The Croatian language is not an easy one to learn, but why not try? How and where to learn, a look at those pesky dialects and some common mistakes.
- The Croatian language: an introduction
- Croatian language and Serbo-Croat
- Common mistakes foreigners make speaking Croatian
- Common mistakes Croatians make speaking English
- It is the Croatian dialects which will kill you
- How to speak the Croatian language using only vowels
- Just when you thought it could not get any more incomprehensible – meet Bednja
- Learning the Croatian language: courses and schools
- Croatian tongue-twisters – wrap your head around these
Even though a lot of Croatians speak fluent English and you probably could survive without learning Hrvatski (that’s how Croatians call their language), it would be a shame if you didn’t try, if nothing else, just to marvel at the vast number of barely pronounceable consonant clusters that this Slavic language has in store for you.
Standard Croatian is based on Shtokavian (štokavski) dialect, used by most speakers in Zagreb as well, and there are two additional dialects spoken in Croatia: Chakavian (čakavski) and Kajkavian (kajkavski). The dialects got their names on the basis of the word for “what?” used in that respective dialect, which is što in Shtokavian, ča in Chakavian, and kaj in Kajkavian. The dialects are very different, hence the standardisation, otherwise a person from the Dalmatian islands and a person from Zagorje would find it very difficult to understand one another.
Croatian is a Slavic language, so it might be easier for you to understand and learn it if you have had some previous experience in learning Russian or Polish, for example, which are part of the same language family. It’s going to be hard at the beginning because the language is so different than English, which is a Germanic language, and you’ll have to grasp some totally unfamiliar concepts. The most difficult part for most people is the gender (there are 3), which determines the suffixes of many words in your sentence, and the cases (there are 7), which, roughly based on prepositions in front of words, determine an even greater number of suffixes that you need to add to words.
Is there a difference between the Croatian language and Serbo-Croat? And if so, what is it?
Yes! If you moving around Croatia asking it people speak Serbo-Croat, you will find yourself pretty unpopular. Serbo-Croat was the official language of former Yugoslavia. As with other symbols of the newly independent Croatia, efforts have been made to shed the country of memories of its former Yugoslav past.
In Croatian language terms, this meant talking up the differences between Croatian and Serbian. The two languages are essentially the same (apart from the fact Serbian also uses Cyrillic), but independence has made them increasingly different.
An airport (aerodrom) became ‘zracna luka’ (literally an air harbour) in Croatian, for example. And Oktober became ‘listopad’ (literally leaves falling).
There are much bigger differences between the dialects of Croatian than between standard Croatian and standard Serbian. Bosnian and Montenegrin are also essentially the same language. Macedonian and Slovenian (also from the former Yugoslavia) are Slavic in nature, but not understood as easily.
So if a Croat applies for a job and claims to speak Croatian, Bosnian, Serbian and Montenegrin fluently, he may not be the polyglot he appears. But he is certainly enterprising…
Where would we be without making mistakes in a foreign language? I have committed my fair share of linguistic faux pax over the years. From trying to cross the Black Sea by spoon in Russian to urinating a book in Croatian. If you don’t have a go, you will never learn.
So what are the most common mistakes foreigners make when learning Croatian? We asked a Croatian language teacher who specialises in foreigners learning. That article inspired a particularly useful contribution from a foreigner who was learning Croatian. 25 tips on learning Croatia from a foreigner who is trying.
And while this article is about how to learn Croatian, it seems that there might also be a place for the reverse article. 25 common mistakes Croatians make when speaking English.
I have tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to learn a number of foreign languages in my time. Being reasonably fluent in Russian before I moved to Croatia meant that I did not find Croatian to be that complicated. I had already been through my Slavic baptism of fire with Russian.
In fact, the more I looked at Croatian, the more I realised it was the most logical language in the world. Yes, really.
Yes, there were some exceptions you had to learn, such as ‘k’ plus ‘i’ equals ‘ci’ (so Afrika, but u Africi) but there were few in number. After that, it was all pretty regular IF you got the hang of the Slavic language formation.
Nowhere is this more true than reading. I watched in awe at my 4-year-old daughter, as she learned the letters of the Croatian alphabet with ease. The next day she was able to read any Croatian word I gave her. And I mean anyone. What you hear is what you get.
And then she started learning the English alphabet and the joys of spelling. I think she has had the impression that her British dad is a little odd ever since.
But, as logical as the Croatian language is, it is the dialects which will kill you. Hvar, for example, has no less than 8 words for chisel. And the big joke is you cannot find a chisel on the island for love or money.
While the UK has dialects, it seems at times that Croatia has entirely different languages, and levels of comprehension between Croats is minimal at times. What hope for us poor foreigners…
Croatian is a language of extremes. Some of its finest wines are starved of vowels – the majestic Grk on Korcula and Prc from Hvar, for example.
But in other situations, especially Dalmatia, consonants are superfluous, and vowels reign supreme. Never had a conversation with someone who speaks only in vowels? It goes something like this video below.
And just when you thought you might have mastered all forms of Croatian dialect, along comes a slice of intangible UNESCO heritage. Meet Bednja, the Croatian dialect/language spoken in the hills around majestic Trakoscan Castle in Varazdin County.
Most private foreign language schools offer Croatian for foreigners and you can learn it within a group, which is less expensive, or you can have individual lessons, which is more expensive, but also more personal and it can be adjusted to your learning style and speed.
You can find some schools and choose the one closest to you on the map below:
The leading institution in learning Croatian is Croaticum. In addition to semester and monthly courses which cost €700 (A1-C2 levels), this centre also organizes Little Schools of Croatian Language and Culture (€450) in winter, summer, and autumn.
Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences (Filozofski fakultet)
Ivana Lučića 3, Zagreb
Administration: Sara Semenski
Room B-103 (Department for Croatian Language and Literature)
There is also an e-learning course organized by the University of Zagreb, intended for beginners. It consists of 24 interactive teaching hours with experienced native speakers, over Skype or Webinar. The cost of a semester is €500.
For all detailed information and application form, send an email to:
Marija Bošnjak / Lidija Cvikić
University of Zagreb
Croatian e-learning course
Email: [email protected]
Croatian heritage foundation, Zagreb
Phone: (+385 1) 61 15 116
Email: [email protected]
Loecsen is a very useful website to get you started, or even to practice your Croatian while you learn it. There are quizzes, tests, and mp3 files that you can download and learn and revise wherever you are.
With this tongue twister you can practice the rolling R:
Riba ribi grize rep.
A fish bites another fish on the tail.
With this tongue twister you can train pronouncing the V in Croatian as W:
Voda vod do voda!
This is difficult to translate properly, word for word it is “water-tap-till-tap”.
If you can master this tongue twister, then you can pronounce Č without any problems:
Cvrči, cvrči cvrčak na čvoru crne smrče.
The leafhopper chirps, chirps on the branch of the black pine.
Literal translation: Chirp, chirps the leafhopper on the knot of the black pine.
With this tongue twister you can practice the difference between Š and Ć:
Na štriku se suši šosić.
On this washing line a miniskirt is drying.
Here is a tongue twister to practice lj sound:
Ljubim Ljubu i Ljubu i ljuljam se.
I kiss Ljubo and Ljuba and sway by.
Petar Petru pleo petlju pokraj puta po sto puta.
Petar has braided Petar a hundred times with a ribbon next to the path.
Na vrh brda vrba mrda.
On the summit of a mountain a willow is swaying.
Četiri čavčića na čunčiću čučeći cijuču.
Four small jackdaws whistle crouching on the boat.
Svaka svraka skakala na dva kraka.
Every magpie hops on two arms.
Ja znam da znam da ti ne znaš ono što ja znam da znam.
I know, that I know, that you don’t know, that what I know, I know.
Četristo četrdeset četiri čavke čuče na čamcu.
Four hundred and forty four jackdaws crouch on the boat.
Hrvoje sa Hvara hrani hrčka.
Hrvoje from Hvar feeds the hamster.