)
- brothers (braća)
- children (deca).
These three words are in everyday use. Yet, while learning to speak Serbian, people will often say that plural of čovek is čoveci, or that a person has bratovi (it would be a regular plural from the noun brat, but this form doesn’t exist).
To avoid this and all other mistakes, we have only one piece of advice: practice, practice, and practice! And if you need help with practicing and learning Serbian, our teachers are here to help through private lessons or group courses. Check out our teachers here.