Learn Cyrillic

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The modern Serbian Cyrillic alphabet was formed by Vuk Karadžić (Вук Караџић), who reformed the alphabet by taking out and adding various letters. Letters like "Ю" (Pronounced 'Yu') and "Я" (Pronounced 'Ya') were removed, and replaced instead with the letter "J". In Serbian, the "J" makes the same sound as a "Y" in English, and with the addition of one letter, you could still keep the sounds of the letters he removed. Now you could pronounce "Я" with "Ja", simplifying the language. Vuk followed a simple principle with his new alphabet: "write as you speak and read as it is written".

Unlike most languages, Serbian is phonetic, meaning there is only one way you can pronounce each letter. You can't mispronounce a word nearly as bad as you can in English.

Serbian also has an extremely intuitive LATIN alphabet, which they use interchangeably in Serbia. Serbian Latin (or "Latinica") is quite easy to understand and it's a very good stepping stone for quickly getting the pronunciation of Serbian words.

Cyrillic looks daunting, but some letters directly overlap with English, and since each letter only has one sound, you can start speaking remarkably fast.

The Letters

The Serbian alphabet has 30 letters:

Аа  Бб  Вв  Гг  Дд  Ђђ Ее Жж

Зз  Ии  Јј  Кк  Лл  Љљ  Мм  Нн

Њњ  Оо  Пп  Рр  Сс  Тт  Ћћ  Уу

Фф  Хх  Цц  Чч  Џџ  Шш

Cyrillic to Latin conversion
Cyr - Lat
Аа - Aa Бб - Bb Вв - Vv Гг - Gg Дд - Dd Ђђ - Đđ Ее - Ee Жж - Žž
Зз - Zz Ии - Ii Јј - Jj Кк - Kk Лл - Ll Љљ - LJ lj Мм - Mm Нн - Nn
Њњ - NJ nj Оо - Oo Пп - Pp Рр - Rr Сс - Ss Тт - Tt Ћћ - Ćć Уу - Uu
Фф - Ff Хх - Hh Цц - Cc Чч - Čč Џџ - DŽ dž Шш - Šš


Here are the letters with approximate pronunciations in English:

Aa - A ('ah')

Бб - B (Same as English)

Вв - V (Same as English)

Гг  - G (Same as English)

Дд - D (Same as English)

Ђђ - J (like the J in "Jay")

Ее - E (Pronounced "Eh")

Жж - 'Zh' (Pronounced like the G in "Deluge")

Зз - Z (Just like Zebra)

Ии - 'EE' (like the E's in Need)

Jj  - Y (Like the 'Y' in "Yes")

Кк - K (Same as English)

Лл - L (Same as English)

Љљ - LY (Compound letter of L and Y "Lj")

Мм - M (Same)

Нн - N (Same)

Њњ - NY (Like Љ but N and Y "Nj")

Oo - O (Pronounced like "oh")

Пп - P (Like the P in Pronounced)

Рр - R (Except the R "Rolls" like the Russian language)

Cc - S (Same)

Тт -  T (Exactly the same)

Ћћ - 'Tch' (Like the "tch" at the end of "Switch")

Уу - 'OO' (like the "oo" in "Shoot" and the "u" in "Chute")

Фф - F (Same)

Хх - H (Same)

Цц - 'Ts' (like the "ts" on the end of "Cats")

Чч - 'Ch' (Like the "Ch" in "Child")

Џџ - None (The letters Д and Ж put together)

Шш - 'Sh' (Just like the "Sh" in "Shush")

Nearly all the sounds of the Serbian alphabet are found in English.

Perhaps the most striking difference between Latin and Cyrillic is the appearance of "Compound letters". "Љ", "Њ", and "Џ" are just two letters put together, much the same compound words in English. These can be tricky, because you technically don't need them. If you hear the "Љ" sound in a word, you might forget to write its letter, and instead put "Лј" because it would sound the exact same. But if you're writing in Serbian Cyrillic, and you hear these letters put together, you need to write their compound letters. In addition, be warned that "Џ" and "Ђ" sound very similar, and it will take you a while to properly distinguish them in Serbian speech. "Ч" and "Ћ" will also sound similar at first.

If you take the time to study these letters, and consult this page when you're reading your first few sentences in Cyrillic, you'll pick it up in no time.

For getting the proper pronunciation, and keeping with the theme of this site, a way to learn is by listening to Serbian music. You can find the lyrics for some songs online quite easily, and some YouTube videos may even have them in closed captions (CC), along with translations. If you ever need to search for them, the Serbian word for "Lyrics" is "Текст" or "Tekst". If you search for the lyrics using the Cyrillic "Текст" will get Cyrillic results, as opposed to searching with Serbian Latin. Be aware that it's extremely rare for Bosnian songs to have Cyrillic text because Bosnians exclusively use the Serbian Latin alphabet, except for their Bosnian-Serb population.

Bosnian, Croatian, and Serbian have slight differences but they can understand each other perfectly fine, they're nearly identical. It would take some time before a new speaker could understand the differences.

When you start saying words in Serbian, try and stay away from warping your mouth into an obvious or stereotypical Russian accent, it's really not needed. English has every sound a Serbian letter can make, with the exception of the "rolling R". The rest can just be spoken like you're speaking Serbian words with your normal accent for English. It might seem small, but it's really wasted effort when you actually start speaking.

Good luck learning Serbian.