NOT content with being able to speak three languages already, pensioner Jeffrey Riggs has set out to learn another SIX tongues.
The 68-year-old Plymothian – who already speaks French and German as well as his native English – is now learning Polish, Thai, Russian, Serbo-Croatian and Japanese. And before the end of the month he will have his first lesson in Mandarin Chinese.
He said: “Most people ask me if my mind gets clogged up learning all those languages at the same time, but I find it to be quite the opposite.
“I have always had a love for language.
“It goes all the way back to when I started school in 1956.
“I could never quite get my head around maths or physics, but languages seemed to come natural to me.”
After finishing school, Jeffrey went to work at Her Majesty’s Stationery Office. However, a love for languages meant that he was soon back in school, taking A-level French and German in the evenings while working full time.
“This was back in 1970 to 1971 and I had to fund it myself. I was hoping that I could either find work where I had to use languages or get a high enough grade to be able to go to university,” he said.
Sadly, it didn’t happen. However, Jeffrey continued his passion for languages and combined it with travels to the countries whose languages he had learnt.
“After learning German I went to the Olympics in Munich and to another German town. It was as part of an intercultural exchange program.”
Some years later the same program offered him a trip to USSR, as it was at the time, which was his first introduction to Russian.
“I bought dictionaries, books of useful Russian phrases, some Dostoyevsky and books by other great Russian authors, but it can be hard to learn a language on your own like that,” he said.
Retiring in 1980 Jeffrey decided to spend more time on his passion than had previously been possible.
Through a friend, he was pointed toward Atlantic Language Services where he is now a student.
“I believe that languages can give you an insight into another culture and through that your own perception of the world becomes less monochromatic; more nuanced, you could say.
“One of the main reasons I am learning the languages that I am is that I want to travel to those countries.”
Jeffrey funds his travels and language courses with his state and public service pensions.
“At the beginning of every month, I line up envelopes. One is labelled ‘rent’, one is ‘food’ and so on.
“The biggest is labelled languages. I use envelopes to make sure I don’t overspend,” he said.
Each year they see around 100 language students or so come through the door, but no-one quite like Jeffrey.
Jeffrey’s plans involve a trip to Thailand later tgis year followed by a trip to China is a couple of years.
“It takes time for me to save up money for a trip like that,” he said.
Picking his favourite language is difficult for Jeffrey, but Polish has a special place in his heart.
“I love all of them, but you could say that Polish is 100 while the others are around 95.
“I think it has to do with the people I met while visiting Krakow.
“I found them open, friendly and easy to get to know.
“And they wouldn’t let me get away with mispronouncing anything. They would correct me in a good way till I got it right and I really liked that.
Didier Cavrot, director of Atlantic Language School, said: “He is unique. We have never had anyone attempt anything like it.”