Polyglottery - the cheapskate way?

Here’s a thought, let’s suppose there are two polyglots, both native speakers of English:

Polyglot A has C1 level in German, Dutch, Afrikaans, Norwegian and Swedish

Polyglot B has C1 level French, B2 level in Arabic and B1 level in Japanese

Which one is more impressive? Which one has invested more time and effort in learning? I reckon it might just be Polyglot B!

I’ve recently been working on Farsi. It’s an elegant language with a fairly simple and straightforward grammar - but it’s quite far removed from English or anything else I’ve learned in depth before. It does feel like going back to the early days when I was starting out with my first foreign language (but this time without the cockiness and optimism of youth, perhaps :-0)

Well, this evening I happened to review some old Linguaphone Dutch audio that I digitised several years ago. I’ve never managed to get stuck into Dutch because its closeness to German kind of plays tricks with my brain. It just feels oddly annoying to hear people saying gewerkt instead of gearbeitet, and stuff like that. And the lack of case declensions feels weird too, somehow. It’s not so easy to explain, but there is some kind of ‘interference’ going on there. Still, listening to this audio this evening, it occurred to me that, if I really had to learn Dutch, it would be pretty damned painless to do so. Because, quite honestly, I can already fully understand upwards of 90%! It’s a similar thing with Swedish and Norwegian too. There is so much of these Germanic languages that the English speaker who knows shedloads of German vocabulary can just hear and instantly understand. You can just tune right in to it and start learning passively. Massive listening with some minimal grammar review would absolutely cut it, I think.

So maybe there is a cheapskate way to become a polyglot? Focus on one language family! The first one will hurt, but after that it’ll be easy going - if you can get over hang-ups about interference, etc.

(And even that might not be such a bad thing? If I went back to Germany and spoke a slightly Dutchified German, people might just think I was a Dutchman - in which case they would possibly be slightly less inclined to switch to English! :-P)

You are absolutely right:). If you want to become a polyglot it’s advisable to tackle French, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese, and maybe Romanian. Most polyglots do that. Another way is to learn Russian, Polish, Czech, Macedonian, Ukrainian etc. If you start with Arabic, then Chinese and Japanese you may die before reaching proficiency in all of them:)
Another trick that many polyglots use it that once they reach B1/B2 they start a new language. The reason is that each level requires more and more time to be invested, especially C1 and C2. I don’t know of any polyglot who decided to study Chinese or Japanese until C2 (including writing!), because that would mean at least a decade of not learning other languages.

The polyglot A can happen with persons who are - maybe - more interest in titles. However, I’ll never detract or not valuing someone who puts efforts to learn other languages. After all, how many english native speakers learn other languages?

To me simple doesn’t matter if you’re a polyglot, hiperpolyglot, monolingual. I will evaluate you taking into account your effort, in this case, to learn other languages. So, bearing this in mind, of course the polyglot B seens the one who works more hard.

Never forget the story of The Rabbit and The Turtle, even being easier for the rabbit once he stopped putting effort he lost. So I don’t agree with “the cheapskate way”.

"So maybe there is a cheapskate way to become a polyglot? Focus on one language family! "

Oh no! I get what you’re saying but you have no idea (ok, maybe you do) how hard it is to maintain a high level in languages that are similar to one another because you can end up speaking Portuñol or су́ржик (Ukrainian + Russian) veeeery easily.

The time, commitment and effort to start a language from scratch is much greater but if you’re C2 in many languages of the same family to me at least it’s incredibly impressive. For example, I spend 1 hour every day listening to podcasts in Spanish to maintain it at a rather high level. I want to do it but I were to stop I’m pretty sure that Frañol would come out :slight_smile:

We all have different opinions on this but what never fails to impress me is when I see other people speaking better than I do. Even if it’s one of my native languages. For instance, my last Russian prof spoke like a true British and her English was better than mine IMO and I was absolutely amazed by it.

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“…how hard it is to maintain a high level in languages that are similar to one another because you can end up speaking Portuñol or су́ржик (Ukrainian + Russian) veeeery easily…”

Yeah, it’s not hard to see how that could happen. It can even happen with less closely related languages. When I was in Germany, I used to speak Italian sometimes with a friend of mine (an Italian dude who lived there with his German GF) but I decided it was time to switch to German when I heard myself use the word “sprechiamo” one day - true story!! :-0

One thing I’ve discovered, though, is that these things are somewhat “elastic” and not fixed in stone in our brains. At that time, when heavily immersed in German, I was mixing German and Italian. Now, having been for many years back in an Anglophone environment, there isn’t a cat’s chance in hell that I would mix them, I think.

In the case of German/Dutch, the last point I made in my OP was only half tongue-in-cheek! Maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to talk like a Dutch footballer giving an interview to German TV?

The Dutch are known for speaking English well, yet I noticed that those Dutch folks I saw in Germany who were functional in German tended not to have people press English on 'em - for some reason. So maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to Dutchify German strong verbs (where they are different) or to say “het is” instead of “es ist”, an so on? :smiley:

Well as for myself I choose to learn languages according to which language I like mostly and it happens that my favourite languages are romance languages. That is why I learned French, Spanish and now Italian. In fact I am not so much interested in being a polyglot but these languages are my favourites and I enjoy being in contact with them.

“…I choose to learn languages according to which language I like…”

Yes, I think that’s what we all do - apart from where there is a particular need :slight_smile:

I am being slightly tongue-in-cheek with this tread. But there are those (among the Youtube crowd, for example) who seem to take an easy route. This is one of the things that makes Steve Kaufmann stand out, in fact. Speaking, French (plus other Romance languages) and Chinese and Japanese, etc…that does have more kudos for me than someone who just sticks to one language family.

But each to his own. If people want to specialise on one family, why not? :slight_smile:

‘polyglot’ as a goal is incredibly shallow.

Yet shallow pools reflect the sky most brilliantly!

I think it really depends on your aim. Exotic languages are fascinating, but someone doesn’t need to learn Arabic just to be labeled a “more impressive polyglot”, when they actually love French and Spanish culture and want to learn them :).

Languages in the same family will allow you to make faster progress in each, but it still takes a long time, and I can’t think of many polyglots who would choose languages simply to get some title of a polyglot, instead of just going with their passions, whether the language is considerably distant or not :). Even “easier” languages will take a loooong time if you want to become truly proficient.

But thats just my thoughts, I would only choose languages that actually interested me completely. Whether someone labels me as “more impressive” than someone else, or doesn’t think I am a polyglot, is irrelevant to me :).

What are your thoughts?

“…Whether someone labels me as “more impressive” than someone else, or doesn’t think I am a polyglot, is irrelevant to me…”

Personally I kind of agree. But that’s not necessarily the way everyone ticks. I think there may be some people in the so-called “polyglot community” who are trying to impress people.

Ah definitely :), it can be used as a marketing technique for sure, to look more impressive.

Hopefully most language learners choose out of passion :slight_smile:

“I’ve recently been working on Farsi … it’s quite far removed from English or anything else I’ve learned in depth before.”

Yet it is an Indo-European language, albeit on a distant branch. After watching LangFocus videos about Quechua, Finnish, and other non-IE languages I am more able to perceive and appreciate the sameness of Russian to English, complex grammar notwithstanding. I’ve never looked into Farsi, but I’d bet dollars to doughnuts that it would feel rather more familiar than, say, Hungarian or Korean. At least in certain ways, and particularly having studied multiple IE languages. This is not to say that, for us, all IE languages are easier and all non-IE languages are harder. But some non-iE languages seem to really bend the way you have to think about things.

Yeah, it’s Indo-European. But in lexical terms it is really quite distant. There is a huge number of Arabic loanwords. And the Indo-European words are sometimes very distant cousins of Germanic or Romance languages. For example, zan = woman; kind of close to the mark for a Greek or Russian, but the average English speaker most likely wouldn’t make any connection. The word order does have echoes of German (to my mind anyways) with the sending of verbs to the end of clauses. But even that isn’t going to help most English speakers, I guess.

I think it may, after all, be vocabulary which involves most learning effort?