Never Too Old To Learn a Language

Never Too Old To Learn a Language

There is the old adage that you cannot teach an old dog new tricks. Well, I first disproved that by teaching Jameson to roll over after we adopted him, and I want to again disprove it by learning the Croatian language - at least as well as a 3-year old.

About the Language

Language Difficulty

The Serbo-Croatian language is not the hardest out there, but it is definitely not the easiest language to learn. This fun chart illustrates how long it takes to achieve proficiency (that was a lot of class time for the hubs, for sure). Like Russian, Serbo-Croatian is a slavic language. Luckily, Croatia uses the Latin alphabet (like ours but with four additional letters) but other Balkan countries use Cyrillic.

What makes it so difficult to learn? Learning the seven grammar cases they use in Serbo-Croatian.

Like English, Serbo-Croatian conjugates verbs depending on who the subjects are and the tense; but what complicates the learning process is that nouns, pronouns and numerals also change depending on how they are used. It is a lot of work to translate one sentence (at least for this old dog).

Granted, most Croatians (especially those who live in the cities) speak English very well - respect because I will never get that proficient at their language. But I still commit to make an effort to learn.

The first thing that tripped me up while learning Croatian? They don't use articles! Articles like "the," "a" and "an" do not exist. This helps me understand why native Slavic speakers tend to skip them when speaking English.

The second giant rock I tripped on when studying Croatian? How freaking fast they speak. Just when I start to feel better about speaking and reading the language, I listen to a native speaker like those on Easy Croatian and my jaw hits my (dirty) floor. Like whoa.

Serbo-Croatian Cases

You may now be wondering, "Dang Morgan! Good for you, learning a new language. Cheers and drink to that."


My learning process has been like a jankity rollercoaster (think Thunderation at Silver Dollar City, but even worse).

At first, Bret tried to get me pumped up about learning words and phrases by teaching me and having me repeat and remember them. UMMMM, that is not how I learn so sadly for him I was a horrible student and did not retain anything except, "Samo gledam," which means "Just looking." (He taught me and I retained a shopping phrase... What does that say about me?!)

I went all Winter without really studying Serbo-Croatian while the hubs was in language class full-time. He is phenomenal at learning languages, and I think I was a bit turned off by my struggles with them.

So I let constant distractions derail my motivation. We had a rough winter, I got hooked on Grey's Anatomy on Netflix and work went nucking futs; the perfect storm for lazy week nights and weekends.

The Process of Learning

In March, though, I checked out The First 20 Hours, by Josh Kaufman, from my local library (seriously - if you do not check out digital eBooks and audiobooks from your library you are missing out!) and it gave me motivation. Kaufman says that if you can get through the first 20 hours of skill acquisition, you have a higher chance of getting the results you are seeking.

So I got serious. I used Kaufman's principles (if you want to see them, scroll all the way down to the "Nerd Alert" section) to create a learning plan, and started using Bret's textbooks and iPhone apps to learn new words and grammar rules. The first ah-ha moment? I have to hear AND see the word in order to learn it. When listening and speaking a language, my brain pictures its spelling and structure in my head.

It is like how some people can learn to play guitar by just hearing the song and mimicking the sounds while others must read the music or tabs in order to form the song. I wish I was savvy enough to learn from audio only - but at least now I know what I DO need.

The Backslide (and Slow Recovery)

Learning was going swell - I was spending at least half an hour daily studying, I was learning about 20 new words a week and I was practicing with the hubs at home. I had a plan to get through those first 20 hours, and I made it!

And then, it all kinda went to ish. It is like my brain hit my 20 hour goal, and then washed its hands of it. My Grey's binge-watching was re-ignited, my work continued to drain my energy and Bret was getting home at normal hours so I didn't have the alone time I had before to study. I was letting all of my excuses take over.

One thing that discouraged me was the lack of free resources to learn Serbo-Croatian. Popular languages like Spanish and French have resources all over the internet, including parallel texts (books with English and the new language side-by-side), children's shows, and popular movies with subtitles (Mean Girls with Croatian subtitles would make my heart sing).

I decided to begin making my own. As many of you know, I enjoy some (rough attempts at) art, so I sketched visuals to help me learn words in common themes. Fun, right? Well, it was for me.

So we are back in business!

Croatian Vocab Pictures

All in all, the process of a new language is difficult at any time in your life, and it has been rocky for this 27-year-old. But I am optimistic! I do not need to give college commencement in Croatian, I just need enough to get around to enjoy our time in the Balkans.

Later, I want to check in with you all to share how my learning has progressed! Maybe I will even embarrass myself by sharing a video of me saying a few things. We shall see.

Okay, now you can toast me:

Here's to learning new tricks and diving into the croatian culture by learning their language.


Love you all,


P.S. I know our posts so far have been the build up to moving, but sign up for newsletter alerts to follow along as we move and live abroad!

Nerd Alert: The 20 Hours Principles

Here are Josh Kaufman's principles in The First 20 Hours:

  1. Choose a lovable project.
  2. Focus your energy on the one skill at a time.
  3. Define your target performance level.
  4. Deconstruct the skill into sub-skills.
  5. Obtain critical tools.
  6. Eliminate barriers to practice.
  7. Make dedicated time for practice.
  8. Create fast feedback loops.
  9. Practice by the clock in short bursts.
  10. Emphasize quantity and speed.

Okay, so I planned these principles based on my desired skill: Croatian.

  1. Learn Croatian (lovable because I want to make the most of our time in Croatia!).
  2. Well, this is the only new thing I am learning right now...
  3. I want to speak as well as a toddler. Shoot for the stars, folks.
  4. Sub-skills: speaking, reading and writing.
  5. Gathered Croatian apps, saved Croatian videos on YouTube, text books from the hubs, the hubs (he is a tool in this case HAHA), existing worksheets online.
  6. The barriers to practice (besides a full-time job) are my leisure activities which include TV, social media and more TV in the evening.
  7. Spend at least 30 minutes each day on learning and practicing.
  8. Check answer keys, compare definitions, ask the hubs for confirmation.
  9. Watch the clock for start time to ensure I know when the 30 minutes start.
  10. Learn 50 new words or phrases a week.

I dare you to use these principles to learn a new skill! After this, I am going to use them to learn either tennis or golf.

Want a Croatian Pen Pal?

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