Knowing the language of the country you come to can only help the integration process. It’s not only about getting your message across, after all, you can use an interpreter or even pantomime. It’s mainly about grasping the subtleties of language, its hidden cultural life and being able to share in-jokes.
The problem is that Serbian is a pretty complicated language for Westerners, with some expats spending years trying to learn it and failing miserably (but do not be discouraged, because a lot of them are successful). Its grammar is difficult (with 7 cases) and in addition to the Latin script, it also uses the Cyrillic script.
If Serbian is so difficult to learn, then how are the things with English?
Believe it or not, Serbia has the highest percentage of English speaking working population in Southeastern Europe (49%).
What is the secret? English is a mandatory subject in Serbian schools and kids start learning it around Grade 2, which means that by the time they turn 19, they would have had 11-12 years of ESL instruction.
However, studying a language in school does not necessarily mean that a student will become fluent, or even conversational in that language. The main reason why Serbs speak English so well is that they consume a lot of English-language media. Hollywood movies are very popular here (they watch them with subtitles) and the same is the case with American music.
And the best of all- Serbs are not shy when it comes to speaking English. In fact, they are more than eager to show off their language skills and will be more than glad to speak with you. The only problem is that their accent can be thick and those who are not accustomed to hearing Slavic accents can find it difficult to understand at first. While only a few of them are as bad as this guy ( hilarious and barely comprehensible), this is the most common Serbian accent when they speak English.
However, keep in mind that only young people (under 30) speak English really well. Those who are older, not so much, a lot of them speak no English at all. They are far more likely to speak German or Russian, because these two languages were taught in schools prior to the breakup of the former Yugoslavia . In the similar vein, if you want to buy your fruit and vegetables in a green market, you will find out that vendors, who are mostly older people, do not really speak English, so you will have to rely on pantomime.
In conclusion, English is widespread in Serbia and its popularity has been growing. You are not likely to encounter insurmountable communication problems, especially if you find yourself talking to a younger person ( the only problem can be their sometimes thick accent). The fact that English is very popular in Serbia and more and more people are learning it, is beneficial for job-hunting expats, because there are a lot of employment opportunities in international schools or language schools.