English Serbian translation

About our written translation service

An exhaustive approach

We have developed an exhaustive approach to our translation work which involves multiple stages in the translation process and ensures a high quality of service. This is an example of a typical workflow:

  1. You, the client, send us your source document, say in English, usually by email, whether it be text for a website, brochure or other material you plan to publish in Serbian.
  2. After we have exchanged essential information with you about the purpose of the text and your specific needs, we allocate a team member to the task who we think is best suited for that type of text and who is, of course, a native speaker of Serbian, or English in the reverse case.
  3. The translator begins work on the project, using all the technical and other means we have at our disposal. In particular we emphasise the use of the Internet for research and of CAT (Computer Aided Translation) tools for accuracy and consistency.
  4. Along the way, if the type of translation demands it, the translator also populates a glossary which is used to standardise the terminology used in this text and in future projects we may undertake for you. We will usually submit this glossary to you for inspection as our clients often have an existing base of established terminology in their field, especially in English.
  5. When the initial draft is complete (we call it Draft 1 internally), the text is returned to the senior editor, usually with plenty of comments and queries – we like to think of translation as a dialogue within our team. This draft is sent to a second colleague, also a native speaker, whose task it is to give a second opinion, correct typographical and grammatical errors, and even correct translation errors – we are under no illusions, no first draft of a translation can be perfect and only with this type of double- and triple-checking can we polish the text to the standard you expect!
  6. This version (Draft 2) then comes back to the senior editor who him-/herself checks the entire document and has the final say on the text. In the case of English to Serbian translation the editor (who will be a native English speaker) will compare the source and translated text to ensure absolute accuracy of translation. We just don’t leave anything to chance! This Draft 3 version is then sent to the client.
  7. The client is given the opportunity to respond to any outstanding queries. There are usually a few issues only you can resolve – you know your subject area best! This Draft 4 is returned to the senior editor.
  8. The senior editor makes any last changes, cleans up the text and proofs it entirely one more time. This is usually the final version, Draft 5, though in practice there are usually further revisions – the text is not finished until we are absolutely satisfied. This final draft is sent to the customer for publication with our guarantee of quality.
  9. Often, especially in the case of web materials, we will spot-check the published text at a later date to ensure no mistakes crept in during the desktop-publishing stage.

Experience and practice have taught us that the above is the minimum required to ensure that you, our client, receive the quality of English-Serbian or Serbian-English translation that you expect from a Five-Star translation service!

Translating Serbian idioms

Did you know that in Serbian it is hard to get a frog into water? Like most (all?) languages, Serbian has a wealth of idioms and other types of sayings that have arisen over the centuries of the language’s development and are often colourful, pithy and apt. Sometimes they are closely tied to Serbian or Balkan culture or perhaps village life, and a translation from Serbian into English would be difficult or even impossible. In other cases they would work quite well in English – you almost wonder why they don’t exist in English already!

In recent years, people in Serbia have amused themselves by "literally" translating idioms from Serbian to English, which results in complete nonsense most of the time (like most literal translations). These "translations" tend to be far more amusing to Serbian speakers than to English speakers, who are often left bemused by them, while the Serbs roar with laughter as they try, through their tears, to explain the play on words. Let’s just say it sounds funnier to the Serbian speaker than the English speaker, usually!

We are not talking about these "funny translations" here, though. Instead we thought it would be nice to list some good translations from Serbian to English of idioms that would work in both languages to an extent, even if all their nuances, connotations and rhythm can never fully be conveyed, and if we have to tweak them a little to get them to trip off the tongue in English. Some of them even sound remarkably similar to expressions in English. We’ll let you figure those out for yourselves! Idioms, sayings and proverbs can give us an insight into the beauty and depth of a language so that we can appreciate it more – and you never know, perhaps some of them might enter the English language one day! (oh, and you can sign up to WikiSpaces and help contribute to this page if you have any good translations of your own!) By the way, many of these expressions are used in the other languages of the former Yugoslavia too.

"Don’t go looking for a hair in an egg" (Serbian – Ne traži dlaku u jajetu), meaning "don’t go out of your way to find fault in something", conjures up the image of someone rummaging through an egg looking for a hair that they are obviously unlikely to find! Similar to this is "Don’t try to force poppy seed onto a piece of thread" (Serbian – Ne teraj mak na konac), a poppy seed of course being very tiny. Anyone trying to thread a length of cotton through a poppy seed is stubbornly trying to achieve a goal to the exclusion of common sense. In this context people might also criticise someone for "…straightening winding Drinas" (Serbian – Ispravljanje krivih Drina). The Drina river on the Serbia-Bosnia border is very winding, and straightening it out (let alone several of them, hence the plural) is an impossible task. Don’t bother trying to fix something that just can’t be fixed.

"A good horse kicks up dust" (Serbian – Za dobrim konjem prašina se diže) no longer refers just to horses, but to people too. If you have some worth in an area of life then your reputation will speak for itself, much as the dust will billow up behind a powerful horse. Perhaps people are talking about you for some reason (it might not even be complimentary!) – you can say, "Well, a good horse kicks up dust!" Speaking of horses, Serbian has an expression, "You should not look a gift in the teeth", which of course has the same origins as the English, "Never look a gift-horse in the mouth", i.e. don’t weigh up the value of a gift – a gift is a gift and is to be accepted as such. Staying on the subject of our equine friends, if you ever get into a boasting match with someone, perhaps on the size of their prize pumpkin, you might well say, "Well, we have a horse for the race, too!" (Serbian – I mi konja za trku imamo), meaning, "You are not the only one who has one that big, wait till you see ours!"

What about, "The wolf is full and no sheep are missing" (Serbian – Vuk sit i sve ovce na broju). You might loosely translate this into English as "It’s a win-win situation". The wolf is satisfied and no sheep had to get eaten, always a good result in any walk of life. While we are on the subject of wolves, if you are talking about somebody and just that minute they walk in on your conversation you might say "We mentioned the wolf and he knocked on the door" (Serbian – Mi o vuku a vuk na vrata). Provided you are happy with them knowing you were talking about them, of course. Not unlike "…talk of the devil..!"

Here are some more!:



  • "The mountain shook but a mouse was born" (Serbian – Tresla se gora, rodio se miš) – much ado about nothing, a storm in a teacup.

  • "It’s hard to get a frog in the water" (Serbian – Teško žabu u vodu naterati) – meant ironically, an attempt at persuasion that is considered a pushover! "Did John agree to come and play football with us?" "Well, we managed to twist his arm!"

  • "Until dusk falls for one man, dawn cannot come for another" (Serbian: Dok jednom ne smrkne drugom ne svane). A bit more concise in Serbian, but meaning one man’s ill fortune is another’s good fortune.

  • "Better a sparrow in the hand than a falcon on the branch" (Serbian: Bolje vrabac u ruci, nego soko na grani) – no further explanation required there!

  • "He who has burned himself on milk will blow on yoghurt too!" (Serbian: Ko se jednom na mleko opece taj i u jogurt duva) – "Once bitten, twice shy"!

  • "The early riser grabs good fortune twice!" (Serbian: Ko rano rani dve sreće grabi) – "The early bird catches the worm". Except it’s TWICE the luck in Serbian!


We will keep adding to this list – let us know if you have some good suggestions of your own!

About the Serbian language

Where it fits in

Serbian is a South-Slavic language, spoken chiefly in Serbia, now an independent Republic, formerly part of Yugoslavia before its breakup. The South Slavic language group also includes:

  • Slovene
  • Macedonian
  • Bulgarian
  • Croatian
  • Montenegrin
  • Bosnian

This means that these languages share a high degree of similarity with Serbian, and their speakers can to a greater or lesser extent understand one another. Actually, if it were not for political considerations, Serbian and the last three languages listed above would be considered variants of the same language (and indeed were in the former Yugoslavia, under the label of Serbo-Croat, a term which is no longer used). However, it is impossible to discuss this subject without igniting passions on all sides and so it is best left out here. Suffice to say that speakers of these four languages can fully understand one another and there are few professionals working in Serbian-English translation who would turn down work in any of these languages, at least when translating into English. In the EU and UN organisations this group of languages is often diplomatically referred to as "BCS" (Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian) and is treated as a single language, especially for translation and interpreting purposes. However, when translating into Croatian, Serbian or one of the other former Yugoslav languages, a native of those languages must be employed to assure the unique characteristics of the language/dialect in question. A Serbian text in Croatia just will not do, and not just for the political reasons alluded to earlier.

Actually, the South Slavic languages illustrate an interesting phenomenon called the language continuum, where in truth there is no real clear boundary between these languages - rather, as one travels across the region where they are spoken, there is a gradual transition from one spoken form to the other. This is particularly true of the former "Serbo-Croat" languages, but also to an extent of Bulgarian and Macedonian, which transition into Serbian via intermediate dialects spoken in those southern areas, and Slovene, which is very similar to a Croatian dialect called kajkavian spoken in an area of Croatian that borders with Slovenia.

This is all indicative of a wider picture - all of the South Slavic dialects and languages belong to the wider Slavic group which includes Russian, Ukrainian and Belorussian (East Slavic languages) and Czech, Slovak and Polish (West Slavic languages). There are no North Slavic languages.

What it looks like

Serbian is written phonetically - this means that spelling rules are (almost) entirely predictable. As long as you know the pronunciation of a single letter, you can generally know how a word is pronounced since the sounds of letters rarely change, regardless of the word they are used in or the position they occupy in relation to other letters. That does make it a lot easier to read Serbian because you can literally string the letters together and pronounce the word accurately. On the other hand, Serbian can be written not only with the Latin alphabet, but with the Cyrillic, too, which can be a stumbling block for foreigners wanting to learn the language. Cyrillic is familiar to most people since Russian is written exclusively in Cyrillic script - Serbian uses a version of Cyrillic that is slightly different, with some letters which are not present in Russian and vice-versa. Also, Serbian can be written in the Latin alphabet too. Despite Cyrillic being the "official" alphabet, Latin is also recognised and is in fact seen as a serious threat to the survival of the Cyrillic script by many. Still, anyone learning Serbian needs to get to grips with Cyrillic too as they will encounter it very frequently.

The Serbian language can be perceived as quite difficult by English speakers trying to learn it. Probably the main reason for this is that Serbian, like most of the Slavic languages, is a highly inflected or fusional language. This basically means that words are subject to many different changes, depending on their relation to other words, their gender, whether they are repeated or single actions and many other finesses that English speakers find hard to grasp. The classic example of this is the the case system, or system of declension. Declension hardly exists in English any more, though will be familiar to anyone who learned Latin or Greek. It means that nouns change form depending on their relationship to the subject of the sentence.

So crvena knjiga is red book (note that the ending a denotes the feminine gender here too, another complication to face!). But I saw the red book is video sam crvenu knjigu - this is known as the accusative case and denotes a direct object, just as in English we would say "He is tall", but "I saw him" (not, "I saw HE"!) Only, in English, these are just remnants. In Serbian we have seven of these cases, all fully operational, and which have to be learned across all four genders, and the contexts in which they are used has to be learned too, of course. Yes, this is rather difficult, but on the other hand, there ARE rules that can be learned and there are not a huge number of exceptions or irregularities. Many English speakers have learned to speak Serbian fluently.

However if you are not planning to learn Serbian or the other 'BCS' languages, but just need translation, well, look no further - we have you covered!

Google Translate goes Serbian!

Should human translation companies be worried?

“Machine translation” – translators shudder at the very sound of those words! Partly in disgust, because of our firmly-held belief that a computer will never replace a superior human translator (like us), partly because we are scared to death that it will! So we either vehemently criticise machine translation, or we carefully skirt round the subject and hope, for example, that our customers won't find out about the recently-introduced Serbian-English translation tool, made available for free by the almighty Google!

Because the fact is that Google’s translation tool, which now provides automatic translation into English of Serbian websites and of copy-pasted blocks of Serbian text, is really surprisingly good! And rather than acting as if it didn’t exist, we think it is better that we got this subject out in the open and examined its implications for our customers and for the translation industry in general. So this will be the first in what we hope will be a series of articles looking at automatic and machine translation, both in the context of Serbian-English translation and of translation in general. We will look at the quality of automatic Serbian-English translation, the relative merits of machine translation as compared to human translation, delve a little into the underlying issues (there may even be a little philosophy involved!) and look at the implications of machine translation for the industry and for our clients.

First, let’s carry out a little experiment. We took a paragraph of Serbian text from the Odista website and pasted it into the Google Serbian-English translation tool (here). The original Serbian text is from this page and reads as follows:

Engleski sa pet zvezdica

Vrhunska usluga pismenog prevoda sa srpskog na engleski jezik

Polazimo od uverenja da prevod na neki jezik može adekvatno da uradi jedino izvorni govornik tog jezika.

Zato u našem jedinstvenom timu prevod na engleski jezik vrše isključivo Englezi koji se dugi niz godina služe srpskim jezikom.

Specijalizovali smo se za prevod i lokalizaciju materijala kao što su:

  • vebsajtovi,
  • brošure,
  • katalozi,
  • turistički materijali

koji moraju biti napisani na savršenom engleskom jeziku.

In English, this text would look something like this (translated by a human):

Five-Star English

Premium Serbian to English written translation services

We operate on the basis of the belief that translation into a language can only be carried out to a satisfactory standard by a native speaker of that language.

That is why, in our unique translation team, translations into the English language are only carried out by native English speakers who have been proficient in Serbian for many years.

We specialise in the translation and localisation of materials such as:

  • websites,
  • brochures,
  • catalogues,
  • tourist materials,

that must be written in perfect English.

Within a few seconds, Google Translate outputs the following translation into English:

English with five stars

Premium written translation services to the Serbian into English

Is based on the belief that a translation of the language may be adequate to do only the original speaker of the language.

Therefore, in our unique team of translation in the English language made only English is used for many years serbian language.

We specialize in the translation and localization of materials such as:

  • Websites
  • Brochures
  • Catalogs
  • Tourist materials

that must be written in perfect English.

Can you understand it? Apart from a few hiccups, of course you can! In particular, look at the end of the text, from “We specialize…” – it’s word-perfect (ignoring the fact that our website is in British English)! And this was not a particularly successful example (the sentence beginning with "therefore" is very suspect) – some texts have given us even more startling results!


What makes Google Translate different?

Google’s system is a little different to previous ones in that it uses a statistical method to analyse existing translations from Serbian to English and applies what it has learned to the new translation. Old-style systems merely use a dictionary to translate texts word-for-word by “brute force” and tend not to be very successful, to say the least.


Death-knell for human translators?

So are we crazy to tell you all this? After all, Odista’s business relies on human translators! What happens if all our clients go off and begin using Google Translate? Indeed, we have already seen examples of amateur translators supplying “translations from Serbian into English” that have clearly been carried out using this tool! It is only a matter of time before translation companies begin receiving “previously-translated” texts (texts that suspiciously resemble machine translations!) from clients and being asked to “just proof-read this” for a rate considerably lower than a translation from scratch would cost.

Well, to demonstrate that we have not lost our minds, we would like to talk about a few reasons why we want you to know about Google Translate and why we do not fear for our business:

  1. Odista values transparency and we seek to work within the realities of the market – it does not suit our ethos to “hide” valuable resources like this from our clients! Besides, you’d find out about it sooner or later! We would rather accept the reality that tools such as this bring to the translation industry – the market will always be changing and we are prepared to adapt.
  2. We WANT our customers to use Google Translate for Serbian-English translation! Our vision is “to enable professionals to communicate authentically with other markets and cultures”. So if this tool helps them achieve that in any way then we are contributing to this vision!
  3. But the core of the issue and the reason a translation company like ours has nothing to “fear” from Google Translate is what you have been suspecting all along: computerized, automatic translation is not going to replace professional human translation from Serbian to English (or any other language) any time soon. Or let’s phrase it as a question: would you, as the marketing manager of a Serbian company wanting to do business in the West, entrust the translation of your website into English to a machine translation tool? The simple reality is that, no, you would not. This is not necessarily to knock automatic translation tools. They are all-too-easy a target for us superior human translators! Perhaps they have their applications, and we may go on to discuss this. This is merely to say that any business that is serious about a given market, given the current quality of machine translation, will settle only for a professional, human translation of their promotional materials. If that strikes a chord with you, then be sure that machine translation is improving, but still nowhere near good enough to meet your needs.

In the next article, we will take a look at some of the differences between machine translation and human translation and investigate some of the reasons why, despite the remarkable advances, automatic translation software is not currently a serious choice for professional translation - from Serbian to English or in any other language combination - and why it may never be.