By Anastasia Kinkusic, content writer for LingoLearn.com
When it comes to learning Croatian pronunciation, mental tricks are recommended. For example, when someone tells you “see you later”, you answer back in kind, “Do-Viđenja!”. But how is it that pronounced, anyway? “Dough – Virginia”, more or less. “Viđjena” means “until I see you again” (“vid” means “vision”, which explains the logic behind the phrase). I know for myself that when I saw the letter “D” with a slash through it, I was confused. It is actually pronounced like the English letter “J”. Theoretically, if you named your daughter Jackie or Julie, their names would be spelled “Đeki” or “ĐŽuli” in Serbian.
The letter “Ž” is an interesting one in itself. It can either be pronounced like the letter “J” as in “Jacques Cousteau” (the famous French marine biologist), or like the letter “J” as in “Taj Mahal”. For example, my son’s name Blaž, which means “blessing” or “treasure” (and he is), rhymes with the word “garage” (which ironically means a storehouse for junk, in many cases). It was then that my mom insisted that it should be referred to as “Taj Mahal” instead of as “garage”, since he was much more magnificent, and I agreed wholeheartedly.
The letters of the Croatian language are designed to save time. They are like tiny pieces of code, or formulas of sound, so that when you put them all together – you get a unique product. These words are practically foolproof, making Croatian a very easy language to spell. Unfortunately, we can’t say the same about English. Many, if not most English words need to be memorized as far as spelling is concerned – how else could a person learn to spell “phlegm”, “laughing”, “telephone” or “rhythm”?
Croatian, on the other hand, is a “what you hear is what you get” type of language. The letter “R” actually produces the sound “-er”, so words like “Krk” (as in the waterfalls outside of Split) are pronounced “Kerk”. The town square, or “Trg” (which actually means and looks a little like a triangle) is pronounced “Terg”. Once you know how each letter sounds, the mystery of spelling and pronunciation is all that much closer to being cracked.
Having said that, there are a few sounds that are very hard for westerners to pronounce. The vibrating “R”, which requires a fast flowing air stream from the throat, is produced by having the tongue vibrate at the base of the front teeth while exhaling. It is a sound that many fail to master, and is the primary source of being “singled out” as a non-native speaker of Croatian. The English pronunciation of the letter “R”, by the way, supposedly originates from a British politician who refused to remove his cigar from the side of his mouth while discussing important matters in Parliament.
Another challenge is the letter combination “Lj”, as in “Ljubljana” (the capital city of Slovenia). It is meant to produce a combination of the sounds of the letters “L” and “Y”, but many try shortcutting it by pronouncing just the “Y” sound, which is wrong, as the “L” should be heard as well.
In conclusion, the pronunciation in Slavic languages, and in Croatian particularly, tends to be a bit difficult at first due to some inherent differences from Latin languages. But fear not, with a little practice and determination – they can be mastered just as well!
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