Hardest Slavonic language?

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Hardest Slavonic language?

Postby Car » 2004-09-06, 7:11

I've read that Polish is the hardest Slavonic language (a Polish friend of mine said that might be realistical) and Slovenian the easiest. Is that true?
Yes, I know that the difficulty always depends on the languages you know...
Please correct my mistakes!

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Postby Luís » 2004-09-06, 10:14

Car wrote:I've read that Polish is the hardest Slavonic language (a Polish friend of mine said that might be realistical) and Slovenian the easiest. Is that true?


Well, from my own experience I'd say 99% of Poles will tell you that Polish is not only the hardest Slavonic language but also the hardest language to learn overall (some will say though that Chinese might be even harder, though they don't really mean it :lol: ).

Anyways, IMHO I think that for someone speaking a Romance (or Germanic) language, all Slavic languages have more or less the same degree of difficulty. Those written in Cyrillic might be a bit harder to master though. The Cyrillic alphabet is easy to learn, but to be able to read a text at full speed, as you do when reading the Latin script, will take you a while... :roll:

Their structure isn't much different. Most of them have 7 cases. Bulgarian hasn't got cases, but they use the Cyrillic alphabet and have a very complicated verbal and aspect system that the others lack to compensate for it.

Czech/Slovak scares me more than Polish though. Stranger sounds, messy spelling, long vowels in unstressed syllables and stress always falling on the 1st syllable (which is more difficult for a Portuguese speaker, for whom the "normal" stress is on the penultimate syllable and never going beyond the antipenultimate one).
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Postby Liisi » 2004-09-06, 11:53

Luís wrote:Well, from my own experience I'd say 99% of Poles will tell you that Polish is not only the hardest Slavonic language but also the hardest language to learn overall (some will say though that Chinese might be even harder, though they don't really mean it :lol: ).


Yes... there are many languages that are the "number 1 hardest in the world" :wink:. People just like to think that about their own language... I admit doing that myself, too... never trust a native in this :).

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Postby kibo » 2004-09-06, 13:17

Liisi wrote:
Luís wrote:Well, from my own experience I'd say 99% of Poles will tell you that Polish is not only the hardest Slavonic language but also the hardest language to learn overall (some will say though that Chinese might be even harder, though they don't really mean it :lol: ).


Yes... there are many languages that are the "number 1 hardest in the world" :wink:. People just like to think that about their own language... I admit doing that myself, too... never trust a native in this :).


I was just thinking that myself. If there's anyone who's completely non-objective about a language, it would be a native speaker. I'm often asked if Serbian is hard, and before I used to say "Yes, consider yourself lucky if you dont go mad while learning it". :P Now, after I've met several persons who have studied it and found it more-or-less easy, my answer is "Don't ask me!" ;)

OK, about other Slavonic languages, I am less objective than the previous posters, but for me (not counting the other languages that came from Serbo-croatian) the easiest would be Macedonian. Then come Bulgarian (which I'm actually learning now) and Slovene (I can only guess about it's easyness, since I never had any serious contact with it).


I don't find the Western Slavonic group that hard. There are some minor details that may seem weird to an average Serbian speaker (especially in Polish), but since I haven't gone in depth in any languages that belong to this group I can't say much.

The Eastern Slavonic languages remain a tru mystery for me. Most people here will say that Russian is easy, but I still find it... well, not hard, but rather weird in a way. Though I have no intention of going down that path, for now :P

I would to some extent agree that Polish seemss to be the hardest (unlike Luis, I think the Polish spelling is messier. :P), but certainly not the hardest in the world. :lol:

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Postby Geist » 2004-09-06, 13:28

From my limited experience, I would say that Polish is the hardest of the Slavic languages, just because of the spelling and irregularities of grammar. Russian is not quite so bad, but it's still sort of weird (exactly as Bugi said), and Serbian/Croatian seems to be a jazzier, easier form of Russian. Actually, even though people say Slavic languages should ideally be written in Cyrillic, I find the Serbian/Croatian Latin alphabet as good as its Cyrillic one. Polish, on the other hand, could save a lot of trouble by converting to Cyrillic - though then they'd have to give up the unique slashed l :lol:.
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Postby Vlacko » 2004-09-06, 15:14

I would agree with Bugi that Macedonian and Bulgarian are the easiest Slavic languages.

But on the other hand Czech and Polish are very difficult. Just seeing the Polish sentence give me the creep... All those accent letters...

About Russian not so difficult, but on the other hand little hard grammatic, but not imposible to master it, and a big problem for me word same as in Serbian but total different meaning... :evil:
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Postby Luís » 2004-09-06, 17:43

Bugi wrote:I would to some extent agree that Polish seemss to be the hardest (unlike Luis, I think the Polish spelling is messier. )


Geist wrote:From my limited experience, I would say that Polish is the hardest of the Slavic languages, just because of the spelling and irregularities of grammar


Vlacko wrote:But on the other hand Czech and Polish are very difficult. Just seeing the Polish sentence give me the creep... All those accent letters...


I don't get this. Just because Polish has acute accents over consonants and other weird symbols doesn't really make the spelling itself difficult to learn... :roll:
A difficult spelling would be one that is inconsistent/non-phonetic. Like English or French. When you see a Polish word written down you know how it sounds 99% of the time. I can't say the same about other languages with supposedly "easier spellings". You can say the spelling is awkward or graphically unattractive, but that doesn't make it necessarily "more difficult".

As a practical example, let's compare Polish, Slovak and Czech diacritics:

Polish uses the following letters with diacritics on them: ą ć ę ł ń ó ś ź ż (9 in total)
Czech uses the following letters with diacritics on them: á č d' é ě í ň ó ř š t' ú ů ý ž (15 in total)
Slovak uses the following letters with diacritics on them: á ä č d' é í l'ĺ ň ó ô ŕ š t' ú ý ž (17 in total)

So, I'd appreciate you actually get a reason to say why Polish is the most difficult Slavic language (and I'm not saying it's not!) other than "oh it must be, cause they use many diacritics on their letters"... :roll:

Geist wrote:Actually, even though people say Slavic languages should ideally be written in Cyrillic, I find the Serbian/Croatian Latin alphabet as good as its Cyrillic one. Polish, on the other hand, could save a lot of trouble by converting to Cyrillic


I disagree once again. Polish spelling could of course be improved, but I sincerely don't think using the Cyrillic alphabet would make it any easier. You can check the Polish Corner thread to see a discussion on this issue. How would you write Ł in Cyrillic? Soft consonants would need 2 letters to be written, while now they can be written with one most of the time. And you'd need to get 2 letters from Old Church Slavonic to represent nasal vowels. The ó/u distinction is also useful, but I guess that would be lost in Cyrillic and both would become У or you'd have to get some other letter or diacritic to represent it. Ó is used instead of U when a word has an U:O sound shift in one of its declensions. Ex. Bóg/Boga; mój/moje Looks more logical to me than having it be Bug/Boga and muj/moje, don't you think so?

In the end, you'd end up with Polish written in the Cyrillic alphabet with extra letters and other unique characteristics.
Save a lot of trouble? I really don't think so...
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Postby Vlacko » 2004-09-06, 18:11

Luis what about grammar, genders?
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Postby Geist » 2004-09-06, 18:25

Luís wrote:I don't get this. Just because Polish has acute accents over consonants and other weird symbols doesn't really make the spelling itself difficult to learn... :roll:
A difficult spelling would be one that is inconsistent/non-phonetic. Like English or French. When you see a Polish word written down you know how it sounds 99% of the time. I can't say the same about other languages with supposedly "easier spellings". You can say the spelling is awkward or graphically unattractive, but that doesn't make it necessarily "more difficult".

As a practical example, let's compare Polish, Slovak and Czech diacritics:

Polish uses the following letters with diacritics on them: ą ć ę ł ń ó ś ź ż (9 in total)
Czech uses the following letters with diacritics on them: á č d' é ě í ň ó ř š t' ú ů ý ž (15 in total)
Slovak uses the following letters with diacritics on them: á ä č d' é í l'ĺ ň ó ô ŕ š t' ú ý ž (17 in total)

So, I'd appreciate you actually get a reason to say why Polish is the most difficult Slavic language (and I'm not saying it's not!) other than "oh it must be, cause they use many diacritics on their letters"... :roll:

Geist wrote:Actually, even though people say Slavic languages should ideally be written in Cyrillic, I find the Serbian/Croatian Latin alphabet as good as its Cyrillic one. Polish, on the other hand, could save a lot of trouble by converting to Cyrillic


I disagree once again. Polish spelling could of course be improved, but I sincerely don't think using the Cyrillic alphabet would make it any easier. You can check the Polish Corner thread to see a discussion on this issue. How would you write Ł in Cyrillic? Soft consonants would need 2 letters to be written, while now they can be written with one most of the time. And you'd need to get 2 letters from Old Church Slavonic to represent nasal vowels. The ó/u distinction is also useful, but I guess that would be lost in Cyrillic and both would become У or you'd have to get some other letter or diacritic to represent it. Ó is used instead of U when a word has an U:O sound shift in one of its declensions. Ex. Bóg/Boga; mój/moje Looks more logical to me than having it be Bug/Boga and muj/moje, don't you think so?

In the end, you'd end up with Polish written in the Cyrillic alphabet with extra letters and other unique characteristics.
Save a lot of trouble? I really don't think so...

Luís, you seem to know a lot more than me about Polish :). However, I still think that one of the reasons Polish is tricky is the way it's written. I didn't know there was a good reason for the letters u and ó to have the same sound, but what about ż and rz or h and ch? And aren't the letters ą and ę pronounced differently depending on the consonants that follow them (i.e. not always simply a nazalized o or e sound)? As to the Cyrillic question - it's true that palatilized consonants would need to be written with 2 letters, but isn't this also done regularly in Polish on some occasions (i.e. ni vs. ń)? Wouldn't it be better to simply used one method of showing palatilization? Finally, other languages have used new Cyrillic letters to represent unique sounds; why couldn't Polish? And wouldn't it be easier to use a single letter like щ to represent the sound currently written szcz, x for ch, etc.?
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Postby Luís » 2004-09-06, 18:39

Vlacko wrote:Luis what about grammar, genders?


I don't know enough about other Slavic languages besides Polish to know which one has the most complicated grammar. Like I said before, from my point of view I think all Slavic languages would carry more or less the same degree of difficulty to me. Both Serbian and Polish have the same number of cases and they work similarly. Both these languages have imperfect/perfect verb pairs. They share a lot of common Slavic vocabulary. These are the things that I find the hardest and that work very differently from my mother tongue. And in that sense, these languages aren't too different from eachother. Then I'm sure there are also a lot of things between the two that work very differently and some might be easier in Polish and others might be easier in Serbian.

Anyway, Polish can be the "hardest slavonic language" if you all want it to be :) I was just commenting on the fact that you can't say that *just* basing yourselves on the way the language is spelt.
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Postby Luís » 2004-09-06, 19:06

Geist wrote:I didn't know there was a good reason for the letters u and ó to have the same sound, but what about ż and rz or h and ch?


As far as I know, the reason is etymological only. I think I remember Fenek once mentioning it to me that "h" and "ch" were pronounced differently in the past (and it seems they still are in Slovak), but that this distinction was eventually lost. Anyway, I still think these details don't say much about a language difficulty. Spanish, for instance, is usually considered an easy language with an easy spelling by most people and yet they use 2 letters (j/g) for the [x] sound and another 2 (z/c) for the [T] sound. Further on, they have mute h and both c and g can represent 2 different sounds depending on which letter they precede...
Plus, this etymological difference helps the learner most of the time ;) I think it's easier to memorise and recognize words like hotel/historia or chemik/Chiny than if they were written hotel/historia/hemik/hiny or chotel/chistoria/chemik/chiny. Now this would be an ugly spelling! :P

Geist wrote:And aren't the letters ą and ę pronounced differently depending on the consonants that follow them (i.e. not always simply a nazalized o or e sound)?


Yes, but there are rules for that and it's regular. Just like there are for the consonant voicing/devoicing. And this last feature happens in all Slavic languages, as far as I know. Even German has it somehow. They write "Tag" but read "Tak", they write "Mund", but read "Munt", for example.

Geist wrote:As to the Cyrillic question - it's true that palatilized consonants would need to be written with 2 letters, but isn't this also done regularly in Polish on some occasions (i.e. ni vs. ń)?


Yes. You write it with consonant + i when a vowel follows it and the accentuated version elsewhere. I said "most of the time" ;) In Cyrillic you had to do it "all the time". That's the big difference. It's more practical to write ść than 4 Cyrillic letters.

Geist wrote:Finally, other languages have used new Cyrillic letters to represent unique sounds; why couldn't Polish?


You got me wrong. I'm not saying it couldn't. In fact, it would have to. What I'm saying is that you guys where complaining about Polish spelling precisely because it needs to use some extra letters and symbols to be written in the Latin alphabet. My point is that it would also have to use extra letters and symbols to be written in Cyrillic , so I don't really see the point in changing from one to the other to start with :)

Geist wrote:And wouldn't it be easier to use a single letter like щ to represent the sound currently written szcz, x for ch, etc.?


It would. But as we've seen using Cyrillic wouldn't just bring advantages. Writing Polish in Cyrillic is not exactly perfect to make it worth the change.
And I certainly think that it would make it harder for a student to learn Polish spelling that way than how it is now (unless the student's native language is written in Cyrillic).
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Postby Geist » 2004-09-06, 21:22

Well, Luís, I still can't agree with you, but you do have some good points. I still think Polish spelling is harder than that of most other languages, but now I understand a little better why some of the irregularities exist. Thanks for the info! :D And even though I still believe Polish is the hardest Slavic language, it does seem a little easier.
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Postby Geist » 2004-09-06, 21:27

And while we are comparing Slavic languages, I have a question regarding Polish: I've read that it has 7 cases, including the vocative. In Russian, the vocative is only used in some archaic phrases; Russian is only considered to have 6 cases. Is the case active (as active as the vocative can be :wink:) in Polish, or is it not used, as in Russian? Also, is this case present/active in other Slavic languages?
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Postby kibo » 2004-09-06, 21:35

Luís wrote:I don't get this. Just because Polish has acute accents over consonants and other weird symbols doesn't really make the spelling itself difficult to learn... :roll:


Hey, I never said that!! Don't put words in my mouth! :evil:

It was Vlacko who said he didn't like the letters with diacritics in Polish, but he also mentioned Czech, so I think his complaint was on the Western Slavonic languages in generall, which, compared to the Slovene and Serbo-Croatian latin alphabets, do have a lot of diacritics.

As for me, I never said I disliked letters with diacritics, on the contrary, I love them. I would replace our lj and nj with ł and ń anyday. (Some may remember that I posted recently on this subject.) When I said I consider Polish spelling to be messier (and I'm not saying that Czech/Slovak isn't messy too), I actually meant cz, sz, dz, dź, dż, which is messy to *me*.

Luís wrote:So, I'd appreciate you actually get a reason to say why Polish is the most difficult Slavic language (and I'm not saying it's not!) other than "oh it must be, cause they use many diacritics on their letters"... :roll:


Sure! I actually consider my aversion towards cz, sz, ... to be just that - an aversion. Not a real obstacle. But there's something else too.... the pronunciation.

There are two reasons for that. The first one is personal: The only part in linguistics I hate is Phonetics/Phonology. And I always suck at pronunciation, so I would prefer if it was as simple as possible. (Our definitions on what's simple might differ, though. :))

The other reason is what every Slavic native will tell you, and that's that Slavs can more-or-less understand (partially) other Slavic written languages, but not the spoken ones. I do find all those things like vocabulary, grammar, etc, similar in all slavic languages, so the crucial factor (for me) on the hardness would be pronunciation.

First of all the biggest thing that seems hard are the nasal vowels. It may not be hard for you as a Portuguese speaker, but for me it is. I've never mastered them in French completely, in Portuguese they're a pain, even though the language sounds very beautiful because of them.

Than there's the matter of ł being /w/. I kinda always forget that, and automatically read it in my mind as /l/ or /lj/. I'm afraid I might never get used to that. :?

ś, ź, and dz are really not that hard, but I could do without them.

Also I must say that I consider all West Slavonic languages harder than East and South, only that (for *me*) Polish has a small lead in it. But also that even though it may be harder, I would still choose Polish over Czech. (I guess I have a thing for complicated languages. :P)

Luís wrote:A difficult spelling would be one that is inconsistent/non-phonetic. Like English or French. When you see a Polish word written down you know how it sounds 99% of the time.


But is it the other way around?



Luís wrote:You can check the Polish Corner thread to see a discussion on this issue.


Where exactly? (Once again the forum search function resulted useless. :?)
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Postby Luís » 2004-09-06, 21:57

Geist wrote:And while we are comparing Slavic languages, I have a question regarding Polish: I've read that it has 7 cases, including the vocative. In Russian, the vocative is only used in some archaic phrases; Russian is only considered to have 6 cases. Is the case active (as active as the vocative can be :wink:) in Polish, or is it not used, as in Russian? Also, is this case present/active in other Slavic languages?


I suppose a native speaker will have a better answer for you, but my impression is that though the Vocative might be becoming less and less used in Polish, it's not actually dead/dying yet. While in informal situations Poles would rather use the nominative ("Cześć Marek!" [Nom.] rather than "Cześć Marku!"[Voc.]) the case seems to be more alive in formal contacts ("Dzień dobry panie profesorze/doktorze!" [Voc.] rather than "Dzień dobry pan profesor/doktor" [Nom.]).

And this illustrates another thing about Polish spelling that I didn't remember a while ago :) - These r:rz changes seem more consistent than if they were written r:ż (doktor -> doktorze vs doktor -> doktoże). I believe rz was pronounced differently before as well. I think that when you try to make a connection with Czech, Polish ż would correspond to Czech ž and Polish rz would correspond to Czech ř.

You'll find it interesting to know that ironically, while in most Slavic languages the Vocative is getting out of use, Bulgarian, who lost all cases, kept the Vocative :)
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Postby Strigo » 2004-09-06, 22:03

Geist wrote:And while we are comparing Slavic languages, I have a question regarding Polish: I've read that it has 7 cases, including the vocative. In Russian, the vocative is only used in some archaic phrases; Russian is only considered to have 6 cases. Is the case active (as active as the vocative can be :wink:) in Polish, or is it not used, as in Russian? Also, is this case present/active in other Slavic languages?


Ukrainian also has vocative, I think.

Wow, this discussion is so interesting! Thanks Luis for your speeches. They're so cool :)

As for me, Polish spelling isn't that hard... I'd say Latinamerican Spanish would be harder, you have to know by hard when using "s" and "c" because they both sound the same! /s/

Polish is very beautiful, does any other Slavic language have that i with the "w" sound?? Where did it come from? I also love the ringed u in Czech, which was pronunced differently in the past, and as far as I know they do sound the same as u.... so Polish isn't the hardest language to spell.

Luís, does ó and u have the same pronunciation?

As far as I can see, Serbian language is easier to me. I don't see pretty mcuh troubles with it, but I haven't studied.... so I can't forsee or misjudge. :P

Do Slovaks have the same "r" with a hacék like Czech? It's a very difficult sound, is it like "rzh"??

About word stress, Poilsh words have a re gular stress, so Czech. But Russian hasn't so it makes it a bit difficult to pronounce!.

Well, nothing profound is being written with my fingers today, it seems. But I love slavic languages :)
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Postby kibo » 2004-09-06, 22:19

Geist wrote:Also, is this case present/active in other Slavic languages?


Vocative is live and well in Serbian. ;)
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Postby Luís » 2004-09-06, 22:20

Bugi wrote:Hey, I never said that!! Don't put words in my mouth!


Ok, I'm sorry. I quoted you 3 and answered to all below when I probably should have separated it in parts.

Bugi wrote:When I said I consider Polish spelling to be messier (and I'm not saying that Czech/Slovak isn't messy too), I actually meant cz, sz, dz, dź, dż, which is messy to *me*.


Aha. I get what you mean. But I don't really find it messy, maybe because I'm too used to seeing 2 letters used to represent such sounds (unlike you in Serbian). Even English uses "sh" for sz and "ch" for "cz", Spanish uses "ch" for "cz" , Portuguese and French use "ch" for "sz", Hungarian uses "cs" for "cz" and "zs" for "ż/rz" and so on.

Bugi wrote:I do find all those things like vocabulary, grammar, etc, similar in all slavic languages, so the crucial factor (for me) on the hardness would be pronunciation.


I understand what you mean. But I believe that when Car asks this question she wants to know which one might be the hardest one to learn from and "outsider" point of view. Also for me, pronunciation is just a part of the picture, because Slavic languages are completely different from the language I speak.

Bugi wrote:First of all the biggest thing that seems hard are the nasal vowels.


Ok, I agree this might be a problem for some people. But then again they're just 2 and the situations in which they are pronounced as "pure nasals" don't occur that often. Once again, we enter into the realms of subjectivity, but as I said before, I find pronouncing that dreadful Czech ř or having long vowels in unstressed syllables harder.

Bugi wrote:Than there's the matter of ł being /w/. I kinda always forget that, and automatically read it in my mind as /l/ or /lj/. I'm afraid I might never get used to that.


You will. Especially if you start learning the language. I once thought I would never get used to having "rz" sound like ž, but I'm completely over it by now :)

Bugi wrote:But is it the other way around?


Obviously not the other way around. That's why I didn't even mention it. But then again, there aren't that many languages written in the Latin script in which you can actually do this... :roll:
And btw, I find it more useful to a student to be able to read something that's written down than to write down something that someone's saying, specially if you're a beginner :)

Bugi wrote:Where exactly? (Once again the forum search function resulted useless. )


:lol: No idea either! Somewhere in the middle of those tens of pages! Good luck finding it! :lol: The Forum search never really worked that well... :roll:
Quot linguas calles, tot homines vales

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Luís
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Postby Luís » 2004-09-06, 22:38

Strigo wrote:Polish is very beautiful, does any other Slavic language have that i with the "w" sound??


You mean Ł?
I think this letter is unique to Polish. However, it's probable that other Slavic languages have the [w] sound as well. I have no idea.

Strigo wrote:Luís, does ó and u have the same pronunciation?


Yes. They both sound the same, like Spanish u.

Strigo wrote:Do Slovaks have the same "r" with a hacék like Czech? It's a very difficult sound, is it like "rzh"??


Fortunately they don't - ř seems to be unique to Czech. But they've got ŕ, which is a long 'r'. I don't really know how to describe this sound as I've only heard a few sound clips, but it seems like a kind of an r with a schwa before it (as in the last part of the English word 'her').

Strigo wrote:About word stress, Poilsh words have a re gular stress, so Czech. But Russian hasn't so it makes it a bit difficult to pronounce!.


Good point. Both Polish and Czech have regular stress, unlike Russian.
However, for a Spanish speaker, Polish stress might seem easier than the Czech one. In Spanish stressing the first syllable (especially in words that sometimes have 4, 5 or more syllables) never happens, so this can be hard to catch when speaking Czech.
And another thing no-one has mentioned yet: Russian has vowel reduction. When you add vowel reduction to an unpredictable stress pattern, what you get is that you'll never be quite sure how to pronounce a word :) Considering it's all written in Cyrillic to top that, I think I'd have many more problems with Russian than with Polish, Czech or Slovak ;)
Quot linguas calles, tot homines vales

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Postby FNORD » 2004-09-06, 23:07

Hi! Well I haven't read most of this thread, but anyway:
If i'm not wrong Russian is slavic, right? Well i'm kind of learning it, and i'd like to know how hard do you consider it to be (specially Luís, as we have the same mother tongue).


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