What Language is Spoken in Skopje, the Capital of Macedonia?

If you are planning a trip to Skopje, the capital city of Macedonia, you might be wondering what language is spoken there.

Macedonian is the official language of Macedonia and is spoken by the majority of the population.

It is a Slavic language closely related to Bulgarian and Serbian.

However, Skopje is a multicultural city, and you are likely to hear other languages spoken as well.

Albanian is the second most widely spoken language in Macedonia and is spoken by a large minority of the population.

Other languages that you might hear in Skopje include English, Turkish, Romani, Serbian, and Bosnian.

This image is split into two distinct sections. On the left side, there's the Porta Macedonia triumphal arch. Intricate carvings and medallions embellish the facade. Atop the arch, a bronze statue of a person can be seen, and underneath its grand archway, a bustling city street unfolds with cars and people. Modern buildings and a statue of a mounted figure in the distance are visible through the arch. On the right side is a picture of a young woman in a bright green dress. She's holding the Macedonian flag with its striking red background and a radiant yellow sunburst design. Behind her is a backdrop of classical white buildings with columns, statues, and a dome, evoking a sense of history and pride.

General Overview of Skopje

Skopje is the capital and largest city of Macedonia that boasts an enchanting mix of history and modernity, nestled in the heart of the Balkan Peninsula.

Steeped in a rich tapestry of diverse cultures, Skopje’s landscape is dotted with Byzantine-era landmarks alongside contemporary architectural marvels.

As the country’s political, cultural, and economic hub, Skopje is a vibrant metropolis brimming with art, music, and a unique linguistic heritage that captivates its visitors.

Besides its urban landscape, Skopje also boasts a breathtaking natural setting, with the Vardar River winding its way through the city and Mount Vodno with its Millennium Cross looming in the distance.

Historical Context and Language Evolution

Skopje’s linguistic landscape has been largely shaped by its diverse and complex history.

The city’s history of cultural interchange is evident in its language, which is replete with loanwords from Turkish, Slavic, Romani, and other languages.

Originally a Dardanian city, Skopje passed through the hands of various empires, including the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman, whose influences have left an indelible imprint on the city’s language and culture.

For example, during the Byzantine period, Greek and Latin terms found their way into the language, while Ottoman rule later introduced an influx of Turkish words, which are used in today’s day, with some variations that have occurred throughout the years.

Some words, such as “odası,” which is Turkish for room, are said “odaja” or “odaya” or “pencere”, which stands for a window is called “pendzere” in certain dialects spoken in various Macedonian regions.

However, it can be said that the Macedonian language as we know it today began to develop as a distinct Slavic language in the 9th century.

But it wasn’t until the 20th century, after years of political struggle and cultural shifts, that Macedonian was officially recognized as a separate language.

From 1913 till 1941, Serbian was the only language taught in schools and spoken in the administration in Macedonia.

When Socialist Macedonia was formed as part of Federal Yugoslavia, a special commission was formed to codify a standard Macedonian language, which was largely based on the West-Central dialect spoken in the region around Skopje.

During this assembly, Bulgarian-leaning members got into a conflict over the language with the more Serbian-leaning members who had been working within the Yugoslav Communist Party.

Since the latter held most of the political power, they managed to impose their views on the direction the new language was to follow.

From 1945 till 1990, the influence of Serbian on the Macedonian language was constant as Serbian was the official language of Yugoslavia.

For all new technological, medical, and science words Macedonian language borrowed words from Serbian.

In some cases, newly introduced Serbian words replaced the original regional words.

In other cases, complex Serbian words were directly translated and combined with local ones.

In some words, the stress and pronunciation changed and became closer to the Serbian one.

In contemporary times, Macedonian continues to evolve and adapt, absorbing new words and phrases from English, reflecting the global influences of the 21st century.

This continual evolution makes the language a fascinating reflection of Skopje’s cultural history and its ongoing journey.

The Official Language and Its Characteristics

Macedonian is the official language spoken in Macedonia, including Skopje.

Macedonian is the mother tongue of the majority of the population, and it is also the language used in official documents, media, and education.

The language is characterized by a number of features that distinguish it from other Slavic languages.

One such characteristic is the complex system of verbal tenses, which includes aorist and imperfect tenses, largely unused in other Slavic languages but not only retained by Macedonian but also innovated upon it.

Macedonian is written in its own variant of the Cyrillic alphabet, consisting of 31 letters.

This adaptation of the Cyrillic script is unique to Macedonian and marks another key distinguishing factor of the language.

For example, the Macedonian alphabet has one extra letter compared to its closest relatives, Bulgarian and Serbian, whose alphabets consist of 30 letters.

Additionally, the Macedonian alphabet includes some letters such as “S,” pronounced as “/d͡z/” and “J,” pronounced as “/j/,” which are not found in either the Bulgarian or Serbian alphabets.

Therefore, though most letters between the three alphabets are written and pronounced in the same way, there is a distinctiveness between them that might not be obvious to a foreigner but is there nevertheless.

Regional Languages & Linguistic Diversity

While the most commonly spoken language in Skopje is Macedonian, the capital is a multicultural city, and other languages are also spoken here.

Albanian is the second most widely spoken language in Skopje, and it is recognized as a co-official language in certain areas of the country, including politics, healthcare, and public broadcasting.

Additionally, languages such as Turkish, Romani, Serbian, and Bosnian are also spoken by smaller communities in Skopje.

English, along with French and German (in smaller percentages,) are also spoken by the general population and are widely understood in tourist areas and by younger generations who have studied these languages in school.

Therefore, as a tourist, speaking English is more than enough to make your way through the city and interact with locals, however, if you want to go the extra mile, you can always learn some basic phrases in Macedonian or Albanian, or bring a translation app with you to help with communication.

Foreign Languages

If you are traveling to Skopje, it is always helpful to know a few phrases in Macedonian.

However, many people in Skopje speak foreign languages, especially English, which is particularly spoken by younger people and in tourist areas such as hotels, restaurants, and shops.

Other foreign languages that you may hear in Skopje include German, French, Italian, and Spanish.

These languages are often spoken by tourists or ex-pats who live in the city.

If you speak one of these languages, you may be able to find someone who can speak with you in your native tongue.

It is also worth noting that many young people in Skopje are learning English in school, so you may find that younger locals are more likely to speak English than older generations.

This is especially true in areas with universities or other higher education institutions.

Learning Macedonian

Learning a new language may not be the easiest thing to do, but it opens doors to understanding different cultures and perspectives and can only make your stay in Skopje or any other Macedonian city much smoother.

Now, while you will find that most people in Skopje have a good command of the English language, if you are curious about picking up Macedonian, there are several ways that you can do it:

Online Language Courses:

Websites such as Duolingo, Qlango, and iTalki offer online courses in Macedonian for different proficiency levels.

These platforms provide interactive language lessons that can help you master the basics and advance your skills in Macedonian.

Language Apps:

Mobile applications such as Mondly and Drops offer Macedonian language courses that you can access anytime, anywhere.

These apps utilize engaging and interactive methods to make language learning fun and effective.

Textbooks and Language Guides:

For a more traditional approach, textbooks such as “Macedonian: A Course for Beginning and Intermediate Students” by Christina E. Kramer, “Macedonian for Beginners: A Book In Two Languages” by Dr. Johannes Schumann will help you understand study materials such as grammar, vocabulary, and cultural context a little bit better.

Language Exchange and Tandem Learning:

Platforms such as Tandem and HelloTalk (app) can connect you with native Macedonian speakers for language exchange.

This allows you to practice your language skills in a real-world context.

Cultural Immersion:

Engaging with Macedonian films, music, and literature can greatly enhance your understanding and appreciation of the language and its cultural context.

Remember that consistency is key in language learning.

Regular practice, patience, and determination will help you achieve your language learning goals.

And no matter how hard it may sound or look, the Macedonian language is still simple and can be picked up in a relatively short time, especially if you are living in the country short or long term.

Practical Information for Visitors

While having some kind of translating app at your disposal is an extra benefit when visiting Macedonia, you won’t have an issue finding people who speak good English in Skopje and most Macedonian cities.

However, if you want to make sure that you can communicate with locals in situations where English isn’t an option, here are some phrases that are easy to learn and remember:

  • Hello: Zdravo (Cyrillic – Здраво)
  • Goodbye: Doviduvanje or Cao (Cyrillic – Довидување or Чао)
  • Please: Ve molam (Cyrillic – Ве молам)
  • Yes: Da (Cyrillic – Да)
  • No: Ne (Cyrillic  – Не)
  • Еxcuse me – Izvinete (Cyrillic – Извинете)
  • Do you speak English?: Dali zboruvate angliski? (Cyrillic – Дали зборувате англиски?)
  • I don’t understand: Ne razbiram (Cyrillic – Не разбирам)
  • I don’t speak English: Ne zboruvam angliski (Cyrillic – Не зборувам англиски)
  • Where is: Kade e…? (Cyrillic – Каде е…?)

Again, when visiting Skopje, don’t be afraid to use English, as many Macedonians, especially younger people and those working in the tourism and hospitality industry, can communicate in English.

Lastly, always approach locals with politeness and express gratitude when they help you.

Macedonians are generally friendly people, and they appreciate visitors making an effort to speak their language.

This guide was first published on April 4, 2023 and was last updated on February 13, 2024. For more information, please contact us at contact@skopjeguide.com.