Kate in Montenegro

an australian in the western balkans

How to Learn Montenegrin

I lived in Kotor for a summer without learning more than how to say Dobar dan (good day), but when I moved to Podgorica I decided to make it a priority. One embarrassing trip to the shops on my first evening was all it took to convince me.

About the Montenegrin Language

Montenegrin is in the same group of ex-Yugoslav languages that includes Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian (all once called Serbo-Croat). They are mutually intelligible languages with some different spellings and word usage, similar to how Australian, British and American English vary. Montenegrin is most closely related to Serbian and most dissimilar to Croatian.

It’s considered a medium-difficulty language: not as hard as Chinese, Japanese or Arabic but more difficult than French or Spanish. Advantages are that Montenegrin uses the Latin alphabet (so does English) and that all words are spelled exactly as they sound.

After my most recent attempt to learn Thai, these two facts had me delirious with excitement. No tones! Less than 65 letters of the alphabet! No new and outlandish vowels to train my mouth to make! 

That’s how the language got me in.

Then it hit me over the head with three genders, seven cases, and masses of irregular verbs. The ending of one word can change about fifteen different ways depending on its situation.  The most common words I hear from my teacher: just memorise this.

How I Learned the Language

I used a variety of online different methods and techniques to learn Montenegrin in Montenegro, as there are currently no group classes or courses in the language in the country, and very few popular language programs include Serbian (let alone Montenegrin).

Primarily I had months of online lessons from some excellent local teachers over Skype, with some conversational practice through iTalki. I also spent hundreds of hours watching local TV as listening practice and watched a lot of local language Youtube videos. 

These are the resouces I found most helpful:

Get Started with Montenegrin

Learn Montenegrin, Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian – Youtube videos from a Montenegrin woman that go step by step through basic grammar and cases.

Bosnian/Serbian/Croatian Grammar – 42 Youtube videos, each explaining one grammar concept at a time.

iTalki Serbian Forum – Ask questions about any aspect of the language.

Crnogorskijezik.me – Basic though rather academic course in Montenegrin that covers material to B1 level. Useful because it covers culture as well as vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation.

Montenegrin Grammar Help

StudySerbian.com – Concise and comprehensive explanations of verbs, tenses and conjugations.

Wiktionary – Incredibly useful site for checking all those irregular verb conjugations. I use this practically every day.

Fun Stuff to Watch and Learn

Learn Serbian by Singing – Youtube playlist of popular local songs.

Naša Snajka – Funny series in Serbian about a Spanish woman who lives in Serbia. It’s designed for beginners and has subtitles in English.

Dnevnjak – Amusing Youtube channel that will test your listening ability (it’s fast and with a lot of slang).

Budva na pjenu od mora – Three season drama set in Montenegro. No subtitles but good for listening practice and observing culture.

Online Courses

17 Minute Languages – Have fun learning through a very well gamified and interesting course in a few minutes a day. Has both Bosnian (Latin alphabet) and Serbian (Cyrillic alphabet). Unfortunately the vocabulary taught is a little strange.

Glossika – Learn Serbian through listening and speaking repetition (probably effective but this was incredibly boring for me).

FSI Language Courses – An extremely and pedantically detailed course in Serbo-Croat, created in 1965 by the American Foreign Service. The whole course is downloadable for free with texts and tapes in .mp3 format.

General Language Learning Resources

Fluent Forever – Tactics for more effective language learning (hint: use flashcards or Anki for spaced repetition).

38 Language-Learning Experts Reveal Their Favorite Methods for Learning Vocabulary – Everyone learns best if it’s fun – so pick your favourite method.

Enjoy! It’s was a really engaging intellectual exercise for me in the beginning, and is even more satisfying now that I can understand what people are saying and function in my every day life. 

5 Comments
  1. Brett

    Excellent information.
    Thanks

  2. Lily (Ljiljana)

    My mom was born in Klinci on the Lustica peninsula. She came to the USA as a teenager, with her family. We’ve gone back several times. Most recently was in 2017. My hope is to move there in the next 10 years. Your guide will help my German husband learn more of the local language. Thank you.

  3. Philippa Ousey

    Hi Kate,

    Thank you for this post, I came across Montenegro when something was advertised on the television. My first impression was that’s somewhere I’d like to visit with my husband. In that few mins of watching it looked like a place that was naturally beautiful and had so much to offer. I have ordered the lonely planet book on Montenegro and have contacted a travel agent to plan a trip hopefully for a surprise for my husband’s 50th.
    We will also be taking our youngest son 11.
    A couple of my questions are;
    Would basic hello, thank you, good bye etc be enough to get by with the language barrier for a holiday?
    Also there are so many fantastic places, I’d like to book somewhere that has some really nice walks (not extremely long though:) great food? Relaxed , cultural and close enough to be by the water and of course child friendly.
    Last one for now , have you been on the helicopter trip?
    Looking for recommendations please.

    Kindest regards

    Pip

  4. admin

    Hi Pip, you can get by with English on the coast without too many problems, and for what you’re looking for I’d suggest Tivat. I haven’t been on the helicopter trip, and I don’t actually think it runs anymore, unfortunately!

    Kate

  5. YASMIN A ASFOUR

    Your story is similar to mine, I live in Montenegro five years now and I still didn’t learn the language 🙂 The article is very helpful. Thank you !

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