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Learning Article : Polyglot? I Think Not! A Second Look At Language Mastery


Discuss the Article : Polyglot? I Think Not! A Second Look At Language Mastery

Polyglot? I Think Not! A Second Look At Language Mastery

What does it mean to become a polyglot and what do we mean when we set that as our goal? Is there really a simple formula we can follow? Here's a second look at what it takes to master one (or many) languages.




"Because learning a language is hard work the idea that a simple trick can transform our language abilities overnight is very appealing." What if learning a language is not hard work at all? What if just takes time? In other words, what if you just can take a small step at once?


Two interesting quotes:


"I choose a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it."

"When the solution is simple, God is answering."




Now you're moving into the realms of philosphy - "What makes a langauge."


The purpose of this article is really just to let people know that it's ok to only be bi-lingual - or even semi bi-lingual etc. Also, to stop people from paying money for a service that is... in my opinion - unscrupulous. 




I'm not sure where I stand on this issue. But I know few facts: Some people learn fast and won't make the same mistake as often as some. Some people have a "better ear" which is a huge advantage to blend in.


The other thing I wanted to share is a personnal experience. When I started to learn English at school, the question "When can you call yourself bilingual?" arised. The term "fluent" and "bilingual" both seemed out of reach at the time as I had this idea that your second language should be as good as your mother tongue. 20 years later, I now think that fluency is when you can say what ever you want to say (maybe not with the exact word you had in mind, and probably with some grammar mistakes in may case) and when you can understand others (even if you have to ask them to repeat it twice).


I read an article on bilingual people and it was saying pretty much the same as you: It's impossible to be perfectly proficient in 2 languages. There is always one language where it's easier. That said, it's OK to say "I speak 2 languages (or more)" even if you don't know every word of those languages. Heck, I don't know the meaning of all the words in my mother tongue! And if you speak several languages, that may not make you an expert in any of them, but that makes you a polyglot.


So I guess I have to disagree with your article, because the definition of polyglot I choose is not that of a master, but the one proposed by the Oxford dictionary: "A person who knows and is able to use several languages".

It fascinates me how much disagreement there is about the word polyglot. I agree with Caroline here, for me it just means someone who speaks many languages. It seems like dictionaries should define 'speak' and 'many' / 'several' with a clear number or something.


The other question then, of course, is if being a polyglot makes you a hero. I guess it just means you've worked hard or have ended up in the right circumstances so you've simply ended up speaking many languages.


On a slightly similar note, then there's words like bilingual. I don't consider myself bilingual - and not just because I speak more languages than two, but because bilingual here would refer to someone who has grown up speaking two languages, while I grew up speaking only one language at home and in school.

@Caroline - I think you're right.  There's no need to have such an extreme standard.  

"Awesome" used to mean only things that were awe inspiring.  Now it means really good.  I think the common understanding of being a polyglot now means being fluent in a few languages.  Many of these polyglots aren't trying to convince the world that they're native-level language experts.  On the contrary, I've found that the message of many of these polyglots is aimed at helping people who don't have the confidence or courage to believe that they can even learn any foreign language. 

I think that's what I find inspiring about them.  They don't claim to be geniuses or exceptionally talented.  They just believe that it's possible, and that anyone can do it -- given the motivation, time, and effort (and maybe some clever techniques).



Well I didn't agree we need 10.000 hours.

Exemple: Person A and person B if the person A study 100h and the person B exactly the same hours don't mean will be the same knowledge, depend a lot of focus, dedication and motivation we have, ofc the "the practice makes the perfection".

In the list of polyglots some of them said learn 1 or 2 languages per year and speak more than 80 languages and made the exam to comprove and they do translation for more than 20 languages.

You can study 1 or 2 languages per year and talk fluently that don't mean we will be master and can teach all language we know speak. Sometimes natives do more mistakes than the non-native...

The exemple of playing Violin depend a lot of person and student to student, you can play piano 1,000 hours and a person with 500 hours play better than you, that depend a lot of focus, motivation and dedication we have...


A lot of persons are bilingual or trilingual because have 2 or 3 native languages, ofc the education will be just in 1 language because we will have the "master" language in school but that don't matter we didn't speak the 2 or 3 correctly and fluently, happen in a lot of countries :)

Exemple of Philippines official languages: Philippine and English, 19 other regional languages are recognized...So usually people in Philippines speak the language of region they are and English or Philippine...

In my opinion persons with native language English have more troubles to learn another languages because also speak a "important" language, usually just learn if need or if like...In anothers countries especially in Europe is mandatory we learn more than 1 or 2 or more, so we feel motivated to keep learn for travel to amazing countries and meet new culture :)








The issue is defining "expertise." Many Polyglots claim expertise but rather have an understanding of the language. Regardess, the word is a misnomer - no one is a master of many languages beyond a few. For me, a native English speaker, it will take me my entire life to be "fluent."


Don't get too upset when people claim that they speak five foreign languages as well as you do ONE foreign language in X hours as an adult. That is, they claim that they are five times as efficient at learning as you.

Most people that say hard to believe things are deluded, ignorant, or just compensating for something in their lives. Most people that say they are *amazing* at something are usually bad at it while experts, conversely, will belittle their level of expertise. (I didn't say all but most) 

1. If you want to impress people, just practice two lines in 10 languages and post the video on youtube. All the commenters, who are monolingual and don't speak any of your 10 languages, will shower you with praise because they don't know any better. 

2. A lot of these "polyglots" have A1 level in many languages, B1 in a few, and like C1/C2 level in ONE language. I have nothing against people learning MANY languages at a certain level or people specializing in ONE language. Different strokes for different folks. But I do get annoyed when people don't specify how good they are at their languages since they could be lying to people.


Although lots of my friends are fluent in multiple languages, we never use the word "polyglot." Personally, I think the term is a bit silly, but it seems to be in fashion now, for whatever reason.

As far as expertise, it may be reasonable to infer that some multilingual people are indeed experts at language acquisition (except in the cases mentioned by Sophia), but, absent other indications, there's no particular reason to assume they're experts in any particular language.

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