Denison, Benjamin

Name: Benjamin Denison
Location of Study: USA
Program of Study: Bosnian/Croatian
Sponsor(s): Robert Berner

6 thoughts on “Denison, Benjamin

  1. Pre-Departure –
    I am really looking forward to heading to Pittsburgh to begin my journey towards learning Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian or BCS for short. What was once 1 language has now become 3 different languages (possibly 4 if you include Montenegrin), and I am interested to see how these differences have manifested since the breakup of Yugoslavia. I am aiming to achieve a solid foundation this summer in BCS to help with my future research in the region. The information the program at Pittsburgh has given to us so far has made me quite excited to get started and seems to be directly focused on the practical language learning process that I am hoping will best suit me. Hopefully I will learn more after my first day and hit the ground running!

    • First week-
      My first week of class was a great experience. I arrived in Pittsburgh Sunday evening and immediately began classes on Monday morning. Things are going quite quickly in class but I am learning a lot and enjoying my time here. Each Tuesday and Thursday, we get to watch a different film from all the different Slavic countries represented in the program, and it is interesting to examine modern cinema in these countries and see how modern life is represented. Additionally, each Friday we have a BCS movie, which this week was a Croatian movie called Sonja and the Bull. This was a fantastic comedy which I highly recommend for everyone, and don’t worry, it has subtitles. On Saturday night, the American Serbian Club of Pittsburgh hosted a party with a Serbian DJ the class went out dancing with our teachers. It was a great time where we learned to Kola(Serbian folk dancing) and ate cevapci, which I remember from my time in Belgrade.

      In terms of BCS learning, it is going great, but one interesting thing that is sometimes difficult to remember is the lack of pronouns and articles in BCS. There is no “the” in BCS. I never though that not having “the” in a sentance would trip me up as much as it has, but I am getting the hang of it. I am looking forward to my second week as things will start increasing exponentially. For now, I am going to sit back, and enjoying the ride as my language skills continue to expand.

      • Over the previous weeks there were technically difficulties that prevented me from uploading any blog entries. Luckily, I wrote them down in a word document and will upload them now that I am able to.

        Week 3:
        I have reached the halfway point in the program and so far I am really enjoying it. My teachers have told me that I am progressing quite well with the language, and I am able to hold basic conversations for lengthy amounts of time, which is quite challenging but rewarding at the same time. Over the past two weeks, I have enjoyed my time in Pittsburgh while also enjoying the various program activities. The entire program went on a trip to see a baseball game at beautiful PNC Park, where the views of the Pittsburgh skyline and just tremendous. In the program, this week we hosted a Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian happy hour where we cooked traditional B/C/S foods, danced some more Kolo and sang traditional folk songs. On the menu were various traditional desserts and salads, but most excitingly we had a full roasted lamb, which was absolutely delicious. Everyone had a great time as we danced, ate, and sang until we could not sang any longer.

        The language continues to be interesting, and learning the slight differences between Serbian and Croatian is very interesting. While most of the difference is a dialect difference (such as the difference between lep and lijep), there are some big grammatical differences. This week we learned about modal verbs, and found that in Croatian you only conjugate the modal verb and the not the subsequent verb, whereas in Serbian you conjugate both verbs with “da” in between. Using modal verbs allows for more complex sentences where instead of just saying that you read, one can now say I want to read. Next week, we move on to more challenging topics and I am already looking forward to it!

        • Continuing with my technically delayed entries…

          Week 5:
          2 more weeks have been completed and I am starting to love the language more and more as each day passes. While the learning has definitely become more difficult, as evidenced by the increasing length of my homework assignments, I am continually advancing and becoming more adept at the language. In addition to traditionally classes this week, all the students needed to do cultural presentations about some interesting aspect of the Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian speaking areas. I heard many great presentations on music, public art, tennis, home medicines, rock music and other interesting topics. For my presentation, I decided to focus on one of big passions, namely, soccer. When I was in Belgrade, one of the biggest things that you immediately notice is how almost everyone in town is split in terms of their favorite soccer club. In Belgrade, the two famous clubs are Red Star and Partizan, and these teams have been rivals since their inception following World War II. As Belgrade is called the eternal city, the rivalry is appropriately entitled the Eternal Derby. Presenting on the rivalry and researching its origins, it was fascinating to examine the role politics played and how politics was influenced by the soccer clubs and their fans. However, there is also some great soccer played by both clubs over the years and that was the most interesting part of examining their history.

          In terms of the language, these past two weeks we have mostly focused on past and future tenses, really allowing me to have a much fuller grasp of the language and how to discuss activities occurring at all times. The past tense was interesting to learn, because the past participle of the verb is not conjugated based on who the speaker is referring to, but instead based on the gender and either singular or plural. It is an interesting reversal from previous languages I have encountered. In the future tense, another big difference between Croatian and Serbian emerges as there is a slight variation in how Croatian and Serbian future tenses are written, even though they are spoken the same way. Now that I am five weeks into the language, I am routinely holding conversations with classmates, speaking with instructors and advanced students and using the language quite effectively. It is a great feeling to be able to use my language skills I have obtained and with only one week left I am looking forward to continuing to use them.

          • Continuing with my technically delayed entries…

            Week 6:

            I’m sad to say that this was my final week of class, and even though I have learned a lot, there is still much more I could learn. This week, I took my final written and oral exam, which was kind of an adventure. After doing quite well on my final written exam, the next day I had my exit interview/final oral exam all in B/C/S. However, that morning I accidentally locked myself out of my apartment, so instead of mentally preparing myself for my exam, I was flustered trying to resolve the situation. But there was a silver lining. When I arrived for my exam, my instructors asked how I was, and I explained in B/C/S exactly what had happened and why I was flustered. While this was not part of the exam, it felt great to be able to express myself in my new language and really made me feel like I was gaining some mastery of the material. After the actual exam, the instructors informed me that I had accomplished a great deal and they were really happy with my progress, even saying that I was a quick thinker and really understand the language. After the exam, we had a final ceremony where all the language groups did a small presentation and received diplomas from the program. For our presentation, the B/C/S group did a skit of Balkan Family Feud, which featured many humorous categories about B/C/S culture. Overall the whole day was a success and I am sad I will be leaving.

            As my final language update, we did not learn much new grammar this week, but did learn some interesting things by asking my professors. Namely, in B/C/S there is no real double negative and if you are using a negative, the verb has to be negative as well. This really confuses some when translating into English. Also, this week we watched a few cartoons and read a few children’s stories which I was able to comprehend. While some of the words I did not learn yet, from the rest of the sentence I could figure out what was going on. Being able to read these basic things, while seemingly small, really are a great progress in my language journey.