Polyglots and linguists

We are heading in more constructive directions on this theme, including the question of whether linguists (polyglots to some) should be required to offer proof of their language prowess, and in what form.

I have decided to delete the previous thread which at times was not so constructive.

Personally, I’m not so intent on having proof; I’m willing to take the person’s word for it insofar as they can qualify precisely and objectively the level their languages are at. The A1-C2 system is pretty good. Otherwise, things like “I understand 80% and I can speak well” don’t mean anything.

Is this a rhetorical question? Of course, anyone who makes any fluency claim should be ready to provide proof. Whether people are interested in seeing the proof is another matter.

In what form? Recording a monologue video is probably the least demanding because it is the easiest to achieve. Conversation recordings of course are convincing, but it requires a native speaker (with a spirit of Friedemann) to participate.

The recorded proof also is also beneficial to the person in question. It saves him time and effort if being questioned in the future.

I think it depends on the circumstances. If a person claims to have a B2 level certification in a language or something, I would give them the benefit of the doubt. Why would someone come on a forum like this and lie about something like that?

If they give a personal assessment of their ability like, “I’m able to watch television and mostly understand what’s going on”, then okay fine. People aren’t necessarily the best judges of their own ability, but there’s no need for people to demonstrate their ability.

But when people start claiming that this method or that is particularly effective or ineffective, especially if they are trying to sell a product, they might want to provide some proof. Personally, I don’t see how anyone could try to sell a product based on their expertise as a language learner without providing adequate proof of their accomplishments.

I really like the fact that Steve makes spontaneous videos. I can understand his Japanese and French videos, so I know that he speaks these languages extremely well. I don’t speak Chinese, but I showed his Chinese video to a Taiwanese friend and she couldn’t believe how good his Mandarin was. That sort of thing lends a lot of weight to his comments on language learning.

Some people seem to get offended when they are asked to provide proof of their ability, but I don’t see why that should be. If someone goes on a guitar forum and starts claiming that they have developed a great technique using a particular training routine (which they are now selling), then they may be reasonably expected to post a video demonstrating their technical prowess.

Most people don’t know what A1 B2 or C1 means. “Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced” is more helpful. No one is obliged to put up a video to substantiate any claim, but obviously doing so not only lends credibility to any claim of fluency, but it gives other people a meaningful sense of how this person does. I want to enable our members to put up videos of themselves in their profile as a living record of their achievements, for those who want to do so, of course.

A monologue into the camera is fine, and I find Lucca, or Moses, or the Englishman whose name I always forget, very impressive. A dialogue is even better. Reading something but not showing one’s face is less impressive. But in any case it is up to the individual to decided what to do, and up to others to form their own opinions of the language skills of these inviduals.

Richard Simcott !!
: )

People always seem to forget his name I possibly only remember it as he was the first polylinguist I saw, and my german and spanish friends couldn’t believe he wasn’t native. I’ll take that as proof : )

Thank you, yes Richard Simcott, simply amazing.

Botrun said: “…when people start claiming that this method or that is particularly effective or ineffective, especially if they are trying to sell a product, they might want to provide some proof. Personally, I don’t see how anyone could try to sell a product based on their expertise as a language learner without providing adequate proof of their accomplishments.”

Yes - this is exactly right.

If somebody has a website claiming expertise as a language guru, selling books at $50.00 or more, this is the type of person who simply HAS to provide clear proof to back up his claims.

There are those who argue that buyers are entirely free to decide whether they part with their money or not - and this is basically true. However one could use the same argument to defend guys who sell fake designer sunglasses on streetcorners - nobody is actually FORCED to buy those either…

For me it’s simple: if you claim to be the real deal, then you have to prove it.

Personally, I wouldn’t claim expertise as a polyglot/linguist unless I could clearly demonstrate a strong level C1 in at least 3 foreign languages. In reality only a few people can genuinely meet this test. Steve, Friedemann, and our leftwing friend Robert are the only ones I can think of here at LingQ (although there may be some others too?)

Some people just like learning languages, and I don’t see why they need make video “proof” of how well they speak just to gain approval from random strangers on the internet.

Others (like me) learn languages not just because we enjoy them but because we have to in order to survive and advance in a foreign country. We don’t need video “proof” because we speak our languages every day at work, etc. And we are not selling anything, so don’t care whether strangers believe our claims of fluency or not.

As JayB points out above, there is a third category, those who are claiming to have developed a method that others can also use, and since that method is for sale for money, these salespeople should illustrate how their method works in an honest way, so that the public can evaluate it. The problem is, though, that it’s far too easy for people to just create a video in which one has memorized a spiel, and/or has been coached, just as it’s easy to create “affiliate” reviews of a product that praise it to the skies. Perhaps the simplest tactic is not to pay money for something that is impossible to evaluate. I think most people are smart enough not to do that. As they say, a fool and his money are soon parted.

I think whether someone is selling something or not is irrelevant.

Some months ago, someone came up in another forum claiming he could speak 59 languages. People jumped in and asked him for proof. This guy was not selling anything at all. According to some answers in this thread, this guy did not need to show any proof.

But he did! He made a video with himself saying a few lines in each of the 59 languages. It shut a lot of people up. But of course there were still skeptics who did not believe.

I am not saying that I believe this person could really speak all 59 languages. But it showed the power of having a video as proof of a claim.

“Some people just like learning languages, and I don’t see why they need make video “proof” of how well they speak just to gain approval from random strangers on the internet.”

I agree,so long as they aren’t selling something, no proof is needed. I don’t honestly care whether people on the Internet believe me or not, but obviously if I start spouting rubbish saying that my method is better than yours, Steve is a liar, etc… and then ask you to give me money for a book, then obviously concrete proof is warranted.

I’m not sure, in what form the proof could be. But a one-of monolog to a camera doesn’t prove much, as this can be scripted. Spontaneous interviews are good, but also I really like the method this guy used “http://www.linguatrek.com/”, he showed progress in his videos, you can watch and hear his progress over time (And he isn’t even selling anything!!). True the videos are mostly monologs, but you can sense passion in what he’s doing, and his speech isn’t robotic. He also does make mistakes, and is open and happy to accept criticism.

I’m pretty sure anyone with a bit of sense can spot a fraud a mile-out, their claims seem over-the-top, and you can pretty much tell by the language they use “To find out how I did it, click here → $$$$”. Doing their best not to reveal any useful information unless you give them your email address and buy their book.

@steve - “Most people don’t know what A1 B2 or C1 means. “Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced” is more helpful”

I’d agree, and the levels seem to vary depending upon the country. Level B1 English, as taught in the UK, seems to be a different standard to the level of German at B1, for example. Also, you can claim to have a B2/C1 standard in listening, but be only able to talk at the A2 level. I think just saying I’m advanced etc is clearer.

Some people are obsessed with getting proof and would probably question the beginner who’s just started learning Chinese (“Translate this newspaper article, now!”). Others buy any kind of statement, from “I speak language X fluently” to “I was born with a divine talent for languages”.

If I said that I was born with a divine talent for music, and then sang (or played) off-pitch, with bad timing and all that, most would call me a fake, suggest that I went home to practice a bit more, and maybe even give up that career.

For me the all-important point is whether someone is trying to sell us something - this is what should invite hard and critical scepticism!

But if you ask me whether (for example) Richard Simcott really is fluent in Czech, Russian, Serbocroat, Welsh, etc, as opposed to just making carefully prepared and rehearsed videos…well…one simply tends to give him the benefit of any doubt, I think.

“…clearly demonstrate a strong level C1 in at least 3 foreign languages.”

What if you have two C1s and five fluentish B1s? Or how about one C1 and ten fluent B2s? Or how about 20 fluent B1s and B2s?

I would take it on a case by case basis, in terms of forming an opinion about a language learning expert.


I’ve actually been thinking about this. I’m not sure whether I wouldn’t even raise the bar a little higher still, and give my minimum definition of an expert polyglot/linguist as:

Native language + language X at level C2 + language Y at level C1 + language Z at level C1.

I can’t help thinking that, in order to be considered really outstanding in the field, a person should have near-native mastery in at least one foreign language, and a very good level in at least two more (all of this being, if you will, a minimum standard.)

As for levels below C1…for me these don’t really count towards expertise. (If they did, half of mainland Europe could justly claim to be expert polyglots!)

I think it would help (OK, it would help me, and probably I’m not the only one) if someone were to explain what this C2 B3 stuff is :slight_smile:

According to my dictionary, “polyglot” just means someone who knows and uses several languages. It does not specify to what level, or whether one has to be able to read and write as well as speak.

RE: explain what this C2 B3 stuff is :slight_smile:

From Wiki…

The CEFR describes what a learner is supposed to be able to do in reading, listening, speaking and writing at each level.

The Common European Framework divides learners into three broad divisions which can be divided into six levels:
A Basic Speaker
A1 Breakthrough or beginner
A2 Waystage or elementary
B Independent Speaker
B1 Threshold or pre-intermediate
B2 Vantage or intermediate
C Proficient Speaker
C1 Effective Operational Proficiency or upper intermediate
C2 Mastery or advanced

The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment, abbreviated as CEFR, is a guideline used to describe achievements of learners of foreign languages across Europe and, increasingly, in other countries.[1] It was put together by the Council of Europe as the main part of the project “Language Learning for European Citizenship” between 1989 and 1996. Its main aim is to provide a method of assessing and teaching which applies to all languages in Europe. In November 2001 a European Union Council Resolution recommended using the CEFR to set up systems of validation of language ability. The six reference levels (see below) are becoming widely accepted as the European standard for grading an individual’s language proficiency.

I must have misunderstood (or not read enough about it). I thought that A1-2 were for Beginners, B1-2 for Intermediates and C1-2 for Advanced (with C2 being ‘near-native’).

The other thing I would add is that you that it is possible to have an intermediate level in a language (in terms of vocabulary, and even writing skills), but still speak it very fluently. While it is also possible to have an advanced level, and speak very unnaturally. I would probably rather be a fluent and natural speaker, than a grammar expect who can translate texts really well (yes, I am aware of the fact that these are two extremes).

So in my case, I’d probably be more tempted to buy a product from a ‘language expert’ who speaks a bunch of languages very naturally and fluently (even if only at an upper intermediate level), compared to someone who speaks a few languages somewhat unnaturally, but has a excellent grammar and vocab.

@peter - yes, I’ve experienced this phenomenon myself - the grammar expert who cannot speak. I studied in classes with people who know many quirks of literary Hebrew grammar but cannot actually speak and cannot get by in the language.

But it’s totally fine to be in that position, if you want to read texts and translate them. What’s wrong with that? It’s only if you want or need to live in the country or speak with native speakers that you need to speak, of course. Then, if you can’t, it’s a real shame.