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

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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.

Jul 30, 2014 12:00 AM
Comments · 109

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".

July 30, 2014

Thanks for all the kind words everyone!

To the original poster who only replied to me with "I'm glad to see Irishpolyglot came in here to sell ($$$) us his speil. Will he no longer be profiting off his language-master-website out of principle now.... "


I am not selling anything here, YOU ARE. You are profiting from this thread being reshared by italki, and the controversy, because there is a direct link to your italki profile where people can hire you as a teacher. I wonder how many students you have found from this exposure, banking on the weak strawman argument you created for controversy's sake?


It's fundamental hypocrosy of the highest degree to hate on people for earning a living online in the language learning space, while you do the very same thing, and to do said complaining through the very means that you earn too! It boggles my mind.

August 13, 2014

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.

July 31, 2014

"Many of these self-titled language masters claim to have a simple solution or “trick” to mastering any given language in an amazingly short amount of time"

Name one. I don't know of a single self-titled "language master", or anyone who provides a simple trick to "mastering" a language in a short time. The author apparently knows of "many". The whole article is sensationalism against a caricature that only exists in the author's imagination.

The irony is the very next sentence mentions hyperbole - it's what this entire article is about :D

The 10,000 hour rule is also really poorly thrown in. An Argentine does not need 10,000 hours to become confident in Portuguese. Common languages allow polyglots to take shortcuts, and many may only have 2 or 3 different language families that were the bulk of their work. That 10,000 hour study has been debunked a lot you know: http://www.fastcodesign.com/3027564/asides/scientists-debunk-the-myth-that-10000-hours-of-practice-makes-you-an-expert

August 6, 2014

@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).


July 30, 2014
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