Monday, April 18, 2011

Serbian steps

I haven't talked about Serbian language in a while and since we have a test tomorrow it's been on my mind. Actually it's been on my mind in increasing increments since September. It's funny how a language works itself into your brain and thoughts. Still I haven't talked about Serbian in a while and so izvolite (here you are).

I came into this program with the mission of becoming functionally fluent in Serbian. For the first five months I had a daily routine of spending the hour after class reviewing notes and studying vocab. I've already mentioned how my incredible host family in Novi Sad took me all around Vojvodina (Northern Serbia), and they can account for the fact that the majority of our time on the road was spent testing and discussing vocabulary and grammar and other nuances in the Serbian language.

Come February I had developed relationships in my Nis family and work, nearly all of which had Serbian as our communication base, so I learned the truth to the common adage that talking and listening are the best ways to pick up a language. In the past I've viewed books as supreme educators but when I began relying on Serbian to communicate I stopped holding my notebook to the highest regard and realized that engaging in and beginning conversations at home and work actually yielded much more noticeable and practical results.

Now I definitely do not regret disciplining myself to learn the vocabulary and proper way of speaking during the first half of the program because a decent vocab does call for some memorization work and those hours definitely helped Serbian's confusing grammar to become more natural when I speak. I'm often a stickler for grammar in English so I wouldn't be as satisfied if I could speak in Serbian but only through thoroughly butchering the seven cases and three genders in the process. However I'm so glad that I've put myself in more out-of-the-classroom learning environments in Nis because I have indeed noticed improvements in what I can articulate and understand.

Oddly enough I felt the zenith of said improvements in March, and after returning to Nis following the two week of travel to Macedonia, Kopaonik, and Vranje I actually thought that my Serbian had gotten worse, or at least had stopped progressing. Even through the first couple of weeks in April I kept questioning why I hadn't been getting better. A few days ago at a family lunch I brought up this concern and my host family and their friends all started laughing. They were all struck by some serious bout of the giggles and nervously I joined in because I've learned that in a foreign country it's best to follow the laughter even if you didn't understand the joke. Finally when the laughs subsided my host mom turned to me and, while wiping away partially-formed tears, said, "In March you spoke like a foreigner but yesterday you told me and my friend a story in Serbian and she thought you were a Serb. You are doing just fine." My host mom was being very very generous but that definitely boosted my confidence in the Serbian skills I thought I'd lost. I suppose it's hard to detect personal progress but I have faith that as long as I keep talking and listening as much as possible my mission of functional fluency is attainable.

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