Written by: Olivera Tolimir

Is the Serbian Cyrillic alphabet giving you a headache?

Do you consider it an unnecessary hurdle since you already know the Latin alphabet?

Do you think the Serbs are weird for having two different alphabets for the same 30 sounds?

Great! It means you’re at the right place! Today, you’ll finally understand why you should learn the Serbian Cyrillic script. Also, you’ll get six tips to turn our complicated alphabet into a piece of cake!

But first, what is the Serbian Cyrillic script?

A plank attached to a fence that says "Zatvori kapiju" in the Serbian Cyrillic alphabet. It means "Close the gate".
Can you read this caption in Cyrillic?

The Serbian Cyrillic Alphabet in a Nutshell

The Serbian Cyrillic alphabet developed at the end of the 9th century. It replaced the first Slavs’ alphabet – Glagolitic script – that originated in the same century. 

The Glagolitic script’s creators were Saint Cyrill and Methodius. They were Greeks living near Thessaloniki, among many Slavs. Cyrill and Methodius were sent to spread Christianity among Slavs, who were pagans at the time. To do so, they invented the Glagolitic script. Over time, their students created the Slav script 2.0: the Cyrillic script!

The inspiration for both the Glagolitic and Cyrillic scripts was the Greek alphabet. So, if you know Greek, there’s some good news! But if you don’t, count on our help! Here are the six tips to help you master the Cyrillic alphabet. 

Learn the Serbian Latin Alphabet First

As you probably know, there are two official alphabets in Serbia – Cyrillic and Latin. Although the Cyrillic is primary, most people nowadays use the Latin alphabet. It’s the effect of technology and typing more often than writing by hand. But if you want to fill any form, you’ll have to know and use the Cyrillic.

Both alphabets consist of 30 signs that mark the same 30 sounds written differently. If your native language uses the Latin alphabet, learn all Serbian sounds and Latin letters first. Then, slowly progress toward the Cyrillic. If you use Cyrillic in your mother tongue, what are you even doing reading this? Enjoy your ability to master the Serbian Cyrillic alphabet in two hours!

Divide and Conquer

The first thing to do is to divide all letters into three categories:

  • letters that are written the same in the Serbian Cyrillic and Latin alphabet
  • letters that don’t exist in the Serbian Latin alphabet
  • letters that look the same, but are pronounced differently in the two Serbian alphabets.

The third group is the trickiest one, so our beginner’s Serbian Cyrillic guide will take you step by step through the process. We’ll just say that in Cyrillic is pronounced as in the Latin alphabet and it’s not the only one like that.

Split and group Cyrillic letters in your brain. It will be easier to conquer them that way!
Split and group Cyrillic letters in your brain. It will be easier to conquer them that way!

Match the Letters with the Words

This approach may seem silly or childlike, but it works wonders! So, what is it about? It’s about making your bukvar! A bukvar is a Slavic word for a book children use to learn letters.

So, a great way to memorize Serbian Cyrillic letters is to think of a word starting with each letter and then draw or google the image of it. Then arrange them alphabetically and write the corresponding upper- and lower-case letters below each picture.

Additionally, you can try making a sentence using each word and then connecting a few words into a story. It’s a great way to practice grammatical cases, tenses, and your vocabulary all at the same time!

Of course, this approach is possible if you already know a bit of Serbian but haven’t bothered with the Cyrillic alphabet yet. If you’re an absolute beginner: first, congratulations on learning the Cyrillic right away! Second, stick with the pictures and letters for now. You’ll try making sentences with them when you grasp the concept of Serbian grammar and learn some new words.

Three potions, a green spell book, a magic wand and two hands on the table.
A bukvar is a spelling book, not a book of spells. But you might feel like a wizard when you learn Cyrillic!

Use the Mnemonic Technique

The Cyrillic alphabet can seem like Egyptian hieroglyphs if you haven’t encountered them before. But let’s use that fact in our favor! You probably know some hieroglyphs were logographic (one character represented one word).

Well, even though Cyrillic is much more practical (one sound – one letter, and every sound is always pronounced the same), it doesn’t stop us from trying to find some (hidden) images in the letters.

For example, look at the letter Пп. It looks like a night table or a shelf, doesn’t it? Since the word polica (Cyrillic: полица) means shelf in Serbian, you can tie the meaning with the appearance of the letter. Also, the letter Чч looks like the number 4 a whole lot! Interestingly enough, this number is written četiri (Cyrillic: четири) in Serbian!

One more example is the letter Жж. It looks like a man jumping and waving his arms. Since the word žedan (Cyrillic: жедан) means thirsty in Serbian, you can see it as a man stuck in a desert trying to get a helicopter to see him and bring him water. Yes, it’s a bit of a stretch, but we guarantee you’ll remember this example!

A pink shelf with sneakers on it, with a black background.
How many Cyrillic P (П) letters can you find in this shelf?

Get a Serbian Teacher

If our pieces of advice don’t help you, maybe it’s time to ask for an extra explanation. It’s always beneficial to find a Serbian teacher who will save you time and nerves by examining your essays instead of you going letter by letter and checking if it’s correct. A Serbian teacher will also notice what letters you usually struggle with and help you work on them.

Get a Serbian Online Course

If you enjoy learning alone and at your own pace, but still need some extra help, a Serbian online course is a great option! In our A1.2 course, you’ll find many exercises about the Serbian Cyrillic alphabet that you’ll be able to do whenever you like.

We hope our tips helped you find the best way of learning the Serbian Cyrillic script! Which advice did you find the most useful?