How to Become a Polyglot
There are quite a few reasons why someone aims to become a polyglot. Besides a relentless interest in foreign languages and constant striving for new challenges, there are also other relevant motives. In today’s globalized world, languages are the key to international job opportunities and allow effective communication between people from different cultures and backgrounds. Furthermore, as authentic travel experiences are increasingly popular, the urge to learn the local language is becoming more interesting. But when is someone considered to be a polyglot and what is the easiest way to achieve this distinction?
The Definition of a Polyglot
The prefix poly- comes from Greek and means “many” or “multi-“. Glot comes from the Greek term glōtta, meaning “language” or “tongue”. Polyglot itself entered English in the 17th century, both as an adjective and as a noun. In various dictionaries it is defined as someone who can speak or use several different languages. However, it is not defined how many languages one must be able to speak and what level of fluency is necessary to earn this designation. Internationally known polyglots all speak at least 6 languages. Ziad Fazah, born in Liberia, brought up in Beirut and now living in Brazil, claims to be the world’s greatest living polyglot, speaking a total of 59 world languages.
Strategies for Becoming a Polyglot
For most polyglots, learning one language at a time is the best approach. However, each person’s learning abilities and methods are different. While some like to learn various things at the same time, others prefer to focus on just one topic at a time. First, you will have to find out what learning type you are. There are a few points to consider when attempting to learn multiple languages. Let’s dive into some language learning strategies that will help you achieve your goal.
Nothing works without consistent time management. Allocating time for practice allows you to learn regularly and effectively. You can block out certain times in your calendar to provide yourself with the opportunity to focus on achieving your next milestones. Besides that, you can also incorporate language learning into your daily routine. This could for example be reading books and watching tv in multiple languages, listening to radio in your target language as well as practising as much as you can with co-workers and friends.
Laddering is a technique where you learn a third (or fourth or fifth or twelfth) language through your second language. Not all languages are structured the same, laddering can thus help make a concept more clear than would be possible if you only knew your native language. Besides being a real brain boost, this technique forces you to practice both your new target language and the language you are laddering from. It also shows you the gaps you have in your second language.
Shadowing is an experimental technique of repeating the text immediately after listening to it. You are acting like an “echo” or a “shadow” (hence the name “shadowing”). You listen to the words and then repeat them out loud. Shadowing is most effective when you understand the content before you repeat it. You can listen to the audio first and check that you have understood all the key vocabulary. Shadowing helps you develop all the physical aspects of fluency. These include things like pronunciation, prosody, and rhythm.
Practicing regularly is very important. The more you immerse yourself in your target language, the better. Find people in your community who speak the languages you want to learn or book multiple sessions with a language teacher. One of the most effective ways to learn a language quickly is through 1:1 instruction. Tutors are especially helpful alongside language exchanges, as a tutor can help you grasp particularly difficult concepts and grammar.