Language diversity is perhaps one of the most interesting things about this little blue ball we call home. There are more than 1000 active languages being spoken at the moment. Their use varies from just a dozen speakers to several billion in the case of English and Chinese. There is a plethora of languages in the middle; mostly confined to their national spaces.
Out of these languages, there are some which are well known, for example French, Spanish, Italian, German, Swedish, Indian, Pashto and others. They are mainly known to people from other countries through popular culture, the media or some other information outlet. Croatian, however, is probably one of the more obscure languages in Europe. Estimates suggest that it is spoken by some 4.5 million residents of Croatia, adding to that number a select few who reside in neighbouring countries. In addition, there are about 4 million people of Croatian descent living in the western countries, many of whom still speak their ancestral language. Outside of this relatively small cohort, there are very few people who speak the language. It is not taught at major universities (with honorable exceptions in areas with a strong Croatian diaspora); it is not an official language in any international discourse except within the political establishment of the European Union. It is safe to say, therefore, that it is one of the more exotic languages, but one well worth knowing.
As many people know, Croatia is now one of the top three tourist destinations in Europe, following Spain and France, and in some aspects even beating them. Every year millions of tourists visit the country, mainly for its natural beauty, cultural heritage and of course entertainment. Although most Croatians speak English as their second language, there are some areas where it can be difficult to communicate with the locals. Learning the basics of Croatian is recommended for anyone who wants to visit Croatia, either for business or pleasure.
Croatian is one of the most difficult languages to learn; it has been ranked in the 2nd most difficult group, just after Japanese, Chinese, Finnish and Hungarian. The reason for this is dual. Firstly, the Croatian language is an absolute jaw breaker for any person coming from the Anglo-Saxon language group, with words like brdo, prostranstvo or sadržaj. The apparent forest of consonant clusters is pretty common for an average Slavic speaker, but the lack of vowels will intimidate any speaker from France, Italy or the US – at least in the beginning. Secondly, Croatian grammar is very challenging. There are so many rules - rules that defy other rules, irregular rules (yes, these do exist) and seven cases. Learning these rules is, indeed, a daunting challenge for anyone. Many Croatians, at times, have no idea what tense or case they ought to use.
Croatian, however, is a beautiful and very rewarding language once you've learned it. There are myriad ways to express emotions – good and bad – and a plethora of different expressions for affection and friendship. The most important aspect is the fact the Croatian language mixes well with the warmth and easy-going nature of Croatians, giving birth to a truly Mediterranean Slavic experience. Italian may flow better, and it is certainly easier on the tongue, but it lacks that certain something, the resolve, the strength of a Slavic language.
Learning Croatian, as mentioned before, is no small feat. It requires patience, a strong will and a desire to learn something completely unfamiliar. An added benefit is that once you've mastered it, you can freely venture to any of the neighbouring countries – such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, and even Slovenia and use your newly acquired skill, because most countries in the Balkans speak very similar languages. Croatians can usually understand all other Slavic people with little effort, including Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Russians, Ukrainians, and Bulgarians. Llearning to speak Croatian, or any other Slavic language for that matter, opens up a world of opportunities to venture into the rich and incredibly diverse Slavic family.
The process of learning is the same, or very similar to learning any other language. Starting from the very basic words and phrases, such as
Hello = Dobar Dan
Good Bye = Dovidjenja
How are you = Kako Si
Where are you from = Odakle Si
The next part is to move on to personal pronouns and tenses while at the same time learning as many simple words as possible. There are three personal pronouns in Croatian. "I am" is the equivalent of "Ja sam". "You are" is the equivalent of "Ti si", and "he/she is" is the equivalent to "On/Ona je". You will, of course notice how every pronoun is completely different from others. The plural of the three is Mi smo, Vi ste, Oni su. Again, each of the three is completely different. Once that is mastered, the student can move to cases. There are seven cases in the Croatian language and they are as follows nominativ, akuzativ, genitiv, dativ, lokativ, vokativ and instrumental. Each of the seven cases answers a specific question making it easier to determine who performed an action, why, or on whom it was performed. The complexity of rules linked with cases in the Croatian language make it extremely difficult to master, which is why most foreigners and some locals are never really successful. If you decide to take on the challenge, you will find out the joys of learning cases soon enough. A free online course to help you get started can be found by clicking this link.
Finally, learning Croatian, although challenging, offers a very broad road for the prospective student. Not only will you be able to demonstrate to your peers that you have mastered one of the most difficult languages in the world, but you will be able to find work as an interpreter or consultant in companies that deal with Croatia and similar countries. Good luck and vidimo se u Hrvatskoj.