As a classically trained singer, it’s always important to me to try to pronounce foreign languages as accurately as possible. I had classes in undergrad AND grad school in foreign language diction, specifically the classical singing languages: French, German, Italian, Latin. The goal is always to NOT have an American accent in everything you sing.
So of course I want to pronounce Croatian as accurately as possible also. Plus, I’m trying to learn a few words (or more) so I can somewhat function when I’m here in Croatia visiting. Miloš tells me my pronunciation is quite good. Of course, I have absolutely no idea what I’m saying when I read any text I see.
Another point to note – there are several dialects throughout the region, so the dialect I’m giving you is from Miloš’ area of Croatia – along the coast and to the north. I should also mention that Google Translate does not work well for Croatian, because of the dialects and the slang. I have become convinced that the team responsible for programming the Croatian part of Google Translate have a twisted sense of humor and like to make at least half of everything have some kind of sexual innuendo. (Go ahead, try it sometime… haha!)
Okay, let’s first talk about pronunciation (diction.) For my singer friends, the vowels are essentially the same as Italian – well, mostly. So in that way, it’s super easy. Pure vowels, no diphthongs.
First up, let’s talk about those vowels….
Letter –> pronunciation
A –> “ah”
I –> “ee”
O –> “aw” (open ‘o’, never closed ‘o’. It’s the AW sound, but with more ROUNDED lips)
E –> “eh”
U –> “oo”
Next – consonants. Many are actually the same as English, so let’s talk about the ones that are different.
Letter –> pronunciation
C –> “ts”
Š –> “sh”
Đ –> “j”
J –> “y” (same as in German)
Č –> “ch”
Ć –> “ch” (but softer than the other ‘ch’)
Ž –> “jh” (like the french ‘J’ sound)
Otherwise, the letters are pronounced the same.
So, first lesson, Miloš’ name:
(the stress is on the first syllable, and it has an open O sound, not closed)
Other helpful words and phrases (this is the super highlights version, perhaps we’ll do more at a later date):
Da [DAH] – Yes
Ne [NEH] – No
Hvala [HVAH-lah] – Thank You (yes, you pronounce the “H” at the beginning)
Molim [MAW-leem] – Please AND You’re Welcome (if we’re keeping it simple – it’s actually a little more complicated than that, but this covers it in a basic beginner way.)
Bok [BAWK] – Hello AND Good-bye
Ciao [CHA-oo] – Hello AND Good-bye (just like Italian; maybe because the countries are so close?)
Dobro [DAW-braw] – Okay/Fine/Good
Drago mi je [DRAH-gaw mee yeh] – Pleased to meet you
Gdje je? [gd-YEH yeh] – Where is…?
Ulica [OO-lee-tsa] – Street
Škola [SHKAW-lah] – School
Moje ime je [MAW-yeh EEM-eh Yeh] – My name is…
Kuća [KOO-chah] – House
Dan [DAHN] – Day
Tjedan [TYEH-dahn] – Week
Mjesec [MYEH-sets] – Month AND Moon
Sunce [SOON-tseh] – Sun
Večera [VEH-cheh-rah] – Dinner
Sol [Sawl] – Salt
Jadrolinija [yah-draw-LEE-nee-yah] – The main company of ships that transport you from the main land to the islands. (Haha – saw this all the time when we vacationed in Zadar last summer, but also saw the sign in Rijeka. It was one of the first words I learned to pronounce.)
For me, I’ve found the hardest thing is to figure out which syllable gets the stress. It seems that much of the time, it’s the first syllable. BUT – some of that is dialect related as well.
Also, because of the amount of tourists that come to this area from Germany and Austria, people here will also often speak German. So if you run into someone who doesn’t speak English, try German – you never know.
Overall, I realize Croatian is a tricky language, but I’m gonna keep working on it! 🙂