Croatian is a South Slavic language spoken mainly in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Serbian province of Vojvodina and the neighboring countries.
There are also Croatian communities across Europe, as well as the USA and Latin American countries, such as Chile.
It is estimated that Croatian is spoken by around 5 million speakers. It is an official language in Croatia, as well as in Bosnia and Herzegovina (along with Serbian and Bosnian).
Around a million people in Croatian communities in Europe and about 1.5 million overseas speak Croatian outside Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
There is no data available on the number of people learning Croatian as a foreign language. However, judging from quite a few resources available online, Croatian is relatively popular as a foreign language.
The difficulty of Croatian as a foreign language depends on your native language. As a Slavic language, it is relatively easy for native speakers of other Slavic languages to master, while it is harder for non-Slavic speakers.
There are a few things that may make Croatian hard to learn: there are a lot of cases and inflections; nouns in Croatian have the category of gender that may be hard to understand; spelling and pronunciation of certain sounds can be tricky as wells.
However, the language is highly phonetic, once you master all the unusual letters and sounds. There are no articles and a relatively simple tense system.
Yes, it is.
The Slavic languages (also called Slavonic languages) are the Indo-European languages spoken by the Slavic peoples. The Slavic languages are conventionally divided into three subgroups: East, West, and South, which together constitute more than 20 languages.
The existing East Slavic languages are Belarusian, Russian and Ukrainian. The West Slavic languages include Polish, Czech, Slovak, Kashubian, Upper Sorbian, and Lower Sorbian. Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian, and Montenegrin constitute a single dialect within the South Slavic language continuum.
Croatian and Serbian are, in fact, one language, sometimes referred to as Serbo-Croatian. Standard Bosnian, Croatian, Montenegrin, and Serbian are different national variants and official registers of the pluricentric Serbo-Croatian language that are singled out largely for political reasons. While there are some differences between the variants, they are not large enough to talk about separate languages.
As for Croatian and Serbian, there are no major differences in most areas. For instance, Serbian uses both the Cyrillic and Latin scripts, while Croatian exclusively uses the Latin alphabet. Names of elements in chemistry and a lot of mathematical terms are different.
The most noticeable difference is lexical with around 30% of vocabulary different between the two languages. Pronunciation is also quite different: while the two languages / variants are around 90% mutually intelligible, they do not sound the same.
Croatian and Russian are both Slavic languages and, as many related languages do, they share some similarities, such as common roots and some shared vocabulary, or the noun case system.
However, the two languages belong to different subgroups. Croatian (as well as Bulgarian) is a South Slavic language, whereas Russian (as well as Belorussian and Ukrainian) is Eastern Slavic.
The languages are not mutually intelligible. Speakers of one are usually able to understand just a few basic words and phrases of the other.
Generally, Russian speakers can understand Croatian better than vice versa. One of the reasons is that the Russian language uses the Cyrillic script which most Croatians can’t read, while Russians can usually read the Latin script which the Croatian language uses.