Traveling is always a richer experience when you can communicate with the local people. Greg and I both feel presumptuous speaking English while abroad, so we began our study of the Croatian language (hrvatski) before leaving the U.S. We were very lucky to receive help from a retired University of Maine language professor who is from Croatia. She generously gave her time and helped us with the alphabet, pronunciation, and vocabulary. When we arrived in Zagreb we found that many Croatians speak English, making it easy for us to get around. However, neither of us wanted to depend on English, so we have been working with a wonderful tutor here in Zadar.
Perhaps it’s true that you do not learn a language until you have made ten thousand mistakes. If that’s the case, then we are well on our way! One day, while shopping in the market, I attempted to ask for a quarter kilo of onions. I realized I had not employed my hrvatski correctly when the vendor started filling the second bag! I tried again, “četiri kilo?” I asked. “Da” (yes), she said. Then it hit me: I was asking for four kilos (about 9lbs) of onions instead of a quarter kilo. I quickly corrected myself, “četvrt kilo,” and thankfully she laughed and sold me a quarter kilo of onions. Despite the fact that I almost had to carry 9lbs of onions home, in the mistake department Greg is king. He has managed to introduce me as his husband, as well as exclaiming, “volim se!” (I love myself) instead of “vidimo se” (see you later) when saying farewell to our tutor.
Croatians themselves seem well aware of the complexity of their language. When we share with someone here that we are trying to learn Croatian, without fail we receive a friendly smile and a somewhat sarcastic “Good luck!” Mostly we find that people are appreciative of a foreigner attempting to speak their language (even if we do butcher it in the process). We stumble quite a bit in our communications, but everyone here has been very patient with us, allowing us to take our time to find the right words and responding slowly or, in many cases, in English so that we will understand.