Name: Stephen Eustace
Nationality or Ethnicity: Irish
Where do you live?: Schiedam, The Netherlands
Languages: English (native), Dutch, Italian, Irish, French, Serbo-Croatian, German, Spanish, Georgian
1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?
I was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1969. When I went to school Irish was compulsory, but I was not that good at it. In fact, I was about 8 years old when I even learned how to read and write in English for some reason! I started secondary school in 1981 where I learned a bit of French. You really have to fast forward ten years for my real language journey!
In 1991 I was already a year into my PhD in Chemistry and I knew I would be going to Padua, Italy for 3 months. I received a gift voucher and I bought myself “Buongiorno Italia”, a BBC book with 20 chapters and three audio cassettes. I followed up with “L’Italia dal Vivo” also from the BBC. Six months into my learning, the 27th of April 1992 I took a flight to Italy and two weeks in I decided to stop using English. Within a month I was pretty much fluent! I completely fell in love with Italy and return for a month the following year in 1993. I had already a knowledge of French, but this pretty much disappeared after learning Italian.
In 1994 I moved to Canada, and I was still using Italian with the Italian community in Toronto. Toronto also had (still has) a huge immigrant population which made me curious about the possibility of learning other languages.
In the summer of 1996 I returned to Ireland with a heavy heart, but immediately started attending both Italian and French language exchanges once a week and I reactivated my French to a usable level while maintaining my Italian.
Fast forward to 2001, I moved to Den Haag, in the Netherlands and jumped at the opportunity to learn Dutch. It seemed I was learning much quicker than my then boyfriend who became very jealous. Needless to say, the relationship ended in 2002 and I continued my Dutch language journey moving to Rotterdam in 2003. I was still using a lot of English, this was a different situation than Italian. Somewhere around 2005 I ceased using English completely. It was also around this time that I fell in love with a guy from Belgium, and it brought my French to a higher level, as none of his friends and family spoke English nor Dutch!
Some years later, I was working in Weert in the east of the Netherlands, and I was going to a Greek restaurant. In 2011 I decided to start learning Greek, which is pretty much stuck in A1 level to this day. I had also started learning German too, using Greekpod101.com and Germanpod101.com for both languages. In 2012 I also started learning Turkish and Irish, visiting Turkey and actually being able to communicate was such a huge boost. I have pretty much forgotten all my Turkish now.
In 2013 I stopped actively learning German, visiting Germany which is a couple of hours away by train, I had learned enough German to get by which is what I wanted, let us say B1 level or something. I continued with Greek and Irish, visiting the Gaeltacht (Irish speaking area). I continued with Irish, meeting some like-minded people in The Netherlands we met up for language exchanges. I now return to the Gaeltacht from time to time, and get a huge buzz from speaking Irish to native speakers in pubs. I guess my level is B2 or something.
In 2015 I stopped learning Greek and started learning Bosnian/Serbian/Croatian as I started dating a Bosnian. I decided to go for it and threw myself in head first learning Cyrillic as well as trying to crack the case system By 2017 I was still struggling and still using the same book with my tried and trusted “rinse and repeat” method. Do lessons 1-5, repeat, lessons 1-10, repeat, lessons 1-15 repeat. I had still had a very rudimentary level of the language(s). It was only really in 2019 through continued exposure, people, movies, music etc that I had what felt for me an overnight revelation. I was able to partake in conversations. That happened to me in Italian and Dutch, it was pretty much a “sudden onset”. Although I wrote down “B” for these languages I would say C1 now.
Also in 2017 I started dating a Ukrainian, so I dabbled in Ukrainian and was able to use it for two trips top Ukraine. I have pretty much forgotten all of it.
Wind on to 2020, the lockdown. I started learning Georgian and Turkish (again), I even started Azeri. Georgian won, and I watched countless films as well as countless iTalki lessons to the point where I had a certain level of fluency for my trip to Georgia in 2022 where I even cried due to my success. Georgian is by far the most difficult language I ever tried.
2. Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practising?
3. What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?
I am learning, or trying to learn Farsi.
4. So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?
5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?
Suprising people, their eyes light up and they get very excited. There are some languages here that I don’t list but even when I speak them I get great reactions. “A little language goes a long way”.
6. Some people say the world is really just going to have a few languages left in a 100 years, do you think this is really true?
7. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?
Simply go for it, and make friends in the language learning community!