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What Language Do They Speak in Croatia?

If you’re planning a trip to Croatia, you might be wondering: What language do they speak in Croatia? Well, you’ve come to the right place!

Croatia is a beautiful country located in southeastern Europe, known for its stunning coastline, medieval cities, and rich culture. The official language of Croatia is Croatian, which is a member of the Slavic language family.

As with any foreign language, being familiar with the language of the country you’re visiting can enhance your travel experience and create a deeper connection with the local culture.

As someone who has been living in Croatia since 2014, I’ve gotten to know the language pretty well and even speak it fluently now. That’s not to say it was easy, but it’s possible! Learning the language has seriously transformed my life in Croatia in a positive way and I highly recommend getting comfortable with a few basic phrases before traveling here.

Now that we’ve answered the question “What language is spoken in Croatia?”, in the rest of this blog post, we’ll explore the history of Croatian language, its dialects, usage, and resources for learning the language.

Croatian flag blowing in the wind on a backdrop of a blue sky with clouds.

What Language Do They Speak in Croatia?

History of the Croatian Language

The Croatian language (called Hrvatski in Croatian) has a rich and fascinating history that stretches back over a thousand years. It belongs to the South Slavic language family, which is a group of languages spoken across a large part of Eastern Europe.

The earliest known records of Croatian date back to the 9th century, when Old Church Slavonic (the first Slavic literary language) appeared. during the time of the Great Moravia empire. At this time, Croatian was written in the Glagolitic alphabet, which is thought to have been invented by the monks Cyril and Methodius specifically for the Slavic languages. This alphabet was used until the 12th century, when it was gradually replaced by the Latin alphabet.

An image of the Croatian Glagolitic Script, which was used until the 12th century.
Photo: Marino Pavletic/Creative Commons

Fun Fact: You can still see one of the first monuments containing Glagolitic script in Croatia today! The Bašćanska ploča (or Baška Tablet), discovered in 1851 on the island of Krk, is a stone slab on which the Glagolitic text appears. The text records King Zvonimir’s (king of Croatia and Dalmatia from 1076 to 1089) donation of land to a Benedictine abbey. The Baška Tablet is an extremely important piece of Croatian history as it is the first evidence of Croatia and King Zvonimir being mentioned in Croatian.

Source: Enciklopedija.hr

Later, the Croatian language underwent significant changes due to contact with other languages such as German, Italian, and Turkish. For this reason, it is common to hear words used in everyday Croatian that have been adopted from other languages. Although it is not something you will notice until you have been learning Croatian for a while (more on that later).

It wasn’t until the 19th century that linguists reformed the Latin alphabet (including the Cyrillic alphabet used by Serbs). The goal was to create a correspondence between the language’s sounds and letters, as well as a correspondence between the symbols in the Cyrillic and Latin alphabets.

Today, Croatian is the official language in Croatia and is spoken by around 5 million people worldwide. It is also recognized as one of the minority languages in Austria, Hungary, Italy, Serbia, and Slovakia, and is one of 24 official languages of the European Union. Despite its complex history, the Croatian language has remained an important part of Croatian culture and identity, and continues to evolve and adapt to the modern world.

Linguistic Characteristics of Croatian

Croatian is a Slavic language that shares many linguistic characteristics with other languages in the South Slavic group such as Russian, Czech, and Polish.

Croatian is very similar to to Serbian and Bosnian, which leads many to consider them one language (Serbo-Croatian). However, these three languages have been identified as separate in various historical contexts.

Here are some of the key linguistic characteristics of Croatian:

  • Alphabet: Croatian uses the Latin (or Roman) alphabet, which consists of 30 letters. Some letters contain accent marks which signify the letter’s pronunciation which you can see in the table below.
  • Phonetics: Croatian has five vowel sounds and 25 consonant sounds. It also has several unique sounds, such as the “lj” and “nj” sounds, which are formed by combining a consonant and a vowel sound.
  • Grammar: Croatian is an inflected language, which means that the endings of words change depending on their grammatical function. It has seven cases, which are used to indicate the function of nouns and adjectives in a sentence.
  • Verb conjugation: Croatian verbs are conjugated to show tense, mood, and aspect. It has three tenses (present, past, and future), three moods (indicative, imperative, and conditional), and two aspects (perfective and imperfective). This right here is the most difficult part of the Croatian language!
  • Word order: Croatian generally follows a subject-verb-object (SVO) word order, but it can be flexible depending on the emphasis or importance of certain words in a sentence.
  • Vocabulary: Croatian has borrowed words from many other languages, including Italian, German, and Turkish. However, it also has many unique words and expressions that reflect the history and culture of the Croatian people.
An image of the Croatian alphabet
Croatian Language Alphabet (Source: AMPEU)

Overall, Croatian is a complex and nuanced language that requires attention to detail and practice to master. However, its rich history, unique sounds, and expressive vocabulary make it a rewarding language to learn and explore.

Dialects of Croatian

Croatian has several regional dialects, which vary in pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary. Here is an overview of the main Croatian dialects:

Čakavian (Čakavski)

Čakavian is spoken along the Adriatic coast, on the islands, and in the western parts of Croatia (including the entire Istrian peninsula). This dialect is characterized by its soft pronunciation and the use of the “č” sound instead of “ć”. Čakavian has influenced the Croatian literary language and is used in many works of literature.

Kajkavian (Kajkavski)

Kajkavian is spoken in the northern and central parts of Croatia. It is known for its sing-song intonation and the use of the “kaj” question word. Kajkavian has a large number of regional sub-dialects, which can differ significantly from each other.

If you stay in Zagreb for a while, you may be able to pick up on the locals speaking in the Kajkavian dialect!

Štokavian (Štokavski)

Štokavian is the most widespread Croatian dialect and is spoken in the central and eastern parts of Croatia, as well as in parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Serbia. It is known for its hard pronunciation and the use of the “š” sound instead of “s”. Štokavian is the basis of the standard Croatian literary language and is the dialect television reporters and radio hosts use.

Color coded map of Croatia depicting the different regions and dialects in the country.
Image: Wikipedia

Each dialect has its own unique characteristics and cultural traditions, and they all contribute to the rich and diverse culture of Croatia. However, despite these differences, all Croatian dialects are mutually intelligible. Mutual intelligibility refers to the relationship between languages, meaning that speakers of one dialect can generally understand speakers of other dialects.

Usually only native speakers will be able to identify the differences between Croatian dialects. Although I can now speak near fluently, it is still difficult for me to understand certain dialects (especially when someone is speaking quickly). Sometimes, it even sounds like they are speaking a completely different language from Croatian!

Usage of Croatian

Croatian is primarily spoken in Croatia, where it is the official language. However, it is also spoken in other neighboring countries, as well as by Croatian communities around the world.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatian is one of three official languages, along with Bosnian and Serbian. It is primarily spoken in the southern parts of the country, where there is a large Croatian community. Other locations where Croatian is spoken include parts of Serbia that border Croatia and parts of Montenegro.

Croatia is generally seen as a small country, with the most recent census in 2021 reporting a total of 3,878,981 citizens, according to the Croatian Bureau of Statistics. It is estimated that there are almost as many Croats (around 4 million) living outside of Croatia!

There are large pockets of Croatian diaspora in places like Austria, Germany, Ireland, Chile, Argentina, Canada, the United States, and Australia, where the Croatian language is still being passed on from generation to generation.

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    Learning Croatian

    If you are a Croat living outside of Croatia or someone looking to move to Croatia and learn the language, here are a few language learning resources that can help make the process easier.

    University School of Croatian Language & Culture

    This is a summer course that I personally took in 2012, organized by Hrvatska Matica Iseljenika (Croatian Register of Emigrants). Taking place in Zagreb, this 4-week intensive program completely immerses learners in Croatian language and culture. The program includes a total of 120 academic hours plus field trips and of course, exams.

    Croatian is a tough language to learn, but this course was a huge game changer for me. The total language immersion approach meant that I was surrounded by an environment where I had little to no opportunity to speak English (my native tongue). Being constantly exposed to Croatian in real-world situations reinforced my understanding of the language and helped me develop the ability to think in Croatian and communicate more effectively.

    I can’t recommend this program enough! Plus, if you need to meet a foreign language requirement for graduating college, you may be able to put this course toward your credits like I did.

    Croaticum

    Croaticum is very popular among expats and diaspora that have returned to Croatia. It is an in-person program in Zagreb that offers Croatian language courses all year round for both beginner and advanced learners, as well as specialized courses for diplomats and businesspeople.

    All courses are taught by experienced instructors and provide a comprehensive and immersive learning experience. While I have not personally taken any courses at Croaticum, I have heard positive reviews from fellow returnees.

    University of Zagreb E-Course

    If you want to learn Croatian language basics but can’t physically come to Croatia for it, the University of Zagreb offers a paid e-learning course for beginners with no previous knowledge of Croatian. This is a group course that is taught via webinar. The course is available twice per year (choose between the spring course and autumn course) and lasts four weeks.

    Free Online Croatian Courses

    Learn Croatian online from anywhere in the world with these online courses:

    • Croaticum Free Online Courses: Croaticum offers online Croatian language courses in cooperation with the Central State Office for Croats Outside Croatia. A1 and A2 courses are available and you can start the free individual courses at any time.
    • HR4EU: learn Croatian for free through interactive and entertaining lessons developed by Filozofski Fakultet (Faculty of Humanity and Social Sciences) in Zagreb. Upon creating an account, you can try out their free courses, quizzes, lessons and exercises free of charge.

    If you’re just visiting Croatia for a short vacation, you won’t need to learn the entire language. A few basic phrases will suffice and learning them can enrich your travel experience.

    Basic Croatian Phrases

    Although most locals can speak or understand English, they truly appreciate when visitors put in a little effort into learning a few basic Croatian words!

    From how to say hello in Croatian to everyday pleasantries, here are some commonly used phrases:

    • Dobar dan – Good day (used as an everyday greeting and polite way to say “hello”)
    • Hvala – Thank you
    • Molim – Please
    • Doviđenja (or “đenja” for short”) – Goodbye
    • Oprostite – Excuse me
    • Kako si? – How are you?

    The Ling App can help you get the pronunciation right and give you a good foundation in the language so that traveling to Croatia is a breeze. It’s not limited to Croatian either, so if you’re visiting other countries in Europe or around the world, you can master their languages as well. With Ling, language is no longer a barrier!

    Other Languages in Croatia

    While Croatian is the main language in Croatia, other languages are spoken in the country as well. The second most common language spoken in Croatia is Bosnian, closely followed by Serbian. This is because all three languages come from the same language family.

    If you are visiting Croatia for the first time, you may be wondering: Can Croatians speak English? The answer is yes! English is widely spoken in Croatia, especially in tourist areas like Dubrovnik, Split, Zadar, and Zagreb. English is taught as a second language in elementary schools, beginning in the first grade. Additionally, many Croatians grow up watching US or UK television shows and movies, and therefore have a good understanding of the English language.

    FAQs

    What language is Croatian similar to?

    Croatian is a Slavic language and is closely related to Serbian, Bosnian, and Montenegrin.

    Is English spoken in Croatia?

    Yes! Many Croatians are familiar with English and can speak it well.

    How do you say hello in Croatian?

    The polite way to say “hello” in Croatia is “dobar dan”. Many people also use “bok” which is a more casual way of saying “hello”.

    How do you say how are you in Croatian?

    To say “how are you” in Croatian, say: Kako si? (informal), or Kako ste? (formal).

    What is the Croatian language code?

    The Croatian language code is HR, which stands for Hrvatski (meaning Croatian, in the Croatian language).

    Conclusion: What Language Do They Speak in Croatia?

    To wrap it up, Croatian is the official language spoken in Croatia and is spoken by around 7-8 million Croats, both within and outside of Croatia.

    It can be a difficult language to learn for native English speakers, but with resources like immersive university courses and free online classes, it’s possible to gain a strong foundation in the language. For those who are only visiting Croatia for a short time, learning just a few basic phrases will go a long way in helping to enrich your time in the country.

    All in all, Croatian is an exciting and vibrant language that is sure to open doors into many parts of everyday life in Croatia!

    Get the Ling App to brush up on your Croatian language skills before you visit!

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