I have finally reached the end of my Serbian language training time. I have to take my final test on Thursday morning. I’ve learned a couple of things about trying to learn a language while studying Serbian over the last seven months. My top three tips for mastering a foreign language are:
1. You have to become a human thesaurus. After only seven months of classes, the majority of which was spent trying to master a rather complex grammar structure, there are huge holes in my Serbian vocabulary. So I think about what I would like to say, in English, and then try to match the verbs and nouns to words I know in Serbian. For example, I may not know how to say “off the beaten path”, but I do know how to say “on a road where a lot of people do not walk”.
2. Sometimes you have to say things you don’t really mean. Sometimes, no matter how creative you are, you just don’t know the words to say what you want to say. So you say something else. During class, I have routinely supported policies and politicians that I would never in a million years support in real life simply because I don’t know how to say otherwise. It takes a while to adjust to the idea that you’re practicing speaking, not practicing diplomacy. There were a couple of weeks when my purposed resolution to any problem involved violence, because I knew the verbs “to bomb” and “to attack” but not the verbs “to discuss” or “to change”.
3. Learn to prioritize your vocabulary lists. Each week I had a list of 60-100 new words thrown at me. I was never great with learning new words in English, so trying to learn that many new words in Serbian was a struggle. Each week, I would sort the list into three groups of words: memorize, recognize, and forget. I memorized important and high frequency use words, learned to recognize words that were likely to come up but that I was unlikely to use personally, and didn’t waste time learning the words in the “forget” category (words pertaining to opera and outdated technology).
And those are the keys (то су кључеви!) to earning a passing score on your language test after seven months of studying. Or at least I hope they are. We’ll see how well my strategies worked on Thursday!