Dobro došli. Welcome.

Doći, argh a ći-verb. Došla sam?

Išla, mogla, željela, mislila, gledala – the lala’s and sams dance around the class room. My head is spinning. All verbs I know have changed. Meet the Croatian language. It takes a while for me to realize we’re gonna do the past tense. Excitement, let’s do this.

“Bila sam u Sarajev… uhh”, static place, lokativ, ending on -o = srednji rod… u. “Bila sam u Sarajevu.” I was in Sarajevo. Kada? When? I want to say ‘in January’, but the unpronounceable Croatian word for January (siječanj) disappeared from my memory. I look at the paper the teacher just gave us and decide to lie. “Prošle mjesec bila sam u Sarajevu.” Last month I was in Sarajevo.

Every time I tell a lie, I think of my younger brother who once – when very, very young – told the teacher he wanted to become a chef. The poor boy didn’t know how to write whatever else it was he wanted to do when grown up, so he wrote down ‘kok’, chef in Dutch. I do this all the time, the truth is simply too complicated.

When we have to introduce ourselves I feel proud I remembered to say ‘I have 34 years’ instead ‘I am 34’. “Imam 34 godina.” Great, only godina, year, changed into godine. Why? Why is everything constantly changing? Next we have to introduce each other. Shit, I didn’t pay attention. “Lisa ima 28 godine.” No. It’s godina, after 4 it’s not genitiv anymore. And she’s 29. The teacher laughs when she sees my puzzled face. Genitiv with numbers? If the introduction is already this complicated, how am I going to learn to have a real conversation?

Of course, I don’t care about grammar when I’m hiking. I ask for directions, order coffee, buy bread and introduce myself without thinking of genitiv or akuzativ. Or lokativ. And I get answers. People understand what I want, they smile and usually speak slowly. Often it’s them in simplified Croatian and me in broken German mixed with a few Croatian words, but I manage.

I do envy those who easily absorb a new language. Those who learn by listening and simply repeat what they hear. I’m not like that. Somehow I can’t remember words or sentences when I haven’t seen them. And I can’t produce words or sentences when I don’t understand how. Surely I have to get over my fear and I surely have to let that perfectionism go, but I also believe there are different ways of learning. Mine goes slow, but I like it.

It gives me so much pleasure to dive into the structure of a language. To learn, to create, to puzzle and to find out that it actually starts to make sense. Last year I did the A1 course where we only used the present tense. Everything we talked about was happening right now. Confusing and funny, but in a way it was a relief. An enlightenment. Seriously, forget Eckhart Tolle and The Power of NOW, start to learn Croatian.

Now the past shows up. In the first lesson I heard more irregularities than I did in one whole year. The teacher is exposing us, “I’m trying to force something on you.” No idea what. Excitement and fear. Maybe I don’t want to leave my present-tense-bubble?

Just like last year I feel extremely overwhelmed. After only three hours in class I’m tired as if I worked a 9-5 office job for a whole week. So many new words, tenses and irregularities. I struggle with the slj, šl and š’s, the different cases, the exceptions. Pfff, I can’t talk and think at the same time.

Can’t say what I would like to say, but I also can’t talk around the missing words, because I there are too many words missing. I realize I feel intimidated by the Ukrainian girl who sounds so fluently. Also the other girl is pretty impressive, she didn’t even do A1, but started straight away with the A2 course. I smile. This is the super insecure me. But it’s good. We’re with three girls and as far I can see all three of us are mega motivated. Think I got extremely lucky.

So, let’s get this party started.

Radujem se sljedećem mjesecu. Hello future. Right?

Croatian Language Acadamy SPUTNIK, Zagreb | Life in Zagreb
Croatian Language Acadamy


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