What Language is Spoken in Croatia?

When planning your trip to Croatia, you’re probably thinking about the best destinations to visit and the different types of tours available to take, but another important aspect of travel is the language spoken in the destination.

In almost every country, the locals truly appreciate when visitors put a little effort into learning at least a few basic words and phrases of the language. But what language is spoken in Croatia?

Over 95 percent of Croatians speak the native Croatian language called Hrvatski. You’ve probably seen the Croatian language code, HR, and wondered what it stood for. Well, now you know, it’s Hrvatski which simply indicates the Croatian language.

It includes three different dialects: Chakavian, Kajkavian, and Shtokavian, belonging to the South Slavic language family which are languages spoken across much of Eastern Europe.

There are foreign languages spoken here too, including English, Serbian, Italian, Czech, Slovak, German, and Romani. English is the most common, along with German and Italian.


The History of the Croatian Language

Croatia has a long, rich history and has seen quite a few changes over the centuries, with the Croatian language heard today the result of more than 900 years’ worth of events.

Its history was shaped by the influence and power of multiple world-conquering empires, resulting in a complex language, unlike many others.

Latin was spoken until the Slavs dialect arrived over the 6th and 7th centuries, with the earliest known records of the Croatian language dating to the 9th century.

The Glagolitic alphabet was used during this time and is believed to have been invented by monks for the Slavic languages, used through the 12th century when the Latin alphabet gradually replaced it.

If you want to see a very important slice of Croatian history, the Baška Tablet was discovered on Krk Island in 1851. Both King Zvonimir and Croatia were mentioned in Croatian, providing the first evidence of the language.

The stone slab records the donation of land from the king to a Benedictine abbey in Glagolitic text. It’s kept in Zagreb at the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts and there is a copy in the church of St. Lucy on the island of Krk.

You can see more in the archaeological park and Benedictine monastery around the church where there is a path featuring stone sculptures with carved Glagolitic letters.


Regional Dialects

Today, the official Croatian language is spoken by approximately five million people across the globe, one of Europe’s 24 official languages, while recognized as a minority language in Slovakia, Italy, Serbia, Hungary, and Austria.

It’s a complex, nuanced language that isn’t easy to master with regional dialects varying in grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation.

Shtokavian (Štokavski):

The most widespread dialect, spoken in eastern and central areas of Croatia and in parts of the country’s neighbors. It’s the basis of the standard Croatian literary language and the dialect that radio hosts and television reporters use.

Kajkavian (Kajkavski):

Spoken in central and northern parts of Croatia, including Zagreb. It has more similarities to the Slovene language than to the standard Croatian language. It also isn’t similar to the other Croatian dialects.

Cakavian (Čakavski):

Spoken in western areas of Croatia, including the Istrian Peninsula, throughout the islands, and along the Adriatic coast. It’s the least used dialect with just 12 percent of Croatians using it.


Basic Croatian For Visitors

English is widely spoken in Croatia, especially in popular tourist destinations along the Adriatic coast, including major cities like Dubrovnik, Split, and Zagreb.

Those who work in hospitality and most younger Croatians typically have a good grasp thanks to the emphasis on language education and the tourism boom. Menus, signs, and informative displays in popular tourist spots are often written in both standard Croatian and English.

That said, while most locals understand or speak at least some English, they appreciate visitors who have put the effort into learning at least a few basic words.

The good news is that pronunciation is how it’s read, so when you understand which sounds the accents make, you can read the word as is.

The locals will be happy and surprised to hear a foreigner speak their language even if it’s only a few words. Don’t worry about sounding silly, you won’t be laughed at – most say they feel honored when visitors take the time to try and learn.

Whether you’re saying hello or ordering coffee, knowing a few Croatian phrases will go a long way, from dobar dan (good day) to hvala (thank you).

Here are some of the other most commonly used Croatian phrases:

  • Molim: Please
  • Kako si?: How are you?
  • Dovidenja or denja: Goodbye
  • Dobro jutro: Good morning
  • Dobra vecer: Good evening
  • Laku noc: Good night
  • Oprostite: Excuse me
  • Nema na cemu: You’re welcome
  • Koliko kosta?: How much does it cost?
  • Gdje je: Where is (when asking for directions, say Gdje je followed by the name of the place, such as Gdje je Diocletian’s Palace)


Other Resources

There are some very helpful resources for learning Croatian available on YouTube, including videos that teach Croatian phrases. Downloading an app or two will be of big help, with some of the best including “Simply Learn Croatian,” “Mondly,” and “Pimsleur.”

Google Translate is a must. Tried and true, it includes voice, text, and scanned translation options while being compatible with almost every device. You can even take photos of signs and the text will be instantly translated.