Every foreigner can learn Lithuanian

Written by a journalist Laima Karaliūtė

Lithuanian is an archaic language. Perhaps that is why there’s a myth floating around about it being so difficult that it is impossible to learn. This is not true at all. Specialists say that it is possible to learn Lithuanian in just one year. After a few years of studying, you can pass the national exam and find a good job. Many immigrants speak, read, and write in Lithuanian very well. There’s no need to be a genius. The most important is motivation. Kristina Jakaitė – Bulbukienė, associate professor of Lithuanian Studies at Vilnius University, has been teaching Lithuanian to foreigners for several years now. The professor admits that there is no magical tip on how to learn Lithuanian. However, there are some universal rules. Ahmed Faraz, a Pakistani who speaks Lithuanian, says that learning Lithuanian is not as difficult as it may seem.

A collage by Tomas Terekas

The most important things are motivation and persistence.

“In the beginning, some things will have to be learned by heart, as in any other language. The most important is to understand the structure of the Lithuanian language and then there will be only vocabulary left (Smiles). Of course, personal skills are important, but the number of languages that a person speaks matters even more. The more languages you know, the easier it is to learn a new one. On the other hand, I used to teach an Arab who knew only his native language when he arrived in Lithuania. And guess what! He put a lot of effort into it and learned Lithuanian. The most important things are motivation and persistence,” says the professor. 

The specialist says that there is no nation for which learning Lithuanian would be easier or harder. It’s because Lithuanian is not like any other language. 

“Many believe that Arabic, Kurdish or Turkish people find it more difficult to learn Lithuanian. On the contrary, even though our languages are so different, they get the hang of Lithuanian sounds quicker than, for example, Chinese or Japanese students,” says the specialist in Lithuanian philology.

It might involve some tongue twisting

Beginners often have most difficulties with getting used to the sound of the language. Even though Lithuanian has many international words, foreigners don’t recognize them because of peculiar word endings. “Even such frequently used Lithuanian words as šiukšlė (rubbish), žvaigždė (star) or žaizda (wound) sound funny for students. It is not easy to pronounce them right away, you have to twist your tongue,” says the professor.

The ones who want to learn Lithuanian quicker should begin with basic, daily phrases. Simply memorize them without getting deeper into the grammar. 

Even Lithuanians make mistakes

The second step is to understand and memorize the main grammar rules. By any means should you go deep into the nuances. They are endless in the Lithuanian language, that’s why the learning might take a long time and the willingness might disappear as well. Perfectionism in learning Lithuanian is not helpful, at least in the beginning. 

“We don’t scare the foreigners right away by saying that in the Lithuanian language almost all words are declined, conjugated, accented, and so on.” Not to mention the spelling rules of the letters with hooks. Even Lithuanians rarely write without any mistakes, so why require that from a foreigner?” remarks the professor.

The fear of making a mistake may be an obstacle

The professor emphasizes that you should not be afraid of making mistakes when learning Lithuanian. You will learn to speak correctly with time. 

“It is important to listen to Lithuanians speaking and try to speak yourself as much as possible. I have noticed that many Lithuanians do the language learners no favors. They start to speak English. So, I advise Lithuanian learners to ask people to talk to them in Lithuanian,” she adds. 

The fastest way to learn Lithuanian is to fall in love

“I advise my students to learn Lithuanian by reading what they like the most. For example, if you are interested in Lithuanian realities, you may read the news websites or watch the news. Start by trying to understand only the headlines. They are usually not difficult. If you don’t understand, translate it into your native language. Use online translation tools,” says the professor and adds that motivation is the most important thing in language learning. “The ones who want to find well-paid jobs and become fully-fledged members of society learn Lithuanian the quickest. Probably the fastest way to learn Lithuanian is to fall in love with a Lithuanian. I’m speaking from my own experience (Laughs.)”

A Pakistani learned Lithuanian in two years

Ahmed Faraz has been living in Lithuania for eight years. His native language is Urdu and he heard Lithuanian for the first time when he arrived here. It took two years for a Pakistani who spoke English, Arabic and a little Turkish to learn Lithuanian. Ahmed is sharing his experience and advice on how to start speaking Lithuanian. 

“When I first started learning Lithuanian, during the first lesson, my teacher told me that the language is difficult, but it is possible to learn. It motivated me and became a challenge for me,” says Ahmed and adds that motivation is not enough, you need to have courage to start speaking Lithuanian. 

Grammatical cases are the most difficult to learn

“Many of my acquaintances from abroad understand Lithuanian, but they are scared of speaking or saying a nonsense. Then I tell them that you will not speak any language if you are scared. There is no need to speak fluently right away. It’s not going to happen. For example, when I had just arrived in Lithuania, I went to the store and heard a customer saying “iki”. I thought that in Lithuanian it means “labas”. I came to the cash desk and said “iki” to the cashier (Laughs),” tells Ahmed reminiscing about his first day in Lithuania. 

Ahmed says that grammatical cases were the most difficult to learn. The Pakistani man hung the rules of declension on the wall and learned them that way. 

The “horrible” letter Ž

“At the beginning, it wasn’t easy to distinguish between the genders of nouns. For example, the rule says that nouns which end with ‘is’ are masculine. For example, ‘brolis’, ‘lobis’ and so on. But how would you explain ‘moteris’ or ‘stotis’ being feminine? In a nutshell, Lithuanian has a lot of exceptions. It is scary at the beginning, but later you get used to it and everything is clear. I can now freely pronounce words even with the letter Ž which was impossible before,” says Ahmed while recalling Lithuanian lessons. 

Ahmed advise learners not to be scared to ask Lithuanians what is the meaning of a certain word. “They will always help and even give you a compliment that you’re learning Lithuanian,” Ahmed adds. 

How to learn lithuanian quicker:

Find the motivation. Why do I want to learn Lithuanian? How is it beneficial to me?
Learn the main phrases by heart and do not be afraid of using them
Do not be afraid of making mistakes when speaking 
Ask Lithuanians to talk to you in Lithuanian rather than English or any other language that you both know
Try to understand the fundamentals of Lithuanian grammar structure without getting deep into the details right away
Do not look for similarities or compare it with other languages

Interesting facts about the Lithuanian language 

Lithuanian belongs to the Baltic branch of the Indo-European language family (along with Latvian) 
Lithuanian is one of the oldest surviving Indo-European languages 
Some similarities may be found between Lithuanian and Sanskrit (a classical language of India), Latin, and Ancient Greek
It does not have articles. The connections between words are expressed by declining the endings
Learning to read Lithuanian is not difficult. Essentially it is read as it is written. One just has to know the sound of each letter
The current Lithuanian alphabet is based on the Latin alphabet. It has 32 letters of which 23 come directly from Latin alphabet and the other 9 are added
Unique and distinctive sounding letters: Ą, Ę, Į, Ų, Ū, Ė, Č, Š, Ž
Lithuanian is the only official state language of the Republic of Lithuania