During my most recent visit to Croatia this past summer for Miloš’ vacation, I noticed that I was starting to pick up a few more words, and especially recognizing the roots of words as they popped up in their different incarnations.
I also had a LOT of people asking me when I was finally going to start to learn Croatian. Not understanding makes you always feel like an outsider. Don’t get me wrong, I’m always made to feel welcome by Miloš’ mom and grandmother. And his friends have always been so nice to me. But without fail, group conversations that start in English inevitably often switch to Croatian and I’m left sitting there not having a clue.
So I’ve finally decided to go beyond knowing a few Croatian words to actually learning the language. It’s about time. Come February, Milos and I will have been together for two years, and things are going great. So yea, I need to learn.
I did some research when I was looking on Amazon for Croatian course books. I chose one based on not only it’s description, but also on really good reviews, some of which mentioned how it did a good job of addressing aspects of dialect and common uses in the northern coastal areas of Croatia where Miloš is from.
I already knew how to pronounce Croatian, as Milos had taught me last year. Pronunciation is easy for me, as I’ve had years of extensive foreign language pronunciation study from all my opera training. In college and grad school I had to learn to sing in Italian, German, French, Latin, and obviously English. Our pronunciation was expected to be perfect – we had to learn ALL the rules. (French was obviously the most challenging, but I did it.) Croatian is really like Italian. There are a few minor different rules, but they’re so close. Add in a few new consonants, and you’ve mastered the pronunciation of Croatian. (See my previous blog post if you’d like a go at it yourself.)
My initial thought was, okay, it’s not like I’ve never studied another language before. I had German for all four years in high school and three semesters in college. My grammar has gone down the tubes, but I can get around pretty well in the German speaking world while making lots of grammatical errors. (Haha!) But at least I can say what I need to say and understand most of what’s said to me.
So I’ve jumped in and started with Croatian. Miloš warned me it was difficult, but holy freakin’ cow!!!
Okay. In English we obviously change our verbs, as all languages do. I go. She goes. We go. I study. She studies. They study. But the changes are pretty easy. Pretty simple. Yes we have lots of words to learn and our pronunciation can be a real bear, but an adjective is an adjective and a noun is a noun. No matter where it happens. Blanket is blanket no matter where it is in a sentence or who is using it. A window is a window. Boom. Easy. If you have a red window, you say red window no matter where it is in the sentence. We don’t do stuff like reda windowu. Or rede windowica. It’s just red window. Not so in Croatian.
In Croatian, you change the verb, the adjective, the noun, all the other little words in between them…. yes, all of it. And back in German class, if we had to conjugate a regular verb, we just had to memorize a little chart, as all the regular verbs were conjugated the same way. Easy! Well, there are three forms of Croatian regular verbs, so you have to memorize THREE charts. (That’s on top of the irregular verbs that come along.) But then there’s charts showing how you change the nouns – which are different depending on what case you use (and the gender, since all nouns have genders in other languages). And the same with adjectives. Because they all change based on so many things.
Let’s find an example, shall we?
How about having a sister? Let’s talk about that.
The Croatian word for “sister” is sestra. The word for “my” changes depending on gender, so you’re looking at moj, moja, or moje. Sister is a feminine word, so we’re gonna go with “moja.” Imati is the infinitive of “to have.” Znati is the infinitive of “to know.”
“Moja sestra je Amy.” – My sister is Amy. Okay, that’s the easy part. It’s the subject – nominative case. Got it. (Miloš, correct me if I’m messing any of this up.)
“Imam i sestru.” I have a sister. Notice how I had to change the ending on the word for sister? Yup.
“Ne znaš moju sestru?” You don’t know my sister? And this time it was also changing the ending for the word “my” in addition to the word for sister.
That’s only just scratching the surface. Here’s the handy dandy little charts I’ve been copying….
I’ve decided to start with good basics, and focus first on the forms of words without their conjugations. (Referring to nouns and adjectives.) At least I’ll start to recognize parts of words. I’ll then work on the verbs and conjugating them. Working on the noun and adjective changes? That’s gonna come later I think.
Damn, this is hard. (But will be very worth it!)…. Wish me luck!