Is there any sort of Slavic "lingua franca" for visiting slavic speaking countries?

It’s the one thing that fascinates me about traveling to Europe, the multitude of small countries each with their own language. I was in Germany which has a border with 8 different countries, most of them all speak different languages.

So I ended up visiting dresden and heard lots and lots of slavic speaking tourists (I couldn’t tell which languages they were, I could only tell if it was Russian or other). And I really enjoyed myself and got interested in visiting more of the countries further east. In particular, I someday wish to visit Poland, Czech, Croatia.

Would knowing any 1 of those languages, or knowing some Russian (i know the very basics) be of any use or will knowing Polish or Russian be useless in Croatia or Prague? Also, is german of any help in Poland or Czech since they are neighbors?



Polish may be useful in Prague and Russian may be useful in Croatia.
The same words in Czech and Russian may have opposite meanings :slight_smile:
It took me some months to accustom my ears for Polish and Czech being a native Russian and Belarusian speaker. But it does not mean I understand absolutely everything.
It was possible to understand each other in Montenegro speaking Russian and listening the answers in their own language.

I have been reading about “Esperanto for Slavic languages” -
It seems to be hard for me to understand such “Slavic” language without practice. But if you need a “lingua franca”, it may help you at the beginning.

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This resonates somewhat with a chapter in the novel Laurus (Лавр) which involved the limited mutual intelligibility of Russian and Croatian. A party of mixed nationality whose only common language was German was overheard by some locals in present-day Zadar, Croatia. The locals mistook their German for Turkish and assumed that they were Turkish spies. The Russian member of the group was able to talk to the locals and explained that they were Christian pilgrims, but his speech, though understandable, was strange and foreign, so they remained skeptical.

To further complicate things, the locals demanded that he cross himself to prove that he was Christian. Unfortunately, when he crossed himself right-to-left in the eastern Orthodox manner, rather than left-to-right in the western Catholic manner, they were convinced that he was an imposter, a Turkish spy who didn’t even know how to make the sign of the cross! That sealed their fate, which you’ll need to read the book to learn.

(The action took place in the 1480s. I don’t know whether the author’s account accurately reflects the language landscape of that day.)

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It’s just frustrating because it’s tough to know where to start. Poland seems to be the place I’m most interested in visiting, krakow and warsaw particularly and it is easy to get there with an american passport, while russian literature and history are more interesting to me… but visiting will be difficult, you need visas so it is much more expensive.

Start with a language you like more.
By the way, Russian is the most outstanding from all the Slavic languages. But Russian has more lessons and other resources.

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As I know, Americans do not need visas to Czech Republic and Slovakia too. Many beautiful places to visit here!

Yep, I hope to visit those places soon. I’m just worried about the language barrier.

I would guess Russian due to their history of imposing communism on a lot of the Eastern European countries. I had an Estonian friend who understood Russian due to being forced to learn it at school. Probably not the case nowadays or with anyone under 45 but it was definitely the case with him and his generation.

Everyone in Ukraine understands Russian too. Probably not Poland/Serbia etc but Russian is probably the best you’ll get.

I guess Russian is the best Slavic language to begin with for obvious reasons - it’s most widespread and even today it has some influence in Eastern Europe.

Which reminds me of how important motivation in language learning is - I had SEVEN years of Russian classes, first in the elementary school and then in high school and now I can hardly speak this language. :frowning: Anyway, I believe that if you speak Russian other Slavic languages are easy to study.


@Ress, do you mean Russian is most wonderful of (outstanding of) all Slavic languages, or most different from (stands out from) all Slavic languages? (I think there’s been some discussion around here on the Mongol influence on Russian vocabulary, e.g.)

The Grammar of all Slavic languages is very similar.
The vocabulary is similar for 60-70%.
But there are of course some ‘false friends’ like ‘yroda’ in Polidh and Russian or ‘pozor’ in Czech and Russian.
It you have learnt one of the Slavic languages, you can soon and without a lot of efforts learn 2-3 Slavic languages more. But the first Slavic language may be quite difficult for Englkish speakers.
If you choose Russian, you can use a lot of my Russian courses for beginners on this site, for example:
Русский с нуля-Russian from zero(90 lessons for beginners)
Начнём!-Let’s start(40)
Первые шаги-First steps(125)
Мои первые диалоги-My first dialogues(28)
Базовые модели-Basic patterns(53) etc.
Good luck!

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I mean Russian has less common vocabulary than other Slavic languages.
My Belarusian roots helped me in learning Polish, Czech and Ukrainian. Belarusian has more common vocabulary with them than Russian do.
I think it would be a bit more difficult for any Russian speaker.

By the way, I don’t beleive Russian has any Mongol word. Russian has words from the nations which surrounded the ancient Russian speakers. Maybe Turkic languages but not Mongol.

Yes, I probably meant Turkic. As the saying goes, I only know enough about this to be dangerous. :slight_smile: It seems the most common examples given are Turkic собака and лошадь replacing Slavic пёс and конь in common usage.

Thank you, I have decided to focus on Russian for now, as it has the most available content and the most available speakers to practice with. I am hoping maybe down the road to learn polish or czech as well. I’m in no rush. I have a few friends who are Russian who appreciated that I was interested in their language.

The most difficult thing so far is definitely the vocabulary. learning words seems to be much slower than in other languages because they just sound so different… long words seem like a string of consonants and words don’t seem to “stick” in your head as well as they did in french or even german, especially since you read it in the Russian alphabet.

It is definitely a challenge.

While Russian may be the most attractive to learn, most speakers, best recognized literature etc. I think it has the lest mutual intelligibility of any of the Slavic languages. Slovak may be the most easily understood by most. At least that is my impression and I don’t really speak Slovak.

Have you ever had problems mixing up slavic languages? To a non native ear many of them sound quite similar in pronunciation and I know there are many false friends.

Yes, I once read that Slovak is a kind of “slavic esperanto” because it has features of both western and eastern slavic languages