10 ways I learn the Croatian language that require very little effort

woman drinking coffee
Perfecting your coffee language is a great way to start improving your Croatian language skills

Learning Croatian is a life-long journey, at least for me. It’s been a not-so-gentle ascent up a mountain with the peak hidden high above the clouds, never quite in sight and always out of reach.

The higher you trek, the dizzier and more confused you become. Just when you’ve hit a milestone, you trip over a stone and fall into a crag below. Two steps forward, 5 steps back.

It’s not as simple as clicking through an app or memorizing flashcards. While there are polyglots who can gobble it up in 6 months, learning Croatian takes serious dedication for most of us.

That’s why I recommend getting creative with your learning. Wage an all-out assault on the language by tackling it from every possible angle, incorporating it into your daily life no matter which level you’re on.

If you wait until you have solid blocks of time, you may never gain any ground.

Jump to learning method:

The facts are these…

10 ways of learning Croatian with little effort

This list only includes ten of the ways I learn Croatian, but there are certainly more. In a future post, I’ll share ten more.

Think about how you best learn as you go through this list. Are there any methods that you can turn into a habit or attach to an existing habit?

#1 Turn on Croatian subtitles

To all the Netflix bingers, Hulu surfers, HBO monkeys, and Showtime streamers, a great way to learn Croatian is by turning on Croatian subtitles.

Croatian cannot always be directly translated to your native language, and your native language cannot always be translated to Croatian.

Using Croatian subtitles on a show or movie originally in your mother tongue can help convert the language and slang you’re used to into the closest Croatian equivalent.

Dialogue written for the screen tends to be much simpler sentences than would be written in a news article, so they can be easier to imprint and understand.

By turning on Croatian subtitles, I learned how to say:

  • Imam tremu = I’m nervous
  • Kasnim na posao = I’m late for work
  • Imate pravo = you’re right
  • Ovo se ne događa = this is not happening

Many of our words and phrases of the week come straight from subtitles.

[Read: Weekly Croatian lessons]

It’s not just about subtitles. If your language is set to Croatia for the streaming account, you can also see the program and episode titles in Croatian too. This can be illuminating. Many lightbulbs have gone off once I saw the Croatian title for a show that I watched obsessively in English prior to coming to Croatia.

This is a great method for widening your vocabulary and helping you communicate in the way you do natively. The best part is you’re already watching TV anyways, so it requires very little effort to add to your life.

#2 Take a Croatian language course

Taking a course has been the most effective way for me to improve my Croatian, and I suggest everybody do so if they are serious about learning the language.

Regardless of whether it is free or paid, part-time or full-time, class or private, dedicating yourself to an organized course will inevitably push you to new Croatian heights much faster than anything else.

If you’re unsure of how much time you want to dedicate to learning Croatian, the best place to start is the University of Zagreb Croaticum course. It covers A1 and A2 in 45-minute bites and is completely free.

Get started here with A1.

For those who want a seriously hands-on and personalized approach, we highly recommend the Croatian Language School opened in 1997. They offer private online tutoring and also have immersive group courses during summer on the island of Mali Lošinj.

I’ve been working with the Croatian Language School for the last year, and absolutely adore my teacher (and school owner), Linda Rabuzin. Her approach has pushed me farther than I’ve ever gone before, which has led to more speaking confidence.

Get started here with a free 50-minute lesson to see how you like it.

#3 Read everything you see (even if you don’t understand it)

There is Croatian all around us – on billboards, menus, notices, t-shirts, product labels, just to name a very tiny few.

Whatever you see in Croatia, read it to yourself – out loud if you can, or in your head if that’s what makes you comfortable.

I read it all – street signs, covers of newspapers, billboards, ads on the bus. Whatever I see, I read.

The simple act of reading Croatian words will help familiarize your mouth with the feel of Croatian and may even help you imprint new words.

#4 Eavesdrop on Croatians while they chat

I love to eavesdrop! And so does everybody else who lives in Croatia! On the bus, at caffes and restaurants, standing in line at MUP or the supermarket – eavesdropping is possible anytime you are in public.

Just like it is helpful to practice reading, it’s also helpful to practice listening.

Listening can bare many fruits. You can:

  • Pick up on accent and dialect
  • Learn how to pronounce words you may have only seen written
  • Pick out the words you know (and those you don’t, which you can look up in real-time)
  • Learn how people talk to each other in real life (which is so much different than how people communicate in written form)
  • Get ideas of simple phrases or sentences you can use in your own life

Eavesdropping is one of the best ways to identify how far you’ve come in your learning. I remember the first moment I completely understood a conversation between my neighbors on the bus. It felt really good.

Beware! Once you learn enough, you’ll inevitably realize that Croatians say “fuck” and “dick” A LOT – kids, nuns, grandparents, everybody.

#5 Speak Croatian as much as you can (even if you mess up)

This may be a bit obvious to some, but it’s worth a mention. A non-native speaker is never going to speak Croatian perfectly the first time they do it, nor the second, nor the thousandth.

You’ve got to make mistakes before you can get better. There are so many cliches I could throw out here – practice makes perfect, learn from your mistakes, yada yada. But they are true!

Try to push down the bubbling embarrassment. Croatians are usually incredibly supportive and honored by any attempts you make to speak their language, so try as much as you can. Give it all you got.

Start by perfecting your coffee language. Then move on to the mastery of shopping at the green market.

Repeat, repeat, repeat. Once you have the words down, focus on applying the accent and dialect you picked up from eavesdropping.

Through ruthless repetition of simple greetings, numbers, and ordering, you can convince a Croatian that you are Croatian, even if it will all fall apart after 2 minutes of conversation. We don’t learn to say all parts of a language at the same rate.

Take the wins where you can.

[Read: All the Croatian vocabulary you might need at a restaurant or caffe in Croatia]

#6 Speak a Croatian-English hybrid

There are certain words that do not exist in Croatian. This means that often Croatians will drop an English word into a full-on Croatian conversation. It’s entertaining and fascinating.

In my first year, I was hanging out at a buddy’s wine shop. His friend stopped by, and they started chatting in Croatian. At the time, I knew nothing. To me, it was all gibberish, so I quickly faded out… until I heard “Croatian Croatian Croatian CORPORATE EXPENSE ACCOUNT Croatian Croatian Croatian”.

Um, what?

Just like Croatians drop English words into conversation, we should drop Croatian words into ours. Pretty much all my greetings and salutations are done in Croatian, no matter who I’m talking to.

I negate with nema veze (neverming), ništa (nothing), and nikad (never) with reckless abandon. As far as I’m concerned, an ambulance can only be a hitna pomoć. Any woman I meet is called draga (dear). Može (okay, can) is in regular circulation, with naravno (of course) not far behind. Not a day goes by without using dobro (good, fine) in some kind of context.

Incorporating Croatian words and phrases into my ordinary English has made them habits, so much so that I reflexively type Croatian when speaking to friends who don’t live in Croatia because this is simply how I speak now.

It’s not an all-or-nothing game. Incremental change will lead us to the promised land.

#7 Be open to correction

Most of my Croatian friends are eager to be corrected if they say something incorrect in English. It helps them learn.

It should be no different for you. Tell your Croatian friends and colleagues to let you know if you’ve said something incorrectly.

When some of my colleagues wish to call out something I’ve said that isn’t quite right, they say to me, in the kindest way anyone possibly could – “Sara, it’s better to say it this way. It is more in the spirit of the language.”

I’m so thankful for it.

[Read: 10 brilliant things you can say to make a Croatian smile, including Croatian words and phrases]

#8 Subscribe to the EIC newsletter

Naravno, I have to share a little about how we can help you learn Croatian.

Every Tuesday, we send out our Croatia-packed newsletter to more than 8.000 subscribers. It’s loaded with helpful Croatia stuff, including our weekly word and phrase.

We do publish our word and phrase on the home page of our site. However, only our subscribers get to hear the audio lesson voiced by our Croatian colleague Marija Tkalec.

Just like most posts on our site, this tradition sprouted from me wanting to learn more. Sometimes the word and phrase are my contributions, but mostly they are the brainchildren of Marija – which means I’m learning right alongside you.

You can easily subscribe to our weekly newsletter here.

#9 Write shopping lists in Croatian

This is a super easy habit that you can start right now, no matter what level you’re at. There is no grammar involved, just simple words.

This is a typical Saturday shopping list for me:

  • Mrkve (carrots)
  • Brokula (broccoli)
  • Krumpiri (potatoes)
  • Jaja (eggs)
  • Blitva (swiss chard)
  • Lungić (pork loin)
  • Naranče (oranges)
  • Jagode (strawberries)
  • Banane (bananas)
  • Maslac (butter)

Start with food, then expand to errands.

  • Ljekarna (pharmacy)
  • Tržnica (market)
  • Javni bilježnik (public notary)
  • Kava (coffee, naravno)

Need help learning the words for fruits and vegetables? We made handy cheat sheets for the most common produce in Croatia. You can even download PDFs for easy reference at the market.

View our vegetable cheat sheet here.

View our fruit cheat sheet here.

Our list of Croatian places that end with -ica available here can also help.

#10 Send text messages and emails to Croatians in Croatian

It takes time to feel comfortable improvising a Croatian conversation. When learning, we need a bit more time to come up with the right words and do all the mental gymnastics needed to assemble a thought.

When writing, you can take all the time you need – and leverage good ol’ Google Translate. Writing in Croatian, especially short and sweet text messages, is a great way to practice communicating with Croatians – at the speed that is right for you.

When the person inevitably replies, you can take your sweet time translating that too.

Not only will the simple act of writing help cement new vocabulary, but it will also strengthen your relationship with the Croatians you’re talking to – because you are speaking their language, after all.

BONUS TIP: To make the most out of this exercise, don’t just copy and paste Google Translate without reading it. Read over it first and customize it. Google Translate isn’t always right on gender. Usually, it’s in formal speech, not casual. Use it as a foundation, then build on top of it.

About learning Croatian – in conclusion

Sometimes, Croatian can feel like it was created by a drunk person on acid. It has broken my brain on endless occasions, but that hasn’t stopped me from learning it as much as humanly possible within my capabilities.

Each step forward I take contributes to my life in Croatia positively. Speaking gives me satisfaction and confidence, helps me bond with others, and overall, makes living in Croatia a lot easier and more enjoyable.

No matter how long you are in Croatia, I recommend learning what you can – even if only a few words. You won’t regret it.

This list doesn’t cover all the ways you can learn Croatian. Subscribe to our newsletter here so you don’t miss part two.

View our other language posts

Please note: Information provided by Expat in Croatia is only for the purposes of guidance. It does not constitute legal or financial advice in any form. Croatian laws and bureaucratic rules often change, and each personal case is individual, so different rules may apply. For legal advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian lawyer. For financial advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian tax advisor or accountant.

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