How to Find an Excellent Serbian Language Teacher

How to find an excellent Serbian language teacher

Do you get the impression that the number of Serbian language teachers and tutors has flooded the internet? I certainly do. In that wide variety, how can you find and recognize a good Serbian teacher? Not an easy task, I must admit.

Can a native speaker of Serbian be a Serbian language teacher? Probably, to a degree. Can any language teacher that speaks Serbian teach you the Serbian language? Certainly, to a degree. I’m sure you can learn a lot from them.

But in this article I want to explain how you can find an excellent Serbian teacher.

Have you tried finding a good Serbian teacher, and decided it was a difficult quest? I’m with you. Choosing a great teacher for yourself means finding that perfect mentor that will work with you, feel you and guide you.

Some might think that any native Serbian speaker can teach you. Or someone might have told you that they are graduated Serbian teachers, or graduated foreign language teachers. Well, I have some (maybe surprising) facts to share with you.



3 Surprising Facts about Serbian Language Teachers


1) Serbs that are translators or language teachers are not necessarily great Serbian teachers.

Most Serbian teachers you’ll find online are actually English language teachers that speak Serbian as their mother tongue.

However, the Serbian language has a specific structure that is very different from English, or Italian, or other languages (except most Slavic languages). To say the least, its two main peculiar traits that require special treatment are:

That’s why a different methodology is needed for teaching Serbian successfully – a methodology that teachers of other languages not necessarily know.


2) However, it’s of great help if your Serbian language teacher has had an experience of learning foreign languages.

The experience of learning foreign languages is extremely valuable for the teacher. They must remember the struggle of the beginner level: and it’s indeed hard when you’re trying to formulate sentences in a language you don’t know yet. I’d say that every foreign language teacher should start a new language every few years, simply to remind themselves what it looks like and appreciate the beginner’s struggle.

If your teacher can use the languages you both know in order to help you understand Serbian, that’s just awesome. But pay attention to limit the use of those languages in class – unless you and your teacher both agree that your lessons include chatting about languages and general knowledge of languages, as well as learning Serbian.


3) Even a Serbian language teacher degree is not a proof that one can teach Serbian to foreigners.

Most Serbian language teachers are actually taught to teach Serbian class to the Serbian children. They often carry the weight of grammar-centered teaching and a purist approach to the language. That is of no help to a foreigner learning their first words and sentences in Serbian. Too much grammar won’t help you learn how to speak Serbian as a foreign language.



A solution?

An ideal Serbian language teacher should be educated in how to teach Serbian as a foreign language. They could have learned that on their own, through years of teaching and testing, or at an education program.

A masters program for teaching Serbian as a foreign language appeared only in 2015 at the Belgrade University. There were no such programs before, so we are making progress in this direction. Every year we’ll have more and more teachers educated to teach Serbian as L2.


But then we face the inevitable question: Seasoned teacher’s experience, or novice teacher’s enthusiasm? 

Ideally, you want to learn with someone who proved they can teach Serbian with success: someone who’s taken a number of foreign students beyond the A level. As in any profession, the more experienced you get, the more efficient you should get. That’s why a seasoned and successful language teacher’s hour must be more expensive than the novice one’s.

On the other hand, the beginner’s zeal and enthusiasm is enchanting! Novice teachers with proven study material and a good mentor can be an excellent choice.

Young Serbian teachers often encounter a lack of good books and materials for teaching Serbian. Truth is, most books and materials out there are far from good enough. That’s why I decided I have to write my own courses in the first place. Serbonika offers a clear structure and a recommended study plan that was built and polished throughout many years of teaching Serbian. All our students can use that plan with their teachers.



How to recognize a great Serbian language teacher in class?


  • A good Serbian language teacher knows balance between speaking and grammar.

A good Serbian teacher must find an ideal ratio of teaching grammar, vocabulary and conversation. Most people learn Serbian to talk to their friends and family. Some of them only want to learn “conversation”. However, grammar is very important for the Serbian language. You must learn it piece by piece and practice using it little by little from the very beginning. Otherwise, you will never be able to make or understand complex sentences, and will never reach an intermediate or higher level. That’s why the conversational methods like Berlitz can never work for Serbian beyond the beginner level.


  • An excellent Serbian language teacher has grammar-and-vocabulary-aware conversation skills.

The best Serbian language teachers are trained to speak to each student in a way they can understand. From very basic sentences, to complex explanations. Paraphrasing, reformulating and explaining the same thing in various different ways, is the most valuable skill a teacher should work on.

When the teacher’s speech takes into account your knowledge, you will be surprised to see how much Serbian you can actually understand from the very first lessons.


  • Every Serbian language teacher must practice tolerance.

Even if their ears cringe from the mistakes you make (because we language teachers are bewitched to correct mistakes), your Serbian teacher must know what to correct and which mistakes to ignore at a given stage. They should be patient and tolerant enough to let you think through and finish your sentence, like a good mother to her child – even if your grammar is completely broken.

In class, you must feel free to make mistakes and practice. And let’s face it: you will make lots and lots of mistakes – even at an advanced level! That’s expected and that’s what you must do.

But you too need patience and tolerance: learning Serbian, or any new language, takes a couple of years – that’s the norm. Apologies to all the polyglots that sell miraculous methods, but learning a language quickly is just impossible. They are twisting the definition of “fluency” by narrowing it down to the fluent A1 level.



How will you find your Serbian language teacher?

With all the above in mind, choose an educated teacher that seems determined to support and guide you in your path to mastering Serbian. Book a lesson, and listen to your heart. Because the contact with your teacher is personal. With every step further in your Serbian learning endeavor, with every hour you spend together, with every email you exchange, you will be becoming friends.

That’s why it’s important that you two can get along and like each other. He or she can be an excellent teacher, but if your personalities collide, you will probably fail to make an impactful student-teacher relationship.

When you do find that perfect match in a teacher, book a regular time-slot in your calendar. Be there for your lesson, rain or shine. Learning is a continuous process and it should become a habit built into your weekly schedule. Only then will your relationship with the teacher propel your learning, you will both enjoy the process and achieve great results.

Practicing with your teacher, in combination with the materials from the Serbonika’s platform, is a great method to ensure success. And I truly hope that you will find your soul-mate teacher.

Being a Serbian teacher myself, I can say that there is no greater feeling for a teacher than taking a student from scratch to a discussion about globalization and human rights in a couple of years. My heart fills with joy and pride every time, as I watch the same feelings glow on my student’s face.


Magdalena Petrovic Jelic

by Magdalena Petrovic Jelic

Founder of Serbonika

Serbian language teacher and entrepreneur, language lover and polyglot, but also a mother and a relentless storyteller.

On a mission to create the best web space for learning Serbian: Serbonika.



The best method to learn Serbian

Talk Serbian to Your Children! An Urgent Message to Diaspora

Talk Serbian to Your Children! An Urgent Message to Diaspora


You speak Serbian, your spouse another language. Among yourselves you often communicate in that other language, or in a third language. And what will your child learn?

There are more mixed couples and marriages every day in the modern world. As a mother, I teach my child only Serbian, because we only speak Serbian in the family. My son’s learning bits of English and he will eventually learn it, without pressure, as he wishes to communicate when our foreign friends visit. 

As a teacher, I worked with many people who learn Serbian as adults, even though it’s a language of their parents and relatives. I dedicate this article to them and to all the Serbian children raised in diaspora.

[I recommend reading on a big screen for comparing the two languages in two columns. On mobile, scroll down for Serbian.]

On a sunny day last September I was with my son in a playground. There was also a dad my ear caught talking French to his little girl, about a year and a half old. I always notice these things because I love hearing foreign languages in my town.

As I was lurking for an opportunity to use my rusty French, the dad – to my surprise – addressed me in his obviously native Serbian language.


I plan to teach her how to talk Serbian

After I gave him the information he asked, I couldn’t restrain myself from asking: why in the world don’t you talk Serbian to your child?

“I will”, he said, “I’ll teach her Serbian, I plan to do that.”

He explained further that the girl’s mom is French and that he was proud of her for learning to write Serbian very quickly – even though she hasn’t learned to speak the Serbian language. And French is so difficult to write!


It’s easier for us to learn foreign languages

I dare to say that it is much easier for an average Serb to learn French then it is for an average French person to learn the Serbian language. I can guarantee that.

Even if Serbian is so easy to write and French is so difficult to write.

Because a Serbian child is learning all the case endings and exploring nuances of verbal aspects, as well as the diversity of tones and accents, already at two years of age.

I’m closely watching my son, two years and 4 months old now, experimenting with all these features of the Serbian language and growing his grammar brain.

I like to call him “my little linguistic miracle”.


They never learned the Serbian language from their parents

Then I remembered many people with a Serbian name and surname that came looking for my lessons, unable to utter a simplest sentence in the Serbian language.

I also remembered my students who wanted to learn the language of their parent(s) and had to start from scratch because their parents didn’t teach them the language. Like Laila whose mother was afraid that her Serbian would interfere with her Arabic.

And I remembered other students who had the opportunity to speak Serbian language at least with their grandparents: they learned it so much quicker, and their pronunciation was so much better.


So I said: talk Serbian to your child!

I said to that dad, talk Serbian to your child! Make her bilingual, she will be grateful one day.

Here’s what you do: each parent simply speaks in their own language to the child, consistently. You speak Serbian, your wife speaks French. And you’ll create a powerful bilingual brain in your child. She might take a little longer to start talking, but when she does, she’ll speak both languages.

Finally, I said what my profession was and I told him about my experience. He looked me puzzled in the eye and thanked me.


That is when I decided to tell this story and to make this video. I speak Serbian language, but there are English subtitles so you can share with your friends and partners.

My message is short and clear:

Talk Serbian with your children! 

Jednog sunčanog dana prošlog septembra bila sam sa svojim sinom na igralištu. Tamo je bio i jedan tata kog sam načula kako govori francuski sa svojom devojčicom, starom oko godinu i po. Uvek primetim takve stvari zato što baš volim da čujem strane jezike u mom gradu.

Vrebala sam priliku da upotrebim svoj zarđali francuski, kad mi se – na moje iznenađenje – tata obratio na očigledno maternjem srpskom jeziku.


Planiram da je naučim da priča srpski

Dala sam mu informaciju koju je tražio i nisam se mogla suzdržati a da ne pitam: zašto, zaboga, ne govorite na srpskom jeziku sa svojim detetom?

„Hoću“, rekao mi je, „naučiću je srpski, planiram da je naučim.“

Još je objasnio da je devojčicina mama Francuskinja i da je jako ponosan na nju što je brzo naučila da piše srpski – iako još uvek nije naučila da govori jezik. A francuski je tako težak za pisanje!


Nama je lakše da učimo strane jezike

Usuđujem se da kažem da je mnogo lakše jednom prosečnom Srbinu da nauči francuski nego što je jednom prosečnom Francuzu da nauči srpski jezik. Mogu to da garantujem.

Iako je srpski tako lak za pisanje a francuski tako težak.

Zato što srpsko dete uči sve završetke za padeže i istražuje nijanse glagolskog vida, kao i raznolikost akcenata i narečja, već sa dve godine.

Pažljivo posmatram svog sina, kome su sada dve godine i četiri meseca, kako eksperimentiše sa svim tim elementima srpskog jezika i razvija svoj gramatički mozak.

Volim da ga zovem „moje malo lingvističko čudo“.


Oni nikada nisu naučili srpski jezik od svojih roditelja

Tada sam se setila mnogih ljudi sa srpskim imenom i prezimenom koji su zatražili moje časove, nesposobni da slože i najprostiju rečenicu na srpskom jeziku.

Setila sam se i mojih učenika koji su želeli da nauče jezik svojih roditelja, a morali su da počnu od nule jer ih roditelji nisu naučili tom jeziku. Kao što je Lejla, čija se majka plašila da bi joj srpski smetao da nauči arapski.

I setila sam se drugih učenika koji su imali mogućnost da govore srpski jezik makar sa dedom i babom: oni su mnogo brže učili i njihov izgovor je bio mnogo bolji.


Zato sam rekla: pričajte srpski sa svojim detetom!

Rekla sam tom tati: pričajte srpski sa svojim detetom! Neka bude bilingvalna, biće vam zahvalna jednog dana.

Evo šta treba da radite: svaki roditelj jednostavno govori na svom jeziku sa svojim detetom, dosledno. Vi pričate srpski, vaša žena francuski. Tako ćete stvoriti moćan bilingvalni um u vašem detetu. Možda će joj trebati malo više da progovori, ali kada počne da priča, govoriće oba jezika.

Na kraju sam rekla čime se bavim i ispričala mu svoje iskustvo. On me je zbunjeno pogledao pravo u oči i zahvalio mi se.


Tada sam odlučila da ispričam ovu priču i da snimim ovaj video. Govorim srpski jezik, ali tu su titlovi na engleskom tako da možete podeliti sa svojim prijateljima i partnerima.

Moja poruka je kratka i jasna:

Pričajte srpski jezik sa svojom decom!

Magdalena Petrovic Jelic

by Magdalena Petrovic Jelic

Founder of Serbonika

Serbian language teacher and entrepreneur, language lover and polyglot, but also a mother and a relentless storyteller.

On a mission to create the best web space for learning Serbian: Serbonika.


/English translation of the video/


Many friends of mine, acquaintances, friends from university, went abroad. They live in Germany, Austria… I even have a friend in Malta.

And many of you ask me: „What with kids, which language to teach them?“


What language will children learn in diaspora and mixed marriages?

Many of you are in mixed marriages and things get complicated there. You speak Serbian, your spouse another language, among yourselves you often communicate in that other language, or in English, a third language, and what will your child learn?

Many parents are afraid that the child will be deprived if they don’t teach her the language of the country they live in. That’s why they’re trying to speak with the child in that language, because they want the child to assimilate.

Then, as the child grows older, the parents feel sorry because he doesn’t speak their native language. And then they contact me, or other teachers, and want that their child to learn the language from the teacher.

And that’s much harder.


Speak in the Serbian language with your child from their birth

Speak in the Serbian language with your child. That’s the biggest gift you can give him. Serbian is a very complex language. Our cases are something that no foreigner will ever learn as native language.

And for many of you who live abroad, many of your children (I’ve worked with such people) learn it as a foreign language. They have some knowledge, but it is very difficult that they will learn it as their mother tongue.

That’s why the biggest gift you can give to your child is to transfer to them the love of your language and to transfer the knowledge of your own language only by talking to them in that language, from their birth.

Tell your child what you’ve been doing during the day, recount. Tell him about what he knows. That’s how he can connect the language with reality. Tell him about what’s going on around you, tell them about what he can see, what he experienced. Because that’s how he can connect the language with reality, what the language signifies in reality.


Knowledge of Serbian will help your child learn other languages

The Serbs are famous for their capacity to learn foreign languages well. I’ve been to Greece and Italy at universities and there I heard that we rank very well. In England also, we rank very well for our capacity to learn foreign languages.

That much, to that extent, your child will never learn Serbian if he’s learning it as a foreign language. Only if he’s adopting it from you, if he learns it from your mouth, will he learn it the best.


Don’t worry, your child will certainly fit in

And don’t you worry, children will most certainly learn the language of the country they live in. Your child will socialize with other children, he will go to kindergarten, he’ll go to school, where he’ll learn that language.

And he’ll certainly learn it.

Don’t you worry that your child won’t speak the language of the community if you speak Serbian with him at home.


/Transcript of the video/


Mnogi moji prijatelji, poznanici, drugari sa studija su otišli u inostranstvo. Žive u Nemačkoj, u Austriji… imam čak i prijateljicu na Malti.

I mnogi od vas me pitaju: „Šta sa decom, koji jezik podučavati?“


Koji jezik će deca naučiti u dijaspori i u mešovitim brakovima?

Mnogi od vas su u mešovitim brakovima i tu se stvar komplikuje. Vi govorite srpski, vaš suprug ili supruga govori neki drugi jezik, međusobno se sporazumevate često na tom drugom jeziku, ili pak na engleskom jeziku, na trećem, i šta će dete naučiti?

Mnogi roditelji se boje da će dete ostati uskraćeno ako ga ne nauče jezik te zemlje u kojoj žive. I zato se trude da sa detetom pričaju na tom jeziku, jer žele da se dete asimiluje.

Onda kad dete malo poodraste, onda roditeljima bude žao što ono ne zna njihov maternji jezik. Pa onda kontaktiraju mene, ili druge profesore, i žele da njihovo dete nauči jezik od profesora.

To onda bude mnogo teže.



Pričajte na srpskom jeziku sa svojim detetom od rođenja

Pričajte na srpskom jeziku sa svojim detetom. To je najveći poklon koji mu možete dati. Srpski jezik je jako kompleksan. Naši padeži su nešto što nijedan stranac nikada neće naučiti kao maternji jezik.

A puno vas koji živite u inostranstvu, puno vaše dece (ja sam sa takvim ljudima radila) uče ga kao strani jezik.  Imaju nešto znanja, ali je jako teško da ga nauče kao maternji jezik.

Zato najveći dar koji možete da poklonite svom detetu jeste da mu prenesete ljubav prema svom jeziku i da mu prenesete znanje svog jezika samo na taj način što ćete govoriti sa njim na tom jeziku, od rođenja.

Pričajte svom detetu šta ste radili tokom dana, prepričavajte. Pričajte mu o onome što ono zna. Tako može da povezuje jezik sa realnošću. Pričajte mu o onome što se dešava oko vas, pričajte mu o onome što ono može da vidi, što je doživelo. Jer tako može da povezuje jezik sa realnošću, šta jezik označava u stvarnosti.


Znanje srpskog će vašem detetu pomoći da nauči druge jezike

Srbi su poznati po tome što dobro uče strane jezike. Ja sam bila u Grčkoj i u Italiji na univerzitetima i tamo sam čula dosta se dobro kotiramo. I u Engleskoj takođe, dosta se dobro kotiramo koliko smo sposobni da naučimo strane jezike.

Toliko, u toj meri, vaše dete nikad neće savladati srpski jezik ako ga uči kao strani. Jedino ako ga usvaja od vas, ako ga uči iz vaših usta, tako će ga najbolje naučiti.


Ne brinite, vaše dete će se sigurno uklopiti

A nemojte se brinuti, deca svakako, svakako nauče jezik zemlje u kojoj žive. Vaše dete će se družiti sa drugom decom, ići će u vrtić, ići će u školu, gde će učiti taj jezik.

I svakako će naučiti taj jezik.

Nemojte se brinuti da vaše dete neće govoriti jezikom sredine ako vi kod kuće sa njim govorite srpski.


The best method to learn Serbian

Vocabulary vs Grammar: A Fascinating Experience…

Vocabulary vs Grammar: An experience that changed my teaching philosophy

When you start learning Serbian, eventually you’ll face a vocabulary vs grammar dilemma. There is so much to learn. What to invest your time in: words or rules?

When people start learning Serbian, or another new language, they often have a vocabulary vs grammar dilemma. They realize that there is so much to learn, and they wonder where they should invest their time. What’s more important: the words or the rules for using those words correctly?


Obsessed with grammar

The old-school teaching method fostered grammar. And not so long ago, as a language student and a young language teacher, I never had a vocabulary vs grammar dilemma. Because I was obsessed with grammar.

I believed that a student needs to understand how grammar works in order to be able to learn the Serbian language. Even the books for teaching Serbian that were available didn’t prove me wrong: they were all centered around grammar and gave little material with lots of rules in it.

And I focused on grammar to the extent that, once, I even explained all the seven cases in a single lesson to a beginner-level student! I mean, he asked for it – but still, I would never do that today.



An eye-opening experience

In this video I wanted to tell you about one crucial experience that opened my eyes, offered a different point of view and helped me change my teaching philosophy. It was an encounter with a student who never had a vocabulary vs grammar dilemma: because he never learned Serbian grammar at all! His results were shocking to me.

 /Transcript of the video/


I’ve wanted to tell this story for years. This is a story about a student who changed my teaching style, who changed my idea of teaching Serbian as a foreign language.


The student who changed my view of vocabulary vs grammar dilemma

He was a Mexican, I met him in Belgrade, maybe five years ago or even more. He wanted help with his Serbian, and told me that never before he had a lesson of Serbian language. 

He was fluent in English and Spanish, but from the beginning I was able to talk to him in slow Serbian and he could understand me perfectly well.

He had been married at a time to a Serbian women for five years or so, and he had been learning Serbian by watching movies with Serbian subtitles. His vocabulary was huge because ha had learned the language from the people, and he had no idea, basically, about the grammar.


Life-changing experience

That encounter was crucial for me as a teacher. That encounter taught me how important vocabulary is for communication. For basic communication you can disregard the grammar and learn only vocabulary. Because you can speak Tarzan Serbian and still tell what you want. You can learn lexically and have no idea about the grammar behind the structures, but only know the meaning of the structures.


The Serbian Grammar

Serbian grammar is very complex and huge. For all of you who learn Serbian as your first Slavic language, you all feel overwhelmed by our grammar. And, as a teacher, I don’t want to give you everything at once, because that would kill you, that would overwhelm you. No. I give you one piece at a time, and I keep surprising my students with the complexity of the Serbian grammar they should understand and learn.

Often I hear from my students: „Wow, I thought I knew grammar!“ Yes. But with the Slavic languages, with Serbian or Croatian as with other Slavic languages, there are grammar things you didn’t even know existed if you only know Romance and Germanic languages.


My advice

My advice is to take it slowly on grammar. Because, you’re able to understand our grammar, of course you are – there thousands of wonderful books that will help you understand it – but to understand this grammar is one thing, and to use it efficiently is completely another.

So, take it slowly with the grammar, practice it bit by bit, and cram on vocabulary. That’s your task for the A1 level in Serbian or Croatian language.


Tako Lako Vokabular

That’s why I started the Basic Serbian Vocabulary project – “Tako Lako Vokabular” – with the aim of creating a bank of the most important words for you to learn at a beginner or A level.

It’s free and contains images to help your memory, audio files to improve your pronunciation, and quizzes to test your progress.

Come over to Tako Lako Vokabular and start learning right away! 

Magdalena Petrovic Jelic

by Magdalena Petrovic Jelic

Founder of Serbonika

Serbian language teacher and entrepreneur, language lover and polyglot, but also a mother and a relentless storyteller.

On a mission to create the best web space for learning Serbian: Serbonika.



The best method to learn Serbian

Starting Serbian? Discover When Is The Best Time to Start


Starting Serbian? Discover When Is the Best Time to Start 



When is the best time for starting Serbian and how to use that surge of motivation and avoid the disappointment many language learners face.

Making a decision to start a new language usually comes in slowly. First it occurs to us how cool would it be if we knew this new language. And we usually need some time to chew on that idea. If you’re thinking about starting Serbian, chances are that you love something – or someone – from the country, and that you’ve been thinking about that for some time.

That daydreaming will continue until you bump into a right trigger that will push you into taking the first step. And in my experience, the usual triggers coincide with two major periods when most people decide to learn Serbian or Croatian.

But are these really the best moments for starting a new language? In this video I explain when is the best time for starting Serbian and how to use that surge of motivation and avoid the disappointment many language learners face.

/Transcript of the video/


Two peak periods for starting Serbian every year

People often ask me when is the best time to start learning a language.

Over the years that I’ve been teaching Serbian, I’ve noticed that there are two peak periods every year when lots of new people contact me: in December and in May. These are the two periods when many people decide to start Serbian, or another language.


The first one is when they’re facing their winter holidays (and probably a New Year’s resolution), and the second is when they’re planning their summer vacation.


A heroic task

So, apparently, these people expect to achieve good results in a month or so: they want to start in May and get ready for their holiday in July, or they plan to start in December to get ready for January.


Then they try to learn as much as possible and they cram all the material they can find. Some even hire two teachers!

Eventually, they get tired and confused – especially if they tried to learn too much grammar at once – and they end up:

1) either disappointed,

2) or (which is better) resolved to take it all over again when they come back from their vacation.


Why this happens?

You probably ask yourself: Why this happens? The answer is simple. Because there is a limited amount of data our brain is capable of processing efficiently at a given amount of time. Also, because to remember a new word, one word, we need to see it or hear it between 5 to 10 times.


This is why we need to give ourselves plenty of time to learn a new language, especially if it’s a new language family for us – which is often the case with the Serbian or Croatian language.


Question the “miracle solutions” 

And anybody who promises miracles, like „learn this language in this many days“ is misleading you.

First, ask that person to define what does „to learn a language“ mean? To which level? Up to what point? What are you going to be able to do with what they’re promising.


Setting up a realistic goal

What you can do is that you can commit to get to a certain level in certain amount of time, like for example to get A1 in 4 months, so from 0 to A1 in 4 months, and you need a solid program to follow.


Also, you need to make a plan and stick to it: how to do it, what resources you’re going to use, how often you’re going to to study, if you’re going to take individual lessons, how many times a week, which days are you going to do that, when are you going to write your homework, how are you going to use your audio files, etc.


Anyways, give yourself at least 4 to 5 months to see noticeable progress.


The perfect time to start learning Serbian

And this is my answer to all of you who asked me „when is the best time to star learning Serbian“:

August or September is the right time to start getting ready for your winter vacation in Serbia,

and December is the perfect time to start getting ready for your summer vacation in Serbia!


In the meantime, visit and check what’s new.

I’ve made the Tako Lako Vokabular pages that you can use to start learning right away!

Magdalena Petrovic Jelic

by Magdalena Petrovic Jelic

Founder of Serbonika

Serbian language teacher and entrepreneur, language lover and polyglot, but also a mother and a relentless storyteller.

On a mission to create the best web space for learning Serbian: Serbonika.



The best method to learn Serbian

The Languages of Ex Yugoslavia: an Intimate Experience

Serbian Croatian Bosnian Montenegrin:

My Intimate Experience with the Languages of ex Yugoslavia


Are Serbian Croatian Bosnian and Montenegrin the same language? What about Macedonian and Slovenian? How different or similar are they?

What’s the difference between Slovenian, Croatian, Bosnian, Serbian, Montenegrin and Macedonian? How different or similar are they?

Can the people understand each other speaking these languages?


I was born in a country named Yugoslavia

It was a big and diverse country that included 6 republics: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia; and two autonomous provinces: Vojvodina and Kosovo. The official language of the country was called Serbo-Croatian, or srpskohrvatski.

That was my favorite subject at school. Some classes included Slovenian and Macedonian songs and poems. I remember, we learned them as funny rhymes, never really understanding the languages completely – only a few words here and there.


In the nineties, Yugoslavia fell apart

The republics were cut off one by one, until each became an independent country. The last one to go was Montenegro, in 2004. The languages of ex Yugoslavia also fell apart.

The Serbo-Croatian language also fell apart to Serbian Croatian Bosnian and eventually Montenegrin. We never questioned that Slovenian and Macedonian were different languages.

When thousands of refugees fled Croatia or Bosnia and came to Serbia, they didn’t change the way they spoke.


At the university, I chose to study my favorite subject

The study group I enrolled in was called „Serbian literature and language“, but I had diverse interesting subjects, like the literature of old Dubrovnik, the Croatian literature and the Macedonian literature – all of which I had to read in original, no translation provided.

I remember that I read Croatian books with pleasure and no obstacles, occasionally finding a word or two per book that I didn’t know.

But the old Dubrovnik literature! That was one of the hardest exams I had. I read old poems and novels in a dialect nobody even speaks today.

Macedonian was less challenging for me. My father’s parents were from South Serbia, and I’d learned some Torlak from them – so I could understand a lot.

(Torlakian or Torlak dialect is a mini-dispute in itself and it illustrates the mentality of the region: it is considered a Macedonian dialect by Macedonian linguists, a Bulgarian dialect by Bulgarian linguists and a Serbian dialect by Serbian linguists.)

I studied in Novi Sad together with people from Serbia, Bosnia and Montenegro. I lived together with them for 3 years in a student dormitory. We all spoke our dialects and never needed a translator.


When my country went out of the „dark nineties“…

I started traveling abroad and meeting new people.

In Italy, I met a girl from Split, Croatia. She was an Italian teacher, a linguist. And she insisted that her language was different from mine. Even though we could argue each one of us speaking her own language.

When I met a group of young people from Zagreb, I loved their way of speaking! I couldn’t resist imitating their accent. The words I heard from them kept slipping off my tongue unconsciously.

I met people from Macedonia, and they tried hard to make their language closer to mine so that we could understand each other easily. My Macedonian was far worse then their Serbian. My friends from Skopje explained that they had learned Serbo-Croatian at school, but actually contact with people helped them because they had a horrible teacher.

I worked for a Slovenian company and had to translate a few phrases occasionally from Slovenian to Serbian – that was a challenge.

Once I drank wine with a Croat and a Slovenian in Athens. The Slovenian did his best to speak Serbo-Croatian and we had a fun chat and a good laugh.


YugoslavianLanguages: just like an old joke

A Serb, a Croat, a Bosnian, a Montenegrin, a Macedonian and a Slovenian go to a bar. They all order a beer and start fighting ferociously if šljivovica and ajvar are Serbian Croatian Bosnian Montenegrin Macedonian or Slovenian invention.

No interpreters. Because the Macedonian and the Slovenian have learned some Serbo-Croatian and can make themselves clear and take part even in bar fights in the languages of ex Yugoslavia.


Are Serbian Croatian Bosnian and Montenegrin the same language?

There is a word that describes the relation between Serbian Croatian Bosnian and Montenegrin languages perfectly: naški. It’s coined from the possessive pronoun naš (ours) and the suffix -ski that we use for making adverbs and that you’ve seen in the names of languages: srpski, hrvatski, engleski, norveški.

The truth is that the term is used mainly by the people living in diaspora, where the mentioned nations stick together and feel the need to diminish differences among them. That’s why they make a big difference between the person who speaks “our language” (naš jezik – naški) and the person who speaks, say, Czech (češki). A person who speaks “naški” is a person you can speak your own language with.


So, are these four languages of ex Yugoslavia different?

The truth is that all four countries have based their standards on the same dialect, Shtokavian, and even the same sub-dialect: Eastern-Herzegovinian. The Serbian standard includes another sub-dialect: Shumadian-Voivodinian. Serbian Croatian Bosnian and Montenegrin are considered languages only because the land is divided between these nations and the language is one of the means used for creating national identity.

Are Serbian, Croatian, Macedonian, Montenegrin, Bosnian and Slovenian Mutually Intelligible?

Image source: Wikipedia


The differences between the standard Serbian Croatian Bosnian and Montenegrin languages are minimal.

Just like between Spanish from Mexico, Cuba and Argentina.

Or English from England, Australia and the States.


So if you learn any of the four standard languages, you will be able to communicate across the area.

The vast majority of the words are the same or very similar, the conjugations and the declensions are the same.

However, there are dialects that you won’t understand. They have different grammar. Because languages spill across the borders. Like Kajkavian that goes from Zagreb to Slovenia, or Torlak that goes from South Serbia to Macedonia and Bulgaria.

This phenomenon is the natural way the languages work. There’s nothing special about it in this area. You can see it everywhere in the world. It’s called the dialect continuum or dialect chain.  As people mix and mingle, so do dialects and languages. Establishing a standard only makes our lives, as foreign language learners, easier.

Magdalena Petrovic Jelic

by Magdalena Petrovic Jelic

Founder of Serbonika

Serbian language teacher and entrepreneur, language lover and polyglot, but also a mother and a relentless storyteller.

On a mission to create the best web space for learning Serbian: Serbonika.



The best method to learn Serbian

The Most Powerful Technique for Learning Serbian in 9 Steps


How to Learn Serbian in 9 Steps: The Most Powerful Technique

Wondering how to learn Serbian? If you had to choose the best technique, this is what you need. It looks time-consuming, but when you see how effective it is…

If you’re wondering how to learn Serbian, in this article I give you the most powerful technique I use with my students. It’s an advanced story-telling technique that looks time-consuming, but it’s actually time-saving in the long run.

What is the most expensive commodity today? Time. If we could buy time, we’d pay for it as much as we could. I know I’d use at least 5 more hours a day.

But we can’t buy time. We can only use the time we have in the best possible way.

If you want to be efficient and have to use only one technique for learning Serbian, there is one you should choose.

Interestingly, this technique looks time-consuming. It’s huge! However, when you see how effective it is, you’ll realize it’s actually time-saving.

What I’m going to reveal here is an advanced story-telling technique I’ve developed with my students.


But I must warn you, it might not work for you in the beginning. Especially if you’re not experienced in learning languages. You should try it anyway and give yourself some time.

Because once it starts working, you will enjoy learning efficiently.


My Advanced Story-Telling Technique for Learning Serbian

Here’s what you should do:


How to learn Serbian – Step 1. Find the right weight

First you need a text that is slightly more advanced then your level. You should be a little uncomfortable reading it, but not too much.

It’s the relative difficulty of the text what determines how much the whole task will be difficult and how much you’ll eventually learn. The more difficult the text for you, the more difficult to understand it and more time-consuming the exercise.


It’s like weight-lifting: if the weight is too light for you, you won’t advance. If it’s too heavy, you’ll break down. It’s important to find the right weight.

You want the text to be challenging, but not mind-blowing.


How to learn Serbian – Step 2Read and Translate

Focus on understanding the story line even if you don’t know the structures yet. It’s even more efficient if you have someone to help you translate it – a teacher or a friend. It’s important to understand the general idea, but also the meaning of individual phrases and words.


How to learn Serbian – Step 3. Copy the text to your notebook

Underline new words. Write their translation in the margins. Optionally, write a list of new words in your notebook. Write example sentences with them. You can be creative, or simply describe your reality.


How to learn Serbian – Step 4. Read the text again

Several times, if you need. Especially after taking a break for several days. Repetition and breaks are both important, because that’s how new words are getting into your long-term memory. The story line that you’ll remember should help you recall the meaning of the words you didn’t really remember.


How to learn Serbian Step 5. Listen to the audio repeatedly

If there’s no audio, have a friend record it for you in a reasonably slow pace. Try to remember the words. Use your memory of the story line to get the meaning of individual words you may not recognize at first. You can use the audio to practice your pronunciation. Simply click pause and repeat aloud trying to imitate the pronunciation. You can also use it to practice dictation. Again, click pause and write what you hear.


How to learn Serbian – Step 6. Ask questions

Come up with a subtitle or a question for each paragraph or idea of the text. Try to cover all the main points of the text. You can use this as a speaking exercise with your teacher or friend.


How to learn Serbian – Step 7. Tell a similar story

Use the same words, even whole sentences, if they apply to your new situation. Answer the questions from the previous activity. Start simple, imitating the sentences from the original text, and add as many details as you can.

For example, after reading a text about Belgrade, write about your town. Or even better: compose several short texts about the cities you like.


How to learn Serbian – Step 8. Make sure your text sounds natural

Have a friend or a teacher read and correct what you’ve written. Serbian is grammatically very complex language. Especially in the beginning, but also later, do not stress over all the corrections of your text. Your task is to deliver understandable messages, not to write perfect sentences. But for your text to be a useful learning material, have someone correct it and learn from those corrections.


How to learn Serbian – Step 9. Review

Return to your text a few days later, and again after a week or two. Read it to recall and retain all the new words you’ve used. Try to talk or think about same topic but a different situation. For example, choose another city and try to describe it. That will give you the feel of how much you’ve learned.


This is a powerful technique. It makes you exercise all four skills important for learning Serbian: reading, listening, writing and speaking, while enhancing your memory.


You’ll practice speaking even if you don’t speak – because when you write, you practice forming sentences and prepare yourself for communication. Especially with questions and answers, since that’s what communication consists of.

You can follow this technique step-by-step, or you might choose to skip or add something.


The most challenging part is finding the right texts and audios – the right weight.

That’s why I’ve made them an integral part of my Serbian course for beginners!

My online Serbian language learning platform Serbonika contains texts carefully designed to teach you the vocabulary and the grammar you need.

It contains informing texts that are a bit more advanced than your expected level. Like this lesson about Belgrade, which is one of its kind in the Serbonika’s FREE introductory Serbian course.

Each text is translated and recorded as audio file. So you’ve got three steps solved: 1) finding the text, 2) reading and translating it, 5) audio. The rest is up to you – or your teacher.

These lessons are the key part of my method!

You’ll get the most of them by following my advanced story-telling technique throughout Serbonika’s courses.

Try this technique for yourself and let me know how it worked!

Magdalena Petrovic Jelic

by Magdalena Petrovic Jelic

Founder of Serbonika

Serbian language teacher and entrepreneur, language lover and polyglot, but also a mother and a relentless storyteller.

On a mission to create the best web space for learning Serbian: Serbonika.



The best method to learn Serbian