25 Tips on Learning Croatian... from a Foreigner Who is Trying

By 25 November 2017

Trying to learn Croatian as a foreigner? We feel for you, but some very useful tips from a British student who is. Many thanks, John P. Hopkins!

A few days ago we challenged Croatian teacher prof. Mihaela Šego to write 25 common mistakes foreigners make when speaking Croatian.

This time we decided to take a look at things from a different angle – and asked a Croatian language student what it's really like – to fight with Croatian words – every day.

John, originally from the UK, has been living in Croatia for a couple of years now and is successfully learning Croatian. Here are a few tips for those attempting to climb the linguistic Everest that is learning Croatian. 

1) Try to speak from day 1. You will hit a limit on every single occasion at first where you don't have the words. I was too lazy, but I would have learned quicker if I'd only made a mental note of what I wanted to say, and found out how to say the next sentence. It is simple, but effective.

2) Cases. We don't have them in English, so conceptually difficult to understand. Don't worry, talk. You WILL get it wrong, but apparently most Croats do too!

3) Word order. Not the same as in English. Nor German, nor French....

4) Spelling. Not a mistake, but I wanted to add something positive! Croatian spelling is very phonetic, so it's easy to spell a word you heard!

5) No resources! Not an excuse, of course there are course materials, just not written by Rosetta, Berlitz, etc, or if there are, they are phrase books or very basic

6) No time! Also not an excuse. I found I made the best progress with a tiny bit of CONSISTENT effort. 15 minutes per day makes a huge difference, if it's every day!

7) No plan! No excuse - make one. Google "The Polyglot Life" for an excellent guide to planning your study.

8) I don't have the words! I flatter myself that I have an above average vocabulary in English, and I find it frustrating that I don't know the words to convey my meaning in Croatian. There will always be times (even in your native tongue) when you have to ask "Kako se kaže...?"

9) Don't be disheartened. Croatian has almost no structural nor lexical overlap with English. It isn't easy. People who tell you that "Language X is the most difficult language in the World to learn" are usually not learning language X, not Croatian. Don't let them undermine your confidence!

10) Cultural references don't translate. Trust me on this.

11) I like to use adjectives in English. It requires too much thought in Croatian. Probably this is a good thing...

12) There are almost as many exceptions to the grammatical rules as there are in English. Almost. Remember that your Croatian teacher had to learn those. they understand that it can be difficult. Don't ignore them!

13) Serbo-Croatian isn't the same as modern Croatian. People might look strangely at you...

14) Adverbs and adjectives seem very similar. Adverbs are easier in use as they don't change. (See 12 for the disclaimer on that comment)

15) Croatian has dialects which use very different words for the same thing (rajčice, paradajz, pome are all tomatoes). Don't give up, it confuses Croatians too!

16) There are 7 cases in Croatian, there used to be more. Be glad!

17) Don't let yourself get caught out. Try to mentally rehearse the phrases that you'll need for certain important scenarios. It'll help your confidence to practice. I'm great at ordering beer and pizza!

18) At first, all Croatian speakers seem to speak the same. Don't try to mimic their average pronunciation, they do sound different. Pick one person, and try to mimic their intonation and pronunciation, otherwise you'll sound weird(er).

19) Try to make sure you get exposure to written and spoken communication, and soak and write yourself. YouTube, Croatian TV and internet news websites are excellent for this.

20) If you have a Croatian partner, speak to them in the language. If you have kids growing up bilingual, don't do it in front of them, they'll laugh at you! Kids can be cruel!

21) Don't overuse the phrase "Govorite li engleski?". It is cheating!

22) Don't skip lessons. Stick to your routine, or you'll lose ground.

23) Countries are adjectives. Still don't understand why...

24) Counting things isn't easy. You have to take into account the gender, and the ending changes according to whether there is one, 2-4, or more things you're counting.

25) Don't quit til you've met your target. Find a good teacher and stick with them!