Croatian is not a common language. I mean, apart from Croats themselves, I don’t know many people who would decide to take up Croatian unless they are planning to live there, have a Croatian partner, or both. My friend Katarina’s motivation when she decided to learn Croatian was neither of these, which makes it even more intriguing to me. Katarina is a young translator and interpreter from English/French into German who is currently living in Croatia. She’s one of the most hard-working people I know and a great source of inspiration to me. I thought I would share with you the interview I recently conducted with Katarina, I hope you like it, that it will inspire you and motivate you to learn languages that are considered not that common! Remember my post about personal adoptive language :-)
When did you start learning Croatian and where did the idea come from?
I took a course at uni for one semester in 2009. I had toyed with the idea of taking this class for some time, I was interested in learning Croatian as it is a Slavic language and therefore different from the other languages I had learned until then. It promised to be a challenge. I had also read a lot about the Homeland war and was intrigued by the contemporary history of the country and the region in general. And finally, I figured it would be a smart move to learn the language of a country that would soon join the EU.
Does Croatian grammar and vocab look like any other language you know?
At first glance it looks very different and difficult. But once I got started, I saw quite a few similarities. There are quite a few lean words from German that you do not recognize immediately because the Croatian spelling is phonetic, which means that words are spelled as they are pronounced. As a native German speaker I am also familiar with the concept of cases, even though Croatian has 7.
The most difficult part of the Croatian grammar so far is the verbal aspect. A verb in Croatian is either perfective or imperfective. A perfective verb describes a completed, finished action, an imperfective verb describes an action that took place, at a certain moment, regularly, etc. It’s tricky, but understanding how other languages function and how they differ is the fun part of learning a new language.
On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 = easy and 10 = difficult), where would you place Croatian? To give us a better idea of your rating, where would you place French, English, German an Swedish, which are the other languages you know?
Croatian is definitely the hardest language I have learned until now. But I don’t know how I would rate them. Every language has its difficulties. I would say the Swedish is an easy language, and when I went to Sweden I was confident about my skills. But it turned out I had no clue of the correct pronunciation, so I could not understand the people and they did not know what I was trying to say. English seems easy at first, but gets harder and harder the more you advance. I could converse in French pretty quickly, but they have all these tenses and exceptions that are frustrating to a non-native speaker. German is my mother tongue, so I cannot really judge, even though I am glad I do not have to learn it now. I think Croatian is very difficult in the beginning, but once you are done with the grammar of a B1-level, there will be no bad surprises. So I guess, in one way or another, every language is a 10. It is up to you to make it easy.
Kat, you’re currently in Croatia, what is a typical day for you?
I am very lucky, my class starts at 11 o’clock every day, so if I don’t have to work, I can sleep in and wake up without alarm. Class ends at 1.30 and afterwards I work and do the homework. The free time I spend with trips to the museum (I set myself the goal to go to all the museums Zagreb has to offer), festivals, theatre and other. I also try to travel around a bit. I want to be active and see as much as possible of the country.
What are you hoping to achieve once you have learned Croatian?
It will be a huge achievement to have learned Croatian. I want to have a C1-level so that I can add it as a working language for my interpretation and translation work. I hope it will help me to get into the European institutions, I am especially interested in the Court of Justice. But I am open to anything that will allow me to put my language skills to good use.
How would you describe Croatian people?
My first impression was very positive. The people were very friendly and helpful, no matter if it was my landlord, my neighbour or people on the street. I appreciate that, I feel very safe here. Croats are also (which I think is true for the other countries of the former Yugoslavia too) very nationalistic and proud of their country. This was particularly visible on the day Ante Gotovina was acquitted of war crimes last autumn.
Finally, once you’re done with Croatian, what language(s) would you like to learn?
The first step would be to look into Bosnian and Serbian as they are so close to Croatian. I also would like to work on my Swedish which is completely gone. And after that? I think I will have some brain capacity left to have a go at Czech. Again a Slavic language, so hopefully that would not be too difficult. And if I need a challenge after that, I find Turkish very intriguing. But these are long-term plans, my goal is to fluently speak the languages I learn. It is more about quality than quantity. But if I could, I would continue to learn new languages my whole life.
If you need any German translation or interpretation services, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will put you in touch with Katarina. She’s one of the best German linguists on the market – no kidding.