Fancy learning Croatia, either in Croatia or in London? We caught up with one of the founders of the Croatia Language School, which although it is based in the centre of London also offers students the opportunity to travel to Croatia to fully immerse themselves in the language.
Molden, together with the CLS co-founders Linda Rabuzin and John Williams, completes the team organising the annual CLS Language and Culture programme.
Julia has lived most of her life in and around London. She studied French, German and Russian at what is now the University of Westminster in Central London and is an Associate of the Chartered Institute of Linguists.
After working in the travel industry and for a technical translation agency and having her family, in 1980 she and her husband established an independent specialist record and music publishing company, which they ran together successfully for over thirty years. She visited Dubrovnik several times in the 1960s and after a long break finally returned in 2005. She started studying Croatian with the CLS in 2007 and over the intervening decade has become progressively more involved, particularly with the organisation of the annual Language and Culture programme each June.
We believe you are one of the only language schools in London offering Croatian courses, and you even have immersion courses in Croatia every year. In a world dominated by English who needs to learn Croatian?
The Croatian Language School was established in Ealing, West London over twenty years ago. The aim of the school, then as now, was to become a unique centre dedicated exclusively to the teaching of all facets of the Croatian language and therefore relevant to all potential students of Croatian from across the globe, whether their requirements be for business, personal or pleasure reasons. Over the intervening two decades in direct response to the requirements and desires of the students, the scope of the school has extended substantially. Of primary importance these days are our one-to-one immersion courses in Zagreb and on the island of Lošinj (details of which can be found on our website www.easycroatian.com) as well as our week-long intensive Language and Culture course every June. This event has become a regular fixture in the CLS calendar since its pilot back in 2012. Since then our Language and Culture programme has embraced a large part of the Adriatic coast, having been based variously in Orebić on the Pelješac Peninsula, Cavtat, Zadar and Fažana in Istria. On one occasion our base was on board a boat, which during the course of the week made its way from Split to Dubrovnik, stopping at various ports of call along the way, thereby enabling students to get a taste of this entire part of the Croatian coast. This June we are returning to the Dubrovnik area, where our base will be on the island of Šipan and our particular focus will be acquiring an in-depth appreciation of the three inhabited Elaphite Islands of Lopud, Koločep and Šipan itself. Apart from immersion in the culture of our chosen location for the week, students also receive twelve hours of intensive language tuition in small groups with native speakers.
In answer to the second part of your question, you are indeed correct when you say that English is the dominant global language and it is a common perception that, if you can speak English, you can get by almost anywhere. However, to really be able to start understanding a country, there is absolutely no substitute for trying to acquire a degree of mastery of the language which opens the door to so much more in terms of appreciating the nature of the country, its people, its history and so on. So for anyone really wanting to do business successfully in Croatia or for anyone with Croatian roots or a Croatian partner, learning the language certainly pays dividends. On top of that, an increasing number of English-speaking people have discovered the beauties of Croatia. Some have actually taken the plunge and bought a property or even relocated here and so for them too being able to speak and understand Croatian is vital, if they are to benefit to the full from their decision. Others too, who have discovered all that Croatia has to offer and simply enjoy visiting the country frequently for pleasure, find that their experiences are immeasurably enhanced if they can communicate in Croatian and have an appreciation of the culture.
Have you seen interest in lessons increasing since Croatia became a full member of the European Union?
Inevitably the fact that Croatia joined the EU back in 2013 has had a marked effect particularly amongst business people looking towards the opportunities opening up to develop their commercial activities in the country. This is a trend which is steadily growing often bringing with it the requirement to gain a degree of mastery of the language so that they can improve the prospects of success in their endeavours. Croatia’s accession has also had the effect of heightening people’s awareness and overall interest in the country from the perspective of tourism. For some, Croatia’s joining the EU brought this country to their attention for the first time and for others it rekindled interest from past association and a feeling that they wanted to be part of this new phase in Croatia’s development.
Do the majority of your students tend to be Croatian expats who have a desire to reconnect with their roots?
This is, of course, one sizeable distinct group of our students but certainly not the majority. That could possibly be because many of this group are the children or grandchildren of Croats who emigrated to countries as far afield as the U.S.A. and Australia rather than the U.K., where the CLS is based. However in today’s joined-up world, this factor provides very little barrier in that the Croatian Language School in London offers tuition via Skype to any aspiring student anywhere in the world. However, I would say the majority of our students to date are based in the U.K. and Europe and their reasons for deciding to learn Croatian are many and varied. As I touched on earlier, some decide to learn to enhance their business prospects in Croatia, some because they have a Croatian partner, some because they have property in the country and some simply for the love of the place! There even seems to be a growing trend, particularly amongst the baby boomer generation, of the serial language learner. With more time at their disposal and with a greater desire and opportunity to travel and experience more of the world, they see this as an attractive challenge. It is not difficult to understand why for some Croatia might come onto their radar in this context.
Croatian is certainly one of the most difficult languages in Europe, if not the world. How difficult do your students find it to learn and how have immersion courses helped?
There is no pat answer to this as every potential student brings their own range of strengths and weaknesses. Obviously anyone deciding to learn Croatian who has never previously tried to master one of the more commonly studied and, probably, easier European languages, such as French or Spanish, is going to have quite a hurdle to overcome. For such a student, particularly if their native language is English, the sheer complexity of Croatian grammar is going to be quite a challenge at first. However, with determination and perseverance, this mist gradually begins to clear and, strangely, the very complexity can become a comfort as the student comes to appreciate that the very structured nature of Croatian grammar amazingly does have its advantages. From my own perspective, it does feel rather like a massive jigsaw puzzle where little by little the pieces gradually fall into place – and, for anyone who actually enjoys languages, that is a real joy. And of course, conversely to the complexities of the grammar, the phonetic nature of the written language, as compared to our impenetrable English spelling, can seem like a real breeze! Immersion courses help immeasurably because of their intensive, one-to-one nature, where students can pinpoint their own weaknesses and the teacher can address them specifically rather than having to deal with a class full of students all with their own unanswered questions.
From a total beginner to being relatively fluent, how long does that take? And do you have many students who just want to learn some basic phrases before coming on holiday?
Again, there is no one simple answer to this question for all the reasons mentioned above. For someone under time pressure for business reasons with high motivation and commitment, a reasonable working knowledge could be achieved within a matter of months through immersion and intensive tuition. Without this type of imperative but with reasonable application, a student can start to hold a half decent conversation within a year and obviously this ability just continues to increase year on year with continued effort. The basics of grammar can certainly be mastered within a year. As with any language, what really holds a student back or spurs them on in terms of fluency is the breadth of their vocabulary, which obviously is an ongoing endeavour. Yes, some students do just want to acquire a smattering of the language and that is fine. And for others, the quest can go on forever. When you think about it, does anybody actually know every word in their own mother tongue! But, to answer your question, I would say that, with reasonable but non-pressurised application, a relatively good degree of fluency can be achieved within three to five years. It all depends on how much effort you are prepared to put in.
What message do you have for potential students?
I would say that, if you are considering studying Croatian for whatever reason, there is nothing to stop you, wherever you live and whatever age you are. At the Croatian Language School our students range from children right up to some in their 80s and the School’s real strength is that it offers expert tuition, to just the level you require, in a relaxed, friendly and welcoming environment with a whole variety of flexible options. You can choose to study one-to-one on Skype from anywhere in the world. You can attend group lessons on a Saturday morning if you happen to be anywhere within striking distance of Ealing, West London. You can arrange an immersion course in the engaging Croatian capital city, Zagreb, or on the beautiful island of Lošinj. Or you can join our annual Language and Culture programme. With this year’s course on Šipan more or less buttoned up, we are already turning our thoughts to 2019 when we plan to venture inland to start to discover Slavonia. You won’t know how enjoyable and fulfilling trying to master the language can be until you try it. And I speak from experience here, having been a CLS student myself for over ten years now!