Comparing the Macedonian, Albanian, and English Languages

The most widely spoken language in Macedonia is Macedonian. The second most spoken language is Albanian. In addition, most young people in the country speak English to some extent because it is taught in schools starting in the first grade. Then, in the sixth grade, students also begin to study German or French. Such a diverse language landscape made February’s Dreams and Friendship topic, My Language, a rich opportunity for discussion and exploration.

To facilitate our conversation of the topic, the classes at Krste Petkov Misirkov each compared a different aspect of language across Macedonian, Albanian, and English. Students in the sixth grade classes compared the languages’ alphabets, while seventh and eighth grade students made a more detailed comparison of their grammar and usage. Ninth grade students took on a particularly challenging task, translating a poem about Florida into Macedonian and Albanian. Below is a summary of the students’ work and discoveries.

Comparing and Contrasting Alphabets

One of the most obvious differences between Macedonian, Albanian and English is that they use different alphabets. Although students are exposed to all three systems of writing on a daily basis, making a side-by-side comparison proved interesting.

The Macedonian language uses the Cyrillic alphabet.

Students discussed that the Macedonian language uses a Cyrillic alphabet that has 31 letters. They practiced writing each letter in this alphabet and drew pictures of words that begin with each one. Some students noted that a few Cyrillic letters look the same as letters in the Albanian and English alphabets.

Sixth grade students learned and practiced writing the Albanian alphabet.

Students who speak Albanian shared their language’s alphabet with their peers. The class learned that, in contrast to Macedonian’s Cyrillic script, Albanian uses a Latin alphabet that consists of 36 letters. Again, students noticed similarities, including the fact that almost all the letters in the English alphabet are in the Albanian alphabet, with the exception of W.

The English alphabet is a Latin alphabet with 26 letters.

At 26 letters, students discovered that the English alphabet has the fewest letters of the three languages. Students reviewed the alphabet song and discussed how letters in Macedonian and Albanian have no other names besides their sounds. In contrast, letters in English have names separate from how they sound because one letter may have several voices.

A Closer Look

In addition to comparing and contrasting the Macedonian, Albanian, and English alphabets, students in the seventh and eighth grade classes took their analysis a step further and discussed differences and similarities in grammar and usage. Here is some of what they discussed:

  • All three languages have parts of speech and verb tenses.
  • All three languages have dialects and accents.
  • In Macedonian and Albanian, adjectives and nouns show gender.
  • In Macedonian and Albanian, adjectives and nouns agree.
  • In Macedonian and Albanian, articles are written as suffixes.
  • In Macedonian and Albanian, verbs are conjugated.
  • Macedonian and Albanian are read phonetically.
  • Only Albanian nouns have cases.
  • All three languages have different vocabulary and sayings.
  • All three languages are used to communicate.

A Translation Challenge

So that we could hear the same text in different languages, some of the ninth grade students accepted the challenge of translating the poem “Cape Canaveral, Florida” from Diane Siebert’s book Tour America: A Journey Through Poems and Art. They were encouraged to consider how they could maintain the integrity of literary elements such as imagery and tone in addition to meaning. The original text of the poem is below, along with recordings of students reading their translations in Albanian and Macedonian.

Cape Canaveral, Florida
by Diane Siebert
On Florida’s coast there is a place/Where NASA reaches into space;/Where launch pads steeped in history/Recall what was and what will be;/Where early space-age pioneers/First set their sights on new frontiers.
Today we think of those brave mean—/Of Shepard, Grissom, White, and Glenn;/And in our minds we’ll always keep/The sight of Armstrong’s “giant leap,”/Along with memories and thoughts/Of shuttles and their astronauts.
And on this Cape where missions start,/Where countdowns quicken every heart,/The face of hope, aglow with pride,/Is touched with tears for those who’ve died/In their attempts to lead the way/Into a new and unknown day.
But like the Voyagers that hold/A human message etched in gold/And travel out in endless flight/Toward galaxies that fill the night,/Americans will persevere,/Undaunted by mistakes and fear,/To live beyond the earth’s embrace/On stations orbiting in space,/Someday, perhaps, to walk on Mars/And reach the realms of distant stars.
A rocket waits beneath the sun:/T-minus 5…4…3…2…1…/Ignition!/Lift-off!/With its roar/Our spirits, just like spacecraft, soar/Above this Cape where dreams come true/Beyond our earthly sky of blue.
Albanian translation by Arjan
Macedonian translation by Andrej

What We Learned

Languages like Macedonian, Albanian, and English have obvious differences, which students discovered relatively easily. Perhaps more interesting, though, was finding the languages’ similarities. At first, any correspondence was difficult to find, but soon the ways in which they are parallel seemed as obvious as the ways they are divergent. For example, students came to the conclusion that one of the most important ways all languages are similar is that they all help people express and communicate thoughts and feelings. Languages might sound different and have different rules, but in essence, they are the same.

To learn more about the Dreams and Friendship Exchange, please read our initial blog.

— Abigail Jones, 2014–2015 Fulbright English Teaching Assistant

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