Written by: Olivera Tolimir

If someone were to ask you how similar Serbian and English are, we bet you’d say not at all.

It’s a common misconception shared by Serbians learning English and English-speaking pals learning Serbian.

Many Serbians find English illogical, while the other side thinks Serbian is often unnecessarily complicated.

Truth be told: both are correct. But we won’t go into that today. We’re here to make learning Serbian easier for you.

We’ll show you five ways English will save your life learning Serbian. But before that, let’s go a bit further into their history.

Shared Origin

English and Serbian are both Indo-European languages. It means they originate from the Proto-Indo-European language. It’s a reconstructed language that dates back to the prehistoric period.

A little less than half of the world’s population’s first language is of Indo-European origin. Some language families of this origin include the Germanic branch (English is in this group), Balto-Slavic (Serbian is here!), Italic, Indo-Iranic, Hellenic, and so on.

As you can see, English and Serbian come from the same (large) language family. So, it would be strange if they didn’t have at least something in common!

However, the branching of the Proto-Indo-European language happened a very long time ago. All language groups derived from it are very different from each other today. Because of that, finding similarities between English and Serbian requires digging a bit deeper.

So, let’s find out about those five ways English will help you learn Serbian!

Shared Origin = Shared Roots

When we say English and Serbian share roots, we don’t talk about their origin only.

Do you know what roots are, grammatically speaking? 

A root is the smallest part of a word that holds some meaning.

For example, look at the Serbian word grana (branch). Its root is gran because that’s the part that stays the same when we make other words from it: grananje (branching), grančica (little branch), granati se (to branch).

Now, let’s look at some Serbian and English words that share the same Indo-European roots. Here they are:

  • mleko – milk
  • čedo – child (endearing term; we read č as ch in the word child)
  • brat – brother
  • sestra – sister
  • mama – mama/mom
  • sin – son
  • nos – nose
  • dan – day
  • sunce – sun
  • gost – guest
  • put – path
  • tri – three
  • moj – my
  • voda – water.

There are many more words like this!

Do you notice something interesting about these words? They’re all, in a way, basic. Since they arose in the prehistoric period, they’re all words for people and objects a man of that time knew. You won’t find a computer on this list! But maybe you will on the next one.

International Words

International words are another great thing to help you learn Serbian. When we say internationalism, we usually think of Latin and Greek words that spread into numerous languages.

There are many words like that in both English and Serbian

Here are some examples of Latin words in Serbian and English:

  • edukacija – education
  • nacija – nation
  • unija – union
  • regija – region
  • distribucija – distribution
  • tradicija – tradition
  • generacija – generation
  • finale – finale
  • muzika – music
  • human – humane (don’t confuse the Serbian adjective human with the English word for a person)
  • industrija – industry
  • policija – police
  • profesor – professor
  • student – student (in Serbian, a student is a person attending college; for students in elementary and high schools, we use the word učenik or đak)
  • distanca – distance.

As you can see, there are a lot of Latin words in Serbian, as well as in English.

Learning about common Serbian suffixes will also help you master the language faster. As you can see in the first seven examples, where English adds –ion at the end of a Latin word, Serbian usually adds –ija.

Here are some words of Greek origin in Serbian and English:

  • matematika – mathematics
  • biologija – biology
  • geografija – geography
  • etika – ethics
  • okean – ocean
  • demokratija – democracy
  • atletika – athletics
  • karakter – character
  • haos – chaos
  • horoskop – horoscope
  • terapija – therapy
  • atmosfera – atmosphere
  • centar – center
  • klima – climate (we also use this word for air conditioning)
  • ideja – idea.

The Importance of English Words in Learning Serbian

As you probably could’ve guessed, there are a lot of words today that Serbian borrowed from English.

These can be very helpful when learning Serbian. They’re usually about computers, but there are some words we borrowed before the era of modern technology. They may surprise you!

Check out the list:

  • park – park
  • sport – sport
  • vikend – weekend
  • piknik – picnic
  • pingvin – penguin
  • partner – partner
  • film – film
  • kompjuter – computer
  • laptop – laptop
  • internet – internet
  • imejl – e-mail
  • (veb) sajt – website
  • blog – blog.

Equal Phrases in Serbian and English

Learning Serbian at a higher level requires a profound knowledge of Serbian phrases.

If you’d like to read about some of the most interesting and frequent Serbian idioms, check out our blog post here!

But today, we’ll talk about the idioms that have the same form in Serbian and English. All you need to do is translate them!

  • Slika vredi hiljadu reči.  (A picture is worth a thousand words.)
  • Slomi nogu! (Break a leg!)
  • Ne sudi o knjizi po koricama. (Don’t judge a book by its cover.)
  • Lakše reći nego učiniti. (Easier said than done.)
  • Maca ti je pojela jezik? (Cat got your tongue?)
  • Leptirići u stomaku (Butterflies in one’s stomach)
  • Gurati nos u nešto (Stick one’s nose into something)
  • Đavolji advokat (Devil’s advocate).

Last but not Least

Now you’ve learned:

  • Serbian and English are distant relatives;
  • both share many words borrowed from Latin and Greek;
  • the Serbian language borrowed many words from English;
  • there are numerous idioms with the same structure and meaning in both languages.

So, what is the last (but not least) way English can help you learn Serbian?

Knowledge of English will be crucial in learning Serbian when you decide to find a Serbian teacher, of course!

If you’re a beginner in learning Serbian, you should know that most Serbian teachers instruct beginners in English.

If you’d like to seriously start learning Serbian, choose one of our brilliant teachers and book your first Serbian class here!