Written by: Olivera Tolimir

Your Serbian tutor isn’t telling you everything.

They’re keeping quiet for various reasons. It’s time to expose them!

Everyone will Understand if You Confuse the Cases

Every Serbian teacher insists you learn Serbian grammatical cases as well as you can. It’s understandable since they’re necessary to form even simple Serbian sentences correctly.

For example, if you’d like to ask when the train for Budapest departs, you can do it like this:

Kada kreće voz za Budimpeštu?

Or you can do it like this:

Kada kreće voz do Budimpešte?

The first preposition (za) asks for the accusative, while the other (do) asks for the genitive.

Every Serbian teacher will correct you if you say, voz za Budimpešte. It’s incorrect (it sounds like you said, He goes there every day). But what your Serbian tutor won’t ever tell you is this: everyone would understand what you wanted to say. And if you ask for a train to Budapest this way, you will get the answer.

So, if you’ve just started learning Serbian but got a chance to visit Serbia, don’t be afraid to speak. Practice letting go of the fear and speaking! It’s great for the beginning.

However, don’t take this too literally! This advice is applicable if you’re a beginner coming to Serbia. Don’t be afraid to seize the opportunity and talk to locals in Serbian. But if you’ve been learning Serbian for some time and want to master it, sorry – you can’t skip this part.

Grammatical cases are an integral part of our language, and you’ll sound like Tarzan if you endlessly mix them up.

It’s Normal to Have a Passive Vocabulary

If you’re like most people learning a foreign language, you’ve already stated something like this: I understand a lot but can’t speak well.

We hope you haven’t encountered know-it-alls who state that understanding doesn’t count as knowing a language. It counts. And it’s perfectly normal to understand more than you use. There’s even a name for that: active and passive vocabulary.

Active vocabulary is one that we use with ease when speaking or writing. Passive vocabulary encompasses all words we understand.

If your Serbian tutor only teaches you Serbian grammar and new words, they’re not helping you with your active vocabulary! A good Serbian teacher won’t neglect to work on your speaking and writing!

Listening is also a magnificent technique for broadening vocabulary. Listening to native speakers for an extended period will carve Serbian language patterns into your brain. Word order will come naturally to you as well as many often-used phrases.

A blonde boy in a white shirt sitting at the desk, holding a pen and thinking. There are books and highlighters on the desk. 
(It's ok to think for a moment about a word you'd like to use!)
It’s ok to think for a moment about a word you’d like to use!

Practise Doesn’t Make Perfect

“What’s this now?!” you may ask.

Imagine an aspiring basketball player taught to score points by kicking a ball. He can practice that kick every day for six hours, but when he tries to use it in a match, he’ll end up disqualified.

The same thing goes for language practice. If you don’t memorize that studirati in Serbian means to study at a university (not to learn), you’ll make that same mistake every time you speak. At least until someone corrects you. Even then, if you’ve been using the word incorrectly for months (or even years), it’ll be hard to set it right in your brain.

So, practice – yes. But practice when you’re sure that’s the correct way of using that word(s). That’s where your Serbian teacher should kick in and help you. Best Serbian tutor? A native speaker who graduated in the Serbian language. They’ll introduce you to both the natural way of speaking and grammatical explanations.

Note Things You Want to Say

When you want to say something in Serbian, don’t translate it from your native language. Note it and ask your Serbian tutor to help you form a sentence. This way, you’ll be sure your sentences are natural and correct.

This “secret” follows up on the previous one. Don’t just make up a sentence using a word you’ve learned. Always learn in context. And check with your Serbian teacher (preferably a native speaker).

Listen to Native Speakers

There are some mistakes 95% of Serbian natives make. They’re deeply rooted in everyday interactions. Even those aware they’re incorrect keep using them. So, a Serbian tutor won’t tell you to use these phrases since they’re incorrect. But you should memorize them if you plan on visiting Serbia. You’ll hear them everywhere!

Za ovde ili za poneti?

This sentence means, For here or to go?

Yes, every fast-food restaurant employee in Serbia will ask you this question. Yes, it’s grammatically incorrect.

The thing is – it’s forbidden to use an infinitive after a preposition in Serbian (za poneti).

The correct way of asking this would be: Da li ćete jesti ovde ili nosite? It means, Will you eat here, or take it with you?

As you can see, the correct form is much longer. Who has time for that with twenty-six more people standing behind you in a queue?!

Vidimo se! / Čujemo se!

Maybe even your Serbian tutor uses these greetings. They mean, I’ll see you / I’ll hear you! So what’s the problem, then?

The problem is that the Serbian language uses two verb aspects. One of them (the perfective aspect) can’t be used in the present tense in a simple sentence. It’s a sentence that has only one verb.

So, grammatically, a better choice would be to say: Videćemo se, or Čućemo se! Those are the same verbs in the future tense.

But since everyone uses these verbs in the present tense, it’s safe to say you can use them, too. At least, if you want to sound like a native!

Gde ideš? / Kuda ideš?

Both of these sentences translate as Where are you going? But only one of them is correct, and it’s the second one. Also, that’s the one your Serbian tutor will teach you.

When talking about direction, we should always use the adverb kuda. We should use gde only for the location.

But this distinction is fading in Serbian, so not many people will use the correct form. Most will use gde for both the direction and location. Tell your Serbian teacher about this in the next class!

To learn practical Serbian that you’ll be able to use in everyday communication, choose one of our great Serbian teachers and book a class!