Monday, October 24, 2011

It’s a Polyglot World Out There

Isn’t it fantastic to hear a person conduct conversations with different nationalities speaking different languages all at once? You may be thinking that somehow that person is a genius or something. It is an amazing feat, and may require years of hard work but it can be done, as long as you have the time, the dedication and the facility for learning languages. And for some, what’s truly incredible is their ability to pick up the nuances of a language and be able to speak it almost like a native after a few weeks without formal lessons. A majority of the citizens of the world speak at least two languages, while others are able to speak three or more. A person who can speak four or more languages is already called a polyglot.

Becoming a polyglot is not easy. It takes a lot of hard work and practice. Polyglots often have an edge in social, business or work situations. Their hard work and ability to speak many languages with ease comes in handy. Did you know that many people in the world are polyglots without them knowing it? It is possible that you may even be one.

What is a polyglot?

In terms of language, people can be classified as monolingual or multilingual. Monolingual refers to a person who speaks only one language, the person’s mother tongue. Multilingual is the ability to use more than one language. Bilingual, which falls under being multilingual, is the ability to express one’s self in two languages. Trilingual is fluency in three languages.

Polyglots are multilingual. “Poly” in Greek means many and “glot” is Greek for language. Polyglot, as defined by, is an adjective used to describe a person who has the “ability to speak or write several languages” and when used as a noun can indicate a person with that ability or a “book that contains the same text written in several languages”, such as the Bible.

A polyglot should not be confused with the term linguist, as there are differences between the two. A linguist is usually an academic who studies a language or several languages, their roots, origin and construction. While a linguist may be able to speak several languages, it is not necessary for a linguist to be proficient in several languages to be called as such. He may be monolingual or at the most bilingual and through his studies and research of a particular language will be able to understand it but not necessarily speak it.

When reading about people who are classified as polyglots, you may just encounter yet another term: hyperpolyglot. This term is used to refer to a person who speaks six or more different languages fluently. Instead of using the word hyperpolyglot, it seems adequate to refer to a person who speaks more than 3 languages as a polyglot, at least for now.

Are there many polyglots?

The big chunk of the world population is actually multilingual. Knowing two or more languages is normal and expected in many cultures. Many citizens of European, Asian, African and South American countries are at least bilingual. It is not surprising to learn that Europeans often speak at least three languages. French, German, Italian and Spanish are popular languages in Europe. Since not many people speak Dutch, native Dutch speakers often learn other languages. Asians speak at least two, their native tongue plus English. Filipino-Chinese speak Mandarin, English and of course, Pilipino, the mother tongue. It is not surprising to find Indians fluent in more than three languages.

Almost always, English is “the other language” because it is considered the language of business, entertainment, science, technology and tourism. Today, many are trying to learn Mandarin especially people in the world of business. As globalization continues, more and more people are expected to learn new languages to keep themselves competitive.

How do you become a polyglot?

First you need to select what language to learn. Some choose to learn a language similar to the languages one already knows. For example, if you know English and Spanish, you may be drawn to study Portuguese or Italian that are similar to Spanish. You may also want try to learn languages in Western Europe because these have similarities in English, for example, German.

Of course if you want a bit of a challenge, you are free to choose a language that is completely unrelated to what you already know. Mandarin Chinese is quite challenging to learn, as is Arabic. What is important in choosing a language to learn is having more than enough passion for that language, and subsequently the culture behind it, to carry you through the whole learning process.

You can learn a language by attending an actual class or an online class. Books, audio books and language videos are other ways of learning a language. Once you start learning bits and pieces of the language, you need to use the language as often as you can. One of the best tricks to facilitate your learning process is to think in the language that you are learning once you have mastered the rudiment. It’s like this. Let us say that you are learning English. So after several lessons and learning how to construct sentences, the next best thing to help you retain all that you have learned is to think in English.

Practice truly makes perfect when it comes to language learning. To practice, you can communicate with people over the Internet who speak and write the language that you are learning. Emails, instant messaging, voice calls and video calls are different ways that you can use to help you practice.

Visiting a country where the language is spoken and immersing yourself in that country’s culture is a great way to further absorb the language. Even when you are already fluent in the language, you still have to use it as often as possible to make sure you don’t forget it. Reading books in your new language or perusing websites written in that language are ways to keep the language fresh in your mind.

When learning a language, it is important to put all your efforts in learning only one language at any given time. True, there have been others who were able to learn two, sometimes even three, languages simultaneously. But if you don’t have this learning ability, it is best not to confuse yourself. Stick to one language at a time.

Once you have mastered a new language, move on to your next choice. It is usually easy to master a language that already belongs to the same language family as your other languages. The grammar and vocabulary are usually similar, if not totally the same. This is a quick way to learning an additional language.

There are many ways to achieve multilingual fluency. But to be a true polyglot, one must be motivated to learn multiple languages for the right reasons. You need to have a love for learning, a love for languages and a love for people and culture. After all, learning a language is not only about words, grammar, syntax, and punctuation. It is also about learning the culture behind the language you are learning.

What are the advantages of being a polyglot?

Better employment opportunities. Knowing multiple languages gives you an advantage in terms of getting hired by a multinational company or organization, which tend to pay higher salaries than most companies. For instance, knowing German or French can help you land a job in pharmaceutical companies based in countries in Europe that use these languages. If a local firm hires you, the firm may pick you for overseas assignments because you are a polyglot. In the realm of international business, polyglots hold an ace over their monolingual counterparts because not everyone in the world can speak English.

Confidence when traveling to a foreign country. As a tourist, the ability to communicate using the languages of the locals is a big plus. The locals greatly appreciate tourists who speak their language because then they don’t have to grapple with foreign words and phrases. While going around the country you are visiting, you will not need an interpreter. You will easily understand signs, menus and directions. And the chances that some unscrupulous locals fool you will be lot less.

It’s cool. Learning languages is fun and can give the person a sense of fulfillment. It is a great confidence booster. A polyglot can entertain himself in multiple languages. Plus, people are generally impressed with, and even in awe of, individuals who are certified polyglots.


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