Jane Cody completed a one week, tailor-made, immersion course at the CLS summer school in Ćunski, near Mali Lošinj, on the Croatian island of Lošinj. She stayed in the summer school accommodation and had two “double” lessons, of nearly two hours each, every day, from Monday to Friday inclusive. All course packages are tailored to each individual but, for budgeting purposes, the indicative cost of a similar course would be €1,000 for 20 lessons and €280 for seven night’s accommodation.
- Can you tell us a little about yourself, particularly your interest in Croatia?
I live in Suffolk now but, prior to that, I lived in west London, and then Croatia for eight years. It was pure chance that took me to Croatia – an opportunity presented itself and the timing was good so I seized it with both hands. I had trained and worked as a Chartered Accountant but the idea of getting a “proper job” in Croatia was unrealistic, so I helped my partner set up a business supplying marina equipment in Croatia and then retrained myself as a journalist. I ended up writing the Croatia Cruising Companion and becoming a regular contributor for Time Out Croatia and Boat International. I also write about Suffolk and am an enthusiastic blogger on a wide range of subjects.
- How have you got along with the Croatian language in the past, prior to your immersion course?
I met Linda Rabuzin, founder of the Croatian Language School [CLS] quite early on in my “Croatian days” but was not back in London often enough, or with enough time, to have regular lessons with her. I was on a dial up connection then and Skype was in its early stages so there wasn’t really a practical alternative to face to face lessons like there is now.
I tried a few teach yourself books but was not disciplined enough to make much progress with those in what little spare time I had. I was also worried that the few books that were around in those early days were more Serbian than Croatian and, particularly as it was quite soon after the Homeland War, I did not want to upset my Dalmatian neighbours by trotting out the wrong words!
A few years on, a lovely chap at our local beach bar said he had a neighbour who taught English in the local school and might be able to teach me Croatian. Anna was very good but I was so wrapped up in my work for Time Out that I hardly had any time to do my homework, in between lessons. I felt I was wasting her time as well as mine so I stopped after a few weeks.
I didn’t give up entirely though – in between, normally on the long winter trips back to London via Ancona, I did teach myself numbers, days of the week, months of the year, etc, and of course I picked up some well used phrases such as ordering a beer or a coffee, but I’ve never really been able to construct whole sentences properly. I’m pretty ashamed of myself that all I managed to “get out”, after 8 years, was pidgin Croatian, but at least I’m trying hard now and better late than never!
- What made you sign up for the immersion course with CLS?
CLS organises an annual “Christmas” dinner, which I had missed for a few years, for various reasons, but, once you are in the fold of founder, Linda Rabuzin, she doesn’t let you wander off aimlessly too far or for too long. She reminded me about the 2016 dinner, I went and of course it was a hugely enjoyable occasion – good food, good company and plenty of Anglo Croat news to catch up on. We swapped notes, ideas, dreams and schemes, the year ran away with me and there I was, back at the CLS annual dinner in 2017. The dreams and schemes had not changed much but my day to day commitments had, for the better. Linda said something like “you should really get back into your Croatian environment”; I said something like “that’s what I’ve been thinking” and we went our separate ways.
A few weeks later Linda floated the idea of the immersion course on Lošinj and I barely thought twice before booking the flight. Impetuous? Perhaps, but what a great move it proved to be. In fact I did think at least twice afterwards – the thought of exposing the real level of my Croatian language skills was quite scary. However I knew I would be in kind, safe and expert hands with Linda and it really was one of those unique opportunities that was just too good to miss, whatever the cost in time, money and pride!
There is a more concise answer, in Croatian, which I worked on during the immersion course, in response to Linda’s question “why are you here?”, which goes something like this:
Ja sam ovdje jer mi je jedinstvena prilika govoriti bolje hrvatski, učiti jezik i istraživati Lošinj. Isto tako saznati više o školi, o profesorici te upoznati stvarnu Hrvatsku.
- What were your expectations of the course?
I tried not to have too many expectations: essentially I suppose I was hoping I wouldn’t make a complete idiot of myself, or exasperate Linda too much with the speed of my learning. In fact I was very nervous about the whole thing but I was hopeful that, as well as finally getting me on the right track with the language, it might rekindle my interest in various Croatian projects and I was certainly pleased to have a good excuse to visit such a lovely island.
- Did the course meet your expectations?
It far surpassed them. My nerves soon went and, frankly, I was amazed by how much progress I had made by the end of the week, and how quickly the lessons flew past. I was worried I would be agonizingly slow on the uptake and I’m sure that sometimes I was. However there was never a glimmer of irritation or frustration from Linda as she patiently corrected the same mistake again and again. Nor were there the excruciating moments of embarrassment I had been dreading – somehow Linda was able to, gently and imperceptibly, lead me around and over all the many obstacles and get me to some sort of finish line, each time, with a sense of achievement that left me looking forward to the next lesson’s challenges.
- What did you enjoy most about the course?
All of it really but I suppose the key components that seemed to make it so successful and enjoyable were:
a) variety – a bit of chat, some exercises from the book, some personalised sentences we worked on together to form a little speech, verb conjugation, reading…
b) the environment – Croatia is already very special, Lošinj is a gem of an island and Ćunski, the village where the school is located, is just such a relaxing place to be, with all the essentials you need – restaurant, shop, post office and beach. The summer school premises are also a delight – comfortable, practical, bright and airy – and, if you opt for the accommodation, that’s very comfortable too, with the added bonus that you don’t have very far to go for your lessons!
c) the camaraderie – I defy anyone not to get on with Linda; her “people” skills are second to none as is her professionalism. Just as well really as you will be spending quite a lot of time in each other’s company. You need to feel confident enough to try new things and that means making a lot of mistakes and you do end up discussing a bit of your private life, in the pursuit of good conversation, all of which requires a strong element of trust and empathy.
There’s also a huge sense of achievement as you progress.
- And least?
The most challenging aspect of the whole week was trying to balance work and play. I hadn’t been back to Croatia for a couple of years and I’d never been on Lošinj so here was a new place to explore. Then of course there’s swimming, beaches, views, museums, bars, cafés, and sights. Clearly my lessons had to be given top priority, along with homework and trying to make progress in between lessons, but there’s only so much a brain can take, so, before, after and in between the roughly two hour sessions, I tried to fit in a swim and a couple of trips out. On top of that there were things like postcards to write, gifts to buy, emails to answer, photos to download, notes to write, etc, etc. On the second day I almost forgot to eat for 24 hours I was so busy trying to pack in as much as possible. Then I realised that I would not make a very good student if I was completely worn out so I slowed down a little and eventually established some kind of routine by day four. Even so, I slept very little, so eager was I not to miss anything!
- Who would you advise to do this course and why?
I believe Linda could teach just about anyone the language given sufficient time for each person to go at their own pace. You do need to know your English grammar (or relearn bits of it as I did), so you can work out what the cases are, and you do need to be able to find a bit of time to do your homework. Croatian is a fascinating language and, though difficult for us Brits to start with, it is quite regular and gets easier as you go along. You’ll be amazed at the difference it makes as to how the locals treat you, if you can hold a reasonable conversation with them, so I’d say anyone intending to visit regularly, or for an extended period of time, would benefit enormously. For anyone living and/or working in Croatia and/or with Croatian people, I would suggest it’s essential. Yes, it is a minority language and yes, most Croatians speak very good English. However, as soon as you are with more than one Croatian they will, of course, converse with each other in their native tongue and you will miss out on a lot.
- Would you advise anyone NOT to do this course?
You do need to want to get it right and to be reasonably business like about it. If you aren’t prepared to put in the effort, the time will drag, and you’ll be wasting your time and money. Half way through I did somehow think that I might suddenly wake up speaking fluently, but of course that doesn’t happen without a lot of hard work. Similarly, if it’s a restful holiday you’re after this is probably not for you. Apart from that I’d say that anyone prepared to give it their best shot will do fine, whatever their age or previous education. Those who know another foreign language like French, or even Latin, might have a bit of a head start, and I suppose it would be more difficult if you weren’t reasonably fluent in either French or English – the two other languages that Linda speaks.
- What would be your top five tips for someone else doing this course?a) do your preparation and homework – you’ll get far more out of it if you learn a few words before hand, and you’ll progress faster during the week if you practise what you’ve learnt in each lesson by doing your homework before the next one.
b) get enough sleep and rest – your brain will be dancing through hoops so give it a helping hand.c) perhaps don’t worry about learning too much Croatian grammar, on your own, beforehand – it’s so much easier and quicker to understand when Linda explains it to you and you won’t pick up any bad habits that way.
d) you need to accept that, whatever others might say, it is important to get the endings and grammatical constructions correct – it is complicated to start with and there are a lot of different endings, but eventually the pennies will drop and you will get there in the end. If you are “sloppy” about it you will sound “sloppy” and, in the nicest possible way, Linda will help you realise that “sloppy” is not acceptable!
e) be prepared for a bad lesson or two – there’s usually at least one where nothing sinks in, or you’ve forgotten everything that went before, or you can’t get your words out, or all of the above! Linda has seen it all before, she just wants to help you learn at your own pace and so she’ll do her best to find something you can get right, even if it means going back to basics while you “regroup”!
- What do you think makes this course stand out from other ways of learning the language?
Firstly I’d say that you’d have to be very dedicated, very disciplined and pretty academic to learn Croatian, at even half the speed, solely from a book. Furthermore it’s easy to pick up bad habits without knowing it. Learn plenty of words and a few phrases perhaps, but it’s a tough language for an entirely “teach yourself” approach. If you do go down this route, make sure you avoid the older books which tend to focus more on Serbian than Croatian – very similar but the differences are very important to both countries!
Secondly, especially if you’ve been out of education for a while, it’s not going to be easy to join in with large groups of students full of individuals with different learning speeds.
Thirdly, if you’re going to invest some time and money in one to one lessons then you need to make sure you are learning with the best. There aren’t that many Croatian teachers out there and there’s quite a difference in standards, so it pays to go for quality. CLS has many years of experience teaching a wide range of students – from diplomats, through entrepreneurs relocating to Croatia, to individuals with an interest in Croatia like me. For Linda, teaching Croatian is more of a vocation than a commercial enterprise so you can be sure that students come first.
Summing all that up I’d say this particular course stands out because it is expertly and uniquely tailored to the student. I now realise that the long chat we had to start with – in Croatian as far as I was able, but with Linda “translating” where I wasn’t – was designed to find out exactly where I was very quickly and also to dispel any nerves or shyness. From there the lessons were varied and paced according to circumstances: sometimes I practised, over and over again, the really important things I wasn’t getting, that were crucial to moving forward; then we’d go onto a few new things to spice things up, or go over some old things to boost my confidence, and, lo and behold, eventually I got there, wherever there was at the time.
….and of course, Ćunski, Lošinj and Croatia are all pretty special too.
- What are you going to do next in terms of language learning?
I was away for a couple of weeks after the course and things are already slipping. So, first, I’m going to go through everything I learnt during the week again, and then I’m going to start having weekly Skype lessons with Linda so I can move forward steadily. I’m determined to be able, eventually, to hold a reasonable conversation and I’m also keen to keep “feeding” a brain which now seems to be thriving on its new challenge, although I could almost hear the cogs grinding at the start of the immersion week, so hard were they turning!
- Finally, do you have any favourite Croatian words or sayings?
Kad smo kod toga – while we are at it/on the subject
Samo daj/dajte – go ahead
Ma daj – come on
The following links will take you directly to some of the relevant postings on her week in Ćunski: