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Croatian is harder to learn than English, foreigners struggle with two names

Croatian writing on blackboard

The number of foreigners wanting to learn Croatian is rising, with Croaticum, the Centre for Croatian as a Second and Foreign Language at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in Zagreb, seeing a continuous increase in students over the past decade.

These students include foreign exchange students, residents in Croatia, and descendants of Croatian emigrants, particularly from South America.

Last semester saw a significant number of students from Argentina and 70 other countries, including Ukraine, New Zealand, Australia, and various African nations.

Many come for love or work, with some, such as Koreans, having their courses funded by employers.

Dr. Marica Čilaš Mikulić, Deputy Head of Croaticum, told Jutarnji list show Briefing that the centre, established 62 years ago, initially served students from non-aligned countries, and later, descendants of Croatian emigrants. Croatian is also taught in university centres in Split, Osijek, Rijeka, and Pula, and in many language schools and adult education centres.

Teaching methods often involve gestures and visual aids due to language barriers. Foreigners find certain sounds, like ‘ž’ in “koža,” challenging, and names like Hrvoje or Tvrtko difficult to pronounce.

Croatian grammar is complex with its cases, genders, and plural forms. However, students often find Croatian logical once they immerse themselves in it, despite its initial difficulty compared to English.

Opportunities to return to Croatia through education

(Photo: Croaticum)

Students who have previously learned other languages tend to pick up Croatian more quickly. Intensive learning can lead to proficiency, as demonstrated by a Japanese journalist passionate about Croatian football, who, despite living in Japan, retains a rich Croatian vocabulary.

Recently, 70-hour Croatian courses for foreign workers have been organised, aiming to achieve A1 level proficiency for basic daily communication.

These courses are tailored to specific industries, such as food processing, construction, and hospitality. Knowledge of the local language is crucial for social integration and functionality.

Dr. Čilaš Mikulić also notes that while many Croatians speak English, making it easier for short-term residents to get by, long-term residents benefit from learning Croatian.

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She emphasised on the Briefing episode that being bilingual is advantageous and that historically, many Croatian regions were multilingual. Despite the rise in English proficiency, Croatian remains the primary language for expressing emotions, thoughts, and dreams.

While Croatian presents significant challenges for learners, the growing interest and structured teaching methods help many achieve proficiency, fostering better integration and understanding.


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