• Language: Slovene*
  • Language Family: South Slavic
  • Sounds like: Croatian, Serbian, This

Linguistically speaking, England’s next opponents in the European Championship qualifiers are a fascinating bunch.

Both geographically and linguistically, Slovenia lies at a crossroads, where Slavic meets and mingles with Romance (neighbouring Italy), Germanic (Austria to the north) and Finno-Ugric languages (Hungary, to the east).

It has been suggested that these influences (and, specifically, the range of sounds that they have brought to Slovene) mean that Slovenians are naturally predisposed to language learning.

What is certainly true is that this range of influences  – coupled with periods of foreign occupation, and isolation caused by Slovenia’s mountainous regions – means that there is a huge range of dialects for such a small country.

Who speaks what

Former West Brom loanee Boštjan Cesar is a typical žabarji** – native of Llubljana – and speaks what is said to be the purest form of Slovene. Meanwhile, winger Valter Birsa hails from the Italian border and speaks the Littoral dialect.

Going back, Zlatko Zahovič, spearhead of Slovenia’s ‘golden generation’, hails from the Štajersko region in the North. His speech is heavily accented and liberally sprinkled with German-originated words that are typical of the area.


English loanwords pepper the Slovene football vocabulary (gol, penal,  the excellently rendered ofsajd). There is the occasional appearance from German (kartoni meaning ‘card’), while the Serbian cries of ovo je pileći (lit. ‘that was a chicken shot’ – fig. ‘that was an awful shot’) and sudija lopove (‘the referee’s a crook’) have caught on with aggrieved fans across the country.

Useful phrases

  • on ne zadene olimpijskega bazena – ‘he couldn’t hit an Olympic swimming pool’ (cow’s arse, banjo etc)
  • obrača se kot šlepar – ‘he has the turning circle of a truck’
  • Žoga je okrogla  – ‘the ball is round’ (there is always hope, plenty can still happen in the match)

And finally…

  • Slovene is one of very few languages to have the ‘dual’ pronoun, meaning speakers can make the grammatic distinction between ‘we (just the two of us)’ and ‘we (everyone)’. Some say that this makes the language more romantic, I say it’s just being difficult.

*  Hungarian and Italian have official status in certain regions, while Croatian and Serbian are widely spoken by first and second generation immigrants. English is taught in schools from a young age

** this translates as ‘frog people’: people from Ljubljana say ‘kva?’ instead of ‘kaj?’ for ‘what?’, and according to Slovenians a frog makes this same ‘kva’ sound