Serbia is a beautiful country nestled in between other countries such as Romania, Bulgaria and Bosnia in South Eastern Europe, but how widely spoken is English there? Can an English speaking tourist expect to get by there just using their own language and without any Serbian?
English is pretty widely spoken overall in Serbia, and is common enough for you to get by without speaking any Serbian in most parts of the country, especially the capital Belgrade. Younger people under 40 tend to have a better grasp of English, though plenty of older Serbians can also speak English.
Even if you bump into someone who doesn’t speak English, chances are someone close by will speak it.
Exact statistics on the percentage of the Serbian population who can speak English are actually hard to find. However, browsing through all the different reports on forums and blogs, they pretty much all agree that English is plenty widely enough spoken among the general population, especially younger people, for you to get by using it in any major town or city. Serbian is not required unless you are staying in a very remote area with a much older population.
The video above is an excellent guide to living in the Serbian capital Belgrade. The simple answer regarding language is that you can get by in Belgrade perfectly fine just using English, for day to day things but also for socializing, since there is a wide range of cultural and social activity there done purely in English.
So you won’t need Serbian there, and the same is true for any other city or resort which receives a fair amount of tourists.
Here are some common destinations for tourists in Serbia:
- Novi Sad
You shouldn’t have any problems using English when visiting these places, since they will be well prepared for receiving foreign visitors. The prevalence of English speakers is already high in Serbia anyway; in the main tourist spots it will be even higher as they will be used to dealing with English speakers and other foreigners more.
Tips For Interacting With Serbians
Here are some general tips for interacting with Serbians. Most times you should be fine with English; whenever you need to use Serbian, they will be helpful and understanding even if your pronunciation and grammar are not perfect. Also, the English that many Serbians speak also has it’s own idiosyncracies and quirks. Here are some things to be aware of when conversing with Serbians:
- Serbs can also tend to speak louder then English speakers. This is just naturally the way Serbians speak and is nothing to be alarmed about.
- The pronunciation of certain English words can take a little while to get used to, as Serbs do have a distinct accent. For example, “cat” can sound more like “ket” and “pit” can sound more like “pete”.
- Much like the Italians, Serbians don’t tend to be caught up so much with complex past and conditional tenses – they are much more likely to understand “I live/am living here for two months” rather than “I have been living here for two months”. Keeping tenses simple will make it easier for them to understand you.
- Similarly, the word order used by Serbians may be slightly different when using English eg. “Tomorrow the shop will be open again”. This is nothing groundbreaking and happens a lot when you converse in English with non native speakers; however you may also want to adjust your word order a little if it makes them easier to understand you.
- Serbians are also sometimes known for being naturally quite blunt and direct when communicating, perhaps more so than many native English speakers will be used to. This can sometimes cause others to take offence or interpret their communication as overly aggressive or “in your face”. Most times they don’t mean anything by this; it is just the natural way that Serbs communicate and the content of their interactions will usually be very helpful and friendly. The tone may seem aggressive at first if you are not used to it but don’t be offended by this.
- None of these points will make conversing in English with Serbs impossible; they are just things to be aware of to make interactions easier. You may also like to restructure or simplify the way you phrase your English sentences to make them easier for Serbians to understand.
- See this forum post for some more really in depth discussion of Serbian pronunciation and tone of English.
Learning Some Serbian
In some ways it is a good job that English is widely spoken in Serbia, since the Serbian language itself is known for being very difficult to learn. See the first video above. In much the same way as the neighboring Slavic language Croatian, it is extremely hard to learn for people who don’t already speak one of the Slavic languages.
It is also not much use outside of Serbia itself, and this added to the widespread use of English means that it doesn’t make sense for a lot of people to learn Serbian.
Nevertheless, for those who do want to learn some basic phrases, see the table below. Even if you don’t plan on learning the language in depth, having a few basic phrases always helps to endear you with the locals. However, becoming fluent in it is very difficult. If you have already learnt another Slavic language such as Croatian, then the process will be easier.
|Good morning||Dobro jutro||Dobro yootro|
|Good afternoon||Dobar dan||Dobar dan|
|Good evening||Dobro veče||Dobro veche
|How are you?||Kako ste?||Kako stay?|
|Thankyou very much||Hvalo puno||Hvalo poono|
|Do you speak English?||Da li govorite engleski?||Da li govoreeteh engleski?
|I don't understand||Ne razumem||Neh razumem|
|How much is this?||Koliko ovo košta?||Koliko ovo koshta?|
|Where is the toilet?||Gde je toalet?||Gde yeh toalett?
|My name is....?||Zovem se......||Zovem seh....|
The main thing to look out for when pronouncing basic words is the chevron style accent over some words, which turns the pronunciation into a “sh” or “ch” sound – č —- “ch” and š—-“sh”. Learning the full grammatical structure and rules of Serbian is very hard.
- Essential stats on Serbia:
- Population: 6.7 million
- Time zone: EST +6 hours; GMT +1 hours.
- Currency: Serbian dinar (RSD) ($1 = 113 RSD; £1= 133 RSD at time of writing)
- International calling code: +381 (see here for getting a working local SIM card/number when abroad)
- Drives on the right
- Luggage allowances – see here for an excellent guide on luggage allowances (checked and cabin) for all major airlines worldwide.