Balkan language “hit list”

September 15, 2011 by 16 Comments
Balkan Languages - Flags

Balkan Languages - Flags

My relationship with The Balkans started almost a decade ago.  Like the language obsessed person that I am, I had grand plans to learn all of the languages spoken in the region.  I’m big into learning the languages spoken around me.  I simply need that connection to motivate me to learn a language to a decent level.  So, on a peninsular where the neighbours constantly disagree, I stick my fingers in my ears to the politics and carry on with my little Balkan language “hit list”.  After all there is good and bad in every country and every language is worth learning.

The dreaded list…

I’ve yet to meet a language freak, like me, without a “hit list” of languages to learn.  There will be those of you thinking “hit list”?  Yes, hit list is the best way to describe it.  It’s a list of languages the language enthusiast wants to study.  It usually is a huge, and often ever-growing, list of an almost impossible combination of world languages – a veritable Wikipedia list of the world’s tongues.

Keeping it real…

Some content themselves with a basic grasp of a number of languages, whilst others aim to reach a more advanced level.  Whatever you goal, whatever you reasons, staying focused and keeping it real is the key.  Luca is a shining example of a focused polyglot with realistic goals.  He picks his languages and puts in two years of study to reach a decent, working level before taking on a new one.

The key things to keep in mind:

  • Choose a language you feel passionate about learning
  • Choose a language you can use
  • Choose a language that has resources available to aid your learning

What about the small/minority/unusual languages? 

They are worth studying.  They do also require a lot more effort on your part to pick up and maintain as resources and opportunities to use them are often scarce.

The Languages of The Balkans

I can hold my own in the Slavic languages (Macedonian, Bulgarian, Serbian/Croatian/Bosnian) spoken in this region and I can get a point across in Greek, Albanian and Romanian too.  But what are the other languages spoken in my part of the world?

  • Roma
  • Turkish (and Gagauz)
  • Vlah (or Aromanian)

When I think about which language I would like to tackle I analyse the languages like this:


Pros: Indo-European and interesting.  I like the sound of it.

Cons: Would be difficult for me to use with Roma people – it would probably freak them out.  There are not many resources to really learn it – no courses at all on offer.  No media available to me in the language.  No work opportunities from learning it.


Pros: Indo-European and like Romanian, so shouldn’t be a big problem to pick up.  Can already communicate with Vlah if I speak Romanian and I can already read it.  There is a Vlah centre and they offer courses.  The community is open, so I could use it.

Cons:  Risk converting Romanian to Vlah and just have one language that’s less well understood.  No media available to me in the language.  Hard to spot a Vlah unless you know him/her and not all Vlah speak the language anyway.    No work opportunities from learning it.


Pros:  Have studied some Turkish before.  It is a beautiful language.  Turkish is widely spoken.  Many other Turkic languages are opened up to me too.  Excellent centre to study the language.  I have access to TV and newspapers in Turkish.  There are plenty of people to speak to in the city.    Macedonian and Albanian borrow a lot from Turkish vocabulary.  The language is always handy for work.

Cons:  Not Indo-European, so there is a bigger hill to climb to acquire a solid vocabulary.  The grammar is quite different to the Indo-European languages, so learning it will be a bigger mental adjustment.

Based on this type of rational evaluation, I decide which language to learn and to what level I need it.

Turkish it is then…

In my next post I will write about the steps I am taking to deepen my knowledge of the Turkish language over the coming months.  I hope you will enjoy following me on my journey. 🙂

If you sign up for italki and buy a coupon for language lessons through them, you can use the Promo Code below at checkout to get $5 OFF your order! So a $10 coupon costs you just $5! Use Promo Code: RICHARD

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This post was written by Richard


  • Ron says:

    Hi Richard, some insightful points again. Particularly the following:

    ‘The key things to keep in mind:
    1. Choose a language you feel passionate about learning
    2. Choose a language you can use
    3. Choose a language that has resources available to aid your learning’

    I also need to have a connection with the language and a desire to wanting to speak and being able to use it with others who know it. However, I have found (several times now) that if there is a lack of good resources for a particular language and little opportunity to use it (and to get that all-important feedback), it is difficult to keep the flame of passion burning for a sustained period of time. But, and here’s the good news, plenty of other languages left! 😉

  • Ryan says:

    Ron :
    Hi Richard, some insightful points again. Particularly the following:
    ‘The key things to keep in mind:
    1. Choose a language you feel passionate about learning
    2. Choose a language you can use
    3. Choose a language that has resources available to aid your learning’

    I also think this is pure gold. That and the tip to be focused like Luca. The tough thing about learning German in California has been the lack of use for it. While I like it, I wouldn’t say that I’m PASSIONATE about learning it. Luckily for me there is a wealth of materials. Skype has also helped me with #2. I’ll take these points into consideration next year when I pick a new language.

    • Rohit says:

      Cadenus 1) Many people arnuod the world don’t speak or don’t want to speak English. At least they don’t speak it well.2) If you visit a foreign country, people will like you better if they see that you made some effort to learn their language. This especially applies to native English speakers.3) Learning a language doesn’t only have practical purposes it helps you to understand other cultures and even your own language.4) However, if you really want to use a language, you have to speak it well. That takes years and constant revision. Of course it’s nice to know a few words and to be able to utter a couple of broken sentences in a dozen languages, but the practical value of this is almost zero especially as many people know the corresponding expressions (greetings etc.) in English. If you’re serious about learning languages, you should perhaps try to focus on just one or two of them.

  • Paul says:

    I figure “learn all of the languages spoken in the region” is really a grand plan as you’ve said.

    But as polyglot having been familiar with many languages, I think you’re in a unique position to make the record.

    I wish you all the best with your goal…and all the fun learning languages as well!

    • Twfik says:

      R.S People have been saying for years that pelope speak English the world over but the truth is that there are billions of pelope who don’t learn english, or don’t learn it to any level of fluency.When you travel to some of these European countries you will find that a lot of pelope do speak english, but will be more likely to help you, chat to you etc. if you speak to them in their native tongue. I find that learning languages is very rewarding and can lead you to learn much more about other cultures than if you speak English wherever you go.A lot of Europeans will also find you arrogant if you just speak in English, rather than making the effort to learn their language.

  • Fasulye says:

    My recommendation will not surprise you at all: Go for Turkish, I say without any hesitating!

  • bancov says:

    Drago mi je da postoje lyudi kao ti! my favorite obozavam da te slusam kako pricas sve te jezike ti si moj idol!my favorite!

    • Baiju says:

      Kaviani9 Yes.You mind is forced to work in dirnefeft ways when using a foreign language (esp if you’re writing in a non-native script, like Americans learning Hebrew or Korean), and that is a huge benefit to your own mind and thinking processes whether you recognize it or not. Even learning dead languages can help, but a living one is preferable the internet resources alone are immense and getting new input is what really counts.Also, the they all speak English cop out is ridiculous. Not even all Americans speak English, and communication is not about babbling until you’re done. It’s critical to be able to eavesdrop or know when someone is talking about you. Besides, there is no guarantee that their English is intelligible. I have a hard time understanding some native speakers.

  • Šimi says:

    Hello, there are not many resources for Roma language, because Gypsies ( in the Czech republic Gypsies call themselves Gypsies only, but the media use the more politicaly correct for Romani people) have not ever written a single work of literature. I stumbled over some books and they usually use the writing system of the specific country. As you may know, there are big differences between the Roma language in Serbia, Romania or Slovakia, but they use a lot of pan-Romani words like f.e. gadžo. I myself know a few words like phen, phral, khamoro, jakhori or manuš and, when I told a gypsy, he was surprised and happy about my interest in the language and the culture. I suggest for you to not give up about it completely and wish you a good luck with all of your studies. Btw. Když si koupím sluchátka za 200 korun, můžem se někdy sejít na Skypu? Zatím umím jenom hodně dobře anglicky a němčinu na úrovni středně pokročilého, ale snažím se oživit svojí ruštinu a španělštinu. Přeji hezký den.

    • Phiiamiira says:

      Llyane Hi, TokiVery valid question!While the world spkeas English on a regular basis (especially for business), do not forget that our own mother tongue is very organic to us.We learn our mother tongue at the same time we learn to walk, to eat and to behave like a human being, which is why we feel so much differently when we say the words in our mother tongue.Did you notice that it is easier to swear in a foreign language? That is because it is farther from the heart, so to speak, there is a distance between the meaning and the words themselves, the actual meaning is in a way remote.That is the exact reason why we should speak other languages, to be able to communicate with people in THEIR mother tongue, to connect at a deeper level.And even in business, you will become much more convincing when you make a pitch in someone’s mother tongue I hope my little rant make sense to you Hope this helps!

  • Pozdrav iz Srbije! Čula sam da učiš i srpski jezik. Ako treba neka pomoć, javi se:)

  • Nejc says:

    Pozdrav iz Slovenije!
    There is a Slovene flag in the upper picture. How come that Slovene is not even mentioned here?
    Zakaj Slovenski jezik ni omenjen, čeprav je zgoraj slika Slovenske zastave?

    • Bhashkar says:

      Moneybag pointless is suvbcetije.even learning latin has its uses.for example, japanese. why do you want to learn japanese? do you plan to interact with japanese people? do you plan to go to japan? do you want to learn it so you can watch anime without subtitles or play japanese video games a year a half before they release out in the west?find the reason you want to learn them. don’t learn them, and then find your reason.without reason, everything is pointless.nothing is pointless, learning languages is NOT pointless lol that’s a skill many don’t have, to be bilingual. i’m not perfect, but i have skills in 4 different languages. it’s not pointlessif you master japanese, or are really good in it yet you never watch anime or never talk to japanese, never show that you know it, never put it in your job resumes that you know japanese, then yeah it’s pointless because you never use it.

  • Gezimi says:

    Hi Richard. You are a genius. Best wishes from Kosovo. I hope you are getting well with Albanian language. If you need any help, please don’t hesitate, it would be my pleasure to help you in some way.

  • It’s really very complex in this full of activity life to listen news on Television, so I simply use internet for that reason, and take
    the newest news.

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