There are polyglots and then there is Stephan Behringer. His badge on his shirt had the flags of twelve countries, and yes he speaks twelve languages, well eleven and a half as he says. He spent time in Dubrovnik learning Croatian and we caught up with him during his time here. Born near Stuttgart, Germany he started expanding his languages skills relatively late in life, but when he started there was no stopping him.
You are a true polyglot, am I correct in saying that you speak 12 languages?
I say as a joke 11 and a half because I have forgotten most of my Arabic. Let’s put it like this, I have native speaker level in four languages, German, English, French and Spanish. Then I am quite fluent in Italian, Russian and Portuguese. And then Croatian, Swedish, Romanian and Chinese. In fact, I am going to China in June so I will have the chance to practise again.
Why did you decide to learn Croatian?
I have been to Croatian four times and twice in Dubrovnik. I had a desire to learn a Slavic language, I already speak Russian quite well, and also my best friend is from Serbia. I also knew that if I decided to learn Serbian it would go a lot slower, I know the Cyrillic alphabet but if you are a native speaker of the Latin alphabet the learning goes much faster. And then my decision was where I should learn Croatian. I had many offers from Zagreb but I had heard a lot about Dubrovnik. I was also told that Dubrovnik was extremely busy in the summer, so I came in December, which gave me time and space to see the sights and learn more about the culture. I was lucky to find the Europe House Dubrovnik after speaking to a friend and I very much enjoy learning here.
Do you think there will be any practical business use of you learning Croatian?
Well, yes you never know. I have a recruitment business connecting Spain and Germany and I have already been in contact with the Croatian Unemployment Office to find out about the possibilities here. In fact, the office told me that many of the young, qualified people were already working abroad. And as a full member of the European Union Croatians already have the possibility to work freely in Germany.
Where does you love of languages come from?
It is a good question. It isn’t really from my parents. In fact, I didn’t really travel much as a younger child, my first flight abroad was when I was 17 years-old. I had English and French at school which probably gave me an insight into languages. I also saw that when I did start travelling that being able to speak to the locals was a huge advantage. You’re able to discover more about the history, culture and traditions. It really justifies all the effort of learning a language. I remember the day after I graduated from university I decided to learn a language. I asked myself what is the most useful language, of course the answer was Mandarin Chinese, so I spent a year learning. The next was Spanish in Cuba, Portuguese in Brazil and then Russian in Russia. I really started when I was 25 years-old and I was also working full-time so nobody really has an excuse not to learn at least one other language. The interaction I have when I travel is now fantastic.
From all the languages that you have learnt where does Croatian rank in terms of difficulty to pick up?
Croatian grammar is a little bit more complicated than Russian grammar. However, I am a little biased as Croatian isn’t my first Slavic language so I would say I found it a little easier. But for somebody who has never learnt a Slavic language I would say that Croatian is in the upper limits of the difficulty range.
It is common belief that learning the first foreign language is the hardest and they get easier the more you learn. How true is that statement?
Yes, there is some truth in that, of course I would take English out of the equation as this is now a world language. When I learn a language I try to always learn in a country that speaks the language. In that way as soon as I leave the classroom I can practise. In restaurants, cafes, and shops, I literally force myself to speak as soon as possible. Every new language opens a new door in your life.
Are you thinking about moving onto a new language and if so which one?
Yes, the next one is Korean, which is a little random. Japanese was on my list but I can across an offer to learn Korean in North Korean in Pyongyang.