• Jessica Cerovic

Croatian vs. English Language

People always say the English language is really difficult to learn and it is, but I think learning Croatian is even harder. It is a constant learning lesson being married to someone who's native tongue is different from your own. There are many more chances to be misunderstood or struggle to find the right words when trying to explain something. It takes years to master another language but if you are visiting Croatia as an English speaking person, I can give you a few tips to hopefully help make it a little bit easier.

Igor learned English by watching English speaking TV shows and reading the Croatian subtitles and therefore matching what he was hearing with what he was reading. Many say immersion is the best way to learn a language and if you don't use it you lose it. Well, I can tell you, that is completely true. When I would visit Igor for a month at a time in Croatia by the third week I would really start to be able to piece together conversation and I could even start to form basic sentences, but then I would be out of Croatia for several months and would lose most of it.

Igor didn't really have to begin speaking English until he began working on cruise ships in his early 30s. When I first met Igor in 2010 he had a thick accent but he spoke English really well I thought. I remember there were certain words he would get stuck recalling and so he would start to describe what he was trying to say and we would eventually figure it out together. One of my favorite funny moments is when Igor asked me "what is it called when you see yourself in the mirror or water?" and I replied, "reflection," and he didn't believe me! He thought I was toying with him! He did the same thing with the word "placemat," don't ask me why, I guess it just didn't sound right to him.

Croatian is a Slavic language traditionally. What IS really easy about the Croatian language is there are no silent letters, so basically once you have the alphabet down, you can read out any word with ease.

  • Letters Croatians have and in English we don't: č (hard ch), ć (soft ch), đ (soft j), (hard j), lj (ly), nj (ny), š (sh) and ž (soft g)

  • Letters we have in English, but they pronounce differently: c (ts), e (eh), i (ee), u (oo), j (y)

  • Letters Croatians don't have and in English we do: q, w, x and y

  • So our last name Cerović would be pronounced in English, ts-e-r-o-v-ee-ch(soft)

Even though there is only one official Croatian language, there are three separate dialects and many different accents from town to town. Some of these accents change even a mile down the road from one another.  Local people will recognize which town you are coming from by the accent you speak.  This aspect makes the language even more complicated to learn because you feel like everyone around you is speaking a different version. It is even hard at times for Igor to understand other Croatian dialects in parts of his own country that he doesn't travel to often.

The three major dialects used in Croatia are:

  1. Čakavski dialect - this is Igor's dialect and is spoken in Istria, some of the islands and in the northern coastal region of the country.

  2. Kajkavski dialect - spoken in the northwest region of the country, including the capitol of Zagreb.

  3. Štokavski dialect - spoken in the northeast region of the country as well as in the southern part, including the cities of Zadar, Split and Dubrovnik.

In the past there were many Italians living in the northwest region of Croatia where Igor is from, so you will sometimes hear a mix of Italian words into the language.

For example:

  • Italians say "pomodoro" for tomato and Croatians in this region will say "pomidor" rather than "rajčica," the traditional Croatian word for tomato

  • Some Croatians will say "Ciao" for "Hi" or "Bye" like Italians do, instead of "Halo" or "Bok" in Croatian

Understanding these few details about Croatian has helped me immensely and hopefully will help you in your vacation to Croatia.  If you are feeling overwhelmed, just remember most Croatians in tourist areas speak English and are happy to assist you in any way you may need.

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