In the golden years of Yugoslavia, Tito was in power, everyone had a job, Yugoslav citizens enjoyed relative freedom and prosperity, and the citizens recognized one language as the official language of their country — Serbo-Croatian. Amazingly, after the breakup of Yugoslavia, the resulting seven countries — Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Slovenia, Macedonia, Kosovo, and Montenegro — all claim different languages as their official, national tongues. As one reader has already reminded me, this is a fact that you dare not forget, if you come to the region as a foreigner hoping to learn the ways of people here in the republics of the former Yugoslavia.
Claiming that you speak Serbo-Croatian will get you nowhere with locals today — Serbo-Croatian is now long dead, and one hoping to learn the local language is better off saying simply that he speaks the “local language”, without worrying about applying a title.
According to Wikipedia, until the breakup of the Second Yugoslavia around 1992, Croatian, Bosnian, and Serbian were accepted as three names for one official language, called Serbo-Croatian, which had been first recognized as early as 1836, though Serbian and Croatian had already been recognized for centuries prior. Today, Bosnian, Croatian, and Serbian are all recognized internationally as separate, albeit fascinatingly similar, national languages.
Now, according to this Infographic ranking of the hardest languages for English speakers to learn, Serbian shows up in the “Medium” category, requiring around 1,110 class hours and 44 weeks of class time to achieve “language proficiency”. Obviously, not every language in the world is included in this ranking — this is just a cursory list, with a few good examples, representing most of the regions of the world. However, I wonder if Croatian and Bosnian would be considered equivalent to Serbian for the purposes of this ranking.
Croatian, Bosnian, or Serbian, it is a difficult language to learn!