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Lithuanian Language

The Oldest Baltic Language

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When you discuss Lithuanian language with a native speaker, he or she will provide you with some common facts and beliefs: Lithuanian language is the most conservative Indo-European language, meaning that it hasn’t changed as drastically as other Indo-European languages and maintains its linguistic integrity; Lithuanian grammar is difficult to master; and it sounds like running water.

An Eastern European language, Lithuanian language is a part of the Baltic language group, shared by Latvian and now-extinct Old Prussian. And Lithuanian is widely believed to maintain elements of Proto-Indo-European. Lithuanians are proud of their linguistic heritage and consider it a treasure worth preserving despite years of Soviet rule during which Russian was the official language. While Lithuania is home to many Russian and Polish speakers in Lithuania today, Lithuanian is the official language of Lithuania. Not many foreigners choose to learn it because it is not widely spoken outside of the country except by Lithuanians living in communities abroad.

Lithuanian grammar can be difficult to master, but it isn’t impossible. Lithuanians will tell you, possibly as a way to make you feel better about your attempts at learning words and phrases, that Lithuanians themselves have trouble with the intricate system of conjugations and case changes. However, if you seek to learn Lithuanian, having studied another language can help you along. While many Lithuanians disavow any similarity of their language with Russian, some of the logic behind the constructions is similar, as well as some of the words.

If you don’t struggle with grammar, pronunciation may prove more difficult because, as they say, Lithuanian sounds like a trickling stream. Hard and soft vowels, a complicated system of vocal accents, and diphthongs that challenge your mouth muscles can make being understood by shop workers or bank tellers a strain. However, Lithuanian is a beautiful language to listen to, and learning its intricacies will make you appreciate it even more.

Lithuanian uses a Latin alphabet of 32 characters with the addition of diacritical marks that change the sound of the letters they affect.

Learning Lithuanian Language

If you choose to learn Lithuanian language, several outlets are available to you. Vilnius University has developed intensive courses, summer courses, and regular semester courses especially for international students. Other universities throughout Lithuania also offer courses similar to those at Vilnius University, including Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas and Klaipeda University.

Additionally, because Lithuanian is the official language of Lithuania, learning it while making friends and traveling is also an option, though a more difficult one. In Vilnius, English, Russian, and Polish are also widely spoken, though you will have less luck with English elsewhere in Lithuania, which makes learning at least a few words of the language almost obligatory. Generally speaking, however, if you’re visiting well-touristed areas, Lithuanian won’t be essential. Many restaurants offer English-language menus or have translated their Lithuanian menus into English. Unfortunately, train announcements are made in Lithuanian, and bank tellers may not speak English. If you call a taxi services that uses SMS to alert you to the status of your ride, it may also be in Lithuanian. Shop owners and restaurant waitstaff often know enough to get by.

Russian will also help you in Lithuania because many people, especially those of the older generations, know Russian as well as Lithuanian. It’s no guarantee that younger people speak Russian, but you won’t seem weird if you try.

Lithuanian is not mutually intelligible with Latvian and bears no relation to Estonian, so it may not help you much if you plan to travel to the other Baltic countries.

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