Essential Bosnian Phrases for the First-Time Traveller

May 31st, 2013

A collection of basic phrases in Bosnian to help any tourist survive a brief trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

If you can’t take the time to learn Bosanski (Bosnian), these phrases will at least get you through a few days in that dynamic, interesting country.

Basic Politeness in Bosnian

Bosnian is a language that has formal and informal modes – so you’ll need to do some double-memorising if you’re going to avoid offending anyone. To say a simple hello, for example, the formal mode is dobar dan, used when you’re first meeting someone, but after you’ve been introduced you can switch to zdravo or merhaba. (Note that on the phone it’s more common to say halo or molim.)

To ask someone how are you? you say kako si? (informal) or kako ste? (formal), and to respond with I'm fine, thanks. And you? you can say ja sam dobro, hvala. A vi? I wouldn’t recommend too much honesty when playing the tourist, so let’s keep that your only response!

Some basic polite greetings as you tour the country: good morning (dobro jutro), good afternoon (dobar dan), good evening (dobro veče).

Useful Bosnian

Once you’ve made some friends with a smile and the right phrase of greeting, there are a few useful phrases I think everyone needs to know, starting with I don't understand – because you don’t actually speak Bosnian! That would be ne razumijem. You’ll also find please speak more slowly to be very, very useful – that’s molim te malo sporije (informal) or molim vas malo sporije (formal).

You might like to imagine that you’re above basic needs while travelling, but don’t be embarrassed – we all need a water closet from time to time. To find out where one might be, you can ask gdje je toalet. Believe me, if you only have time for one phrase, that one should be it!

Trouble

If you have some trouble while travelling in Bosnia and Herzegovina, three phrases will be indispensable: Leave me alone! (Pusti me na miru!), help! (upomoć!), and call the police! (pozovite policiju!). Naturally I hope you don’t actually need those phrases, but it’s always better to be safe rather than sorry – and you never know.

This is, of course, a very bare-bones list of phrases designed to meet the most basic needs. With these phrases, a phrasebook or dictionary, and some mime skills, you should be able to make your way through Bosnia and Herzegovina with only minimal trouble, even if you don’t find any English speakers. For a richer experience – learn to speak Bosanski!

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