This year, I attended the celebrations in the Shetland Islands. To make the day even more enjoyable, I had the pleasure of meeting hyperpolyglot Derick Herning. Derick is the Chairman of the Shetland-Norwegian Friendship Society. Derick goes to the harbour each year and invites the people from the Norwegian boats to join in the celebrations.
I met up with the Norwegians at Victoria Pier in Lerwick for start our ‘Tog’ around town.We had people playing drums and a stereo playing Norwegian songs. At the beginning and end of the Parade we sang the Norwegian National Anthem.
In the afternoon we had a wreath laying ceremony in Scalloway for the victims of the “Shetland Bus” which was actually a boat sailing between Norway and Shetland to bring over refugees from Norway. Some people drowned in the process of trying to flee to Shetland.
In the evening, we had a Norwegian Dinner Dance where we had a buffet and some entertainment and then there was traditional Scottish dancing. We also had some wonderful singing from the Sardinian lady, Elena Piras (another polyglot!) who I got to practise my Italian with.
Finally I was able to have a good conversation with Derick Herning about languages. Derick is now 82 years old. He is famous for winning the ‘Polyglot of Europe’ competition in Brussels in 1990. In that competition, Derick was tested by native speakers in 22 languages and this also earned him a place in the Guinness Book of Records for 3 years as ‘The Most Multilingual Living Person’. Derick was brought up in Scotland in a monolingual household but he started learning German and studied it at university. He then did national service and started working for the MOD where he was employed for his language skills. They put him on an intensive training course to learn Russian which is now one of his main languages. His wife is Russian too. Derick speaks fluent Norwegian (Nynorsk) which he learned after meeting Norwegian people at his local church in Shetland. The Shetland Islands have a lot of Norwegian influence and they are actually closer to Norway than mainland Scotland!Derick also speaks Scots Gaelic which I am interested in learning myself. When he was a language teacher in a school, Derick used to spend his lunch breaks with the Gaelic teacher and learned Gaelic from him. Derick is also very interested in dialects, especially Shetlandic and he has written several books on the subject including “Jarm an Jeemsie”, a children’s story translated from the original German. Derick is now retired from teaching and now works as a Tour Guide for visitors coming to the Shetland Islands. He now only maintains 10 languages which he uses for his current job and he offers tours in English, German, Dutch, Russian, Norwegian, Frisian, Faroese, Gaelic, French, Danish and Swedish. Derick said his strongest languages nowadays are Russian, Norwegian, German and Dutch. Derick has recently been learning Tatar through Russian and I don’t think he will ever stop learning languages!