Is Wanting to be a Polyglot a Misdirected Dream?

by David · 47 comments


That’s the question I asked myself a few months ago, and I think it’s something everyone wanting to learn multiple languages should ask.

I caught the language learning bug about a year ago. It started with Spanish. I remember how excited I got when I realised that learning a language can be fun if approached correctly, and then I suddenly realised it’s possible to learn multiple languages; there were many people doing it and they all said the same thing: ‘it’s something anyone can do’. Wow! What an awesome idea. I’m going to learn a few languages, too!

I started reading everything I could about language. I got excited and ordered myself a bunch of language books. I was going to be a polyglot. I was sure of it. I told myself I’d learn 2 languages, but then I said 3, and then 4; the numbers kept getting bigger. I started counting languages like numbers. If only learning was as easy.

If you’re enthusiastic about language then my story may sound familiar. It’s easy to get caught up in the idea of learning a list of languages. I certainly get a sense of pleasure when I think about all the languages I could learn. It’s called dreaming. We all like to dream; It’s easy and makes us feel good.

However transforming a dream into reality takes hard-work and time. Most people shy away from hard-work, so for many this is the deal breaker. Forgive me for sounding high and mighty, but I think the universe is like this for a reason. If you don’t want to work hard for something then it’s probably not for you. If you don’t work hard, you won’t get good. However, if you truly enjoy what you do then even when you have to work hard, you won’t feel like you’re working hard. Do you feel like you work hard?

I’m lucky to have interviewed some of the most accomplished language learners you’ll ever hear about, and I’ve noticed a pattern: these people are *extremely* enthusiastic, and their lives revolve around language. I absolutely adore languages, I’m in a relationship with Spanish, but dedicate my life to language? Suddenly I’m second guessing myself. I don’t think I’ll turn up for the wedding. If I do, I’ll probably feel as though I’m missing out on something else I could have had.

I love language but I don’t want to dedicate my life to language. Nor do I want to give what it takes to become proficient in many different languages. I’m being honest with myself, are you?

The reason I’m writing this article is because when I browse language forums and language blogs, I come across an awful amount of people saying they want to be polyglots. Again, a nice idea, but nice ideas aren’t enough. Successfully making this dream a reality is largely dependent on enjoying the process so much that you get lost in it.

Don’t take my word for it, listen to those who have successfully accomplished the goal you’re trying to achieve.

If you’ve set yourself a goal to become a polyglot then I suggest you stop to think hard. Being a polyglot is a lifestyle choice; it’s more than a nice idea.

I’ve let go of  wanting to be a polyglot; It’s a nice idea, but whatever will be will be. For now, I’m just a guy who enjoys learning languages.

Is wanting to be a polyglot a misdirected dream? For me, the answer is yes. How about you?

Update: I posted this question in the LingQ and How-to-learn-any-language forums and there were some interesting responses you might want to check out.

  • hp

    I never had the idea becoming a polyglot. 
    I’ve learned English and French at school. I learned Spanish when at university. I learned Russian after visiting Russia. Later, after visiting China twice, I started with Chinese. Now, I am 61, and I am C1 in English, B1/B2 in French and Chinese, and A1 in Russian and Spanish. Am I a polyglot? No. I like learning languages, but now I try to concentrate on one or two languages I really like and know I will use in future: Chinese and French. My mantra is: do not dream becoming a polyglot, just learn the language(s) you like. Does it really matter if you know one, two, or ten, or twenty  languages? Is your life better if you know ten languages instead of two? It’s YOUR LIFE. Just do it, if you like it. If you don’t like it, just don’t do it!

    • I couldn’t agree with you more, and it’s refreshing to hear it from yet another accomplished language learner. Thanks for stopping by!

    • jennifer19

      I’m trying to speak French and Italian fluently. and I also want to sing both of them, now I’m 19. do you think it’s too late for that?

      • meuhmy

        No, it’s not too late. I started to learn German at 18 years old and I’m now 22 and I can speak in German with people. I’m not perfect yet, but they can understand what I mean even if I do mistakes. When writting in German, though I’m a bit better. I started learning Japanese at 20 years old and I’m getting pretty good now. I’ll make trips in both countries to make my language perfect. When you reach a certain level that you feel can’t get better, the solution is to go in these countries. Even if I learn English since I’m 8 years old, I still have difficulties and I’ll need to do a trip in english canada to make it more fluent and perfect 🙂 (my mother language is french)

  • Patbillchapman

    I too am an enthusiastic language learner, but I am very much aware that life is too short to learn more than a handful of languages while doing other things as well. In addition to my French and German, I learned Welsh as an adult. When visiting a foreign country (Malta, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Denmark …), I learn basic greetings and courtesies in the language of the country, fully aware that I will never become fluent. Many years ago I learned Esperanto, and I recommend it to anyone interested in the wider world.

    • I think the most important factor is enjoying yourself; not doing something ‘just because’

  • Great post David and lots of good talking points here.  I think everyone is wired differently.  I for one have no desire to become a polyglot.  Really.  I love teaching others how to learn languages and I love having learned Turkish and Spanish, but I learned them as a result of a life decision to move to Turkey and Mexico respectively.  I love the language learning journey and if I’m called to a third country or to work with a certain people, I will certainly dive into the next language and I am quite sure I will enjoy it, but I have no desire to learn a language outside of a direct and purposeful reason to learn the language.  My only desire is to help people and if it takes learning a language to do that, then I’m on board.  

    But I think there are alot of people who stumble into being a polyglot.  They learn a language or get some exposure to learning another language and fall in love with the process, the goal and the end product of another language.  Some people run marathons. Some build cedar strip canoes. Some follow the NBA with rabid enthusiasm.  Some learn languages with a focused determination. You are right, it becomes their lifestyle.  If you find yourselves in the first group though, a good solid reason for learning the language is probably going to be pretty important if you want to actually sustain the journey long enough to ge the job done.  

    • Aaron, you make some interesting points, and I agree with you for the most part. 

      Nevertheless, I think something learning for the sake of it is ‘unwise’ to be polite. For me, it has to be pleasurable and I have to want to do it. Many people force themselves to learn things they don’t really want to. 
      I see no reason to do so. Everyone has an abundance of choice; It’s ok to choose something else. 

  • I’d be interested to know how many of these polyglots have an actual need for their languages. 

    Giuseppe Mezzofanti learned 39 languages because he had a genuine need to use them in his ministry, i.e. to help others.

    • If you haven’t already, check ou the polyglot project podcast. 

      Listen to what some of them have said 🙂 http://www.davidmansaray.com/tag/polyglot-project-podcast

  • A very interesting article that makes a good point. I too find that it’s really easy to get carried away daydreaming about all the languages I’d like to learn! Realistically though, there are other things I want to do too and I can’t spend *all* my time learning languages. I also find that it’s quite difficult to learn a language really well unless I can discover a strong passion for that particular language. I imagine I’ll probably learn a few more languages because I truly do love the process (and there are so many languages that interest me!), but I don’t have a set goal of a number of languages I want to learn. Really, I think it’s better to live in the moment and put your all into whatever you’re doing at any given time, rather than trying to live out your whole life according to some pre-determined plan. Things rarely go according to plan anyway, but I think things will generally work out if you just stop worrying so much and enjoy the journey.

    • Exactly! Living in the moment is what’s most important. I’m guilty of getting carried away with plans so I’ve given up on them. My new philosophy is to plan for the future as little as possible and live for today as much as possible.

  • Roman Zamishka

    95% of the people on the polyglot forums will never learn a language, they don’t have the discipline; neither to learn nor to maintain a language. They browse forums and look for tips instead of learning and speaking the language.

    4% will learn as many languages as they need; I fit in this camp. Becoming fluent in your first foreign tongue is a major achievement, and it gives you an idea of how time consuming language learning is. This encourages you to do cost-benefit analysis for any further languages. I learned German and Polish because I love central Europe. I use these for travel as well as literature and news. I could learn Hungarian to complete the set, but I won’t, because that would too much of an investment considering that everybody in Budapest speaks either English or German anyway). 

    1% will learn many languages, they are true linguists and lovers of language, for them the goal is the journey itself.

    Everybody should be a polyglot and know at least one foreign language. Beyond that, it depends on  your interests and needs.

    • I think you’re right. And I think I’m in the 4% you described. I would like to be in the 1% but I want way too much variety from life for that to ever work. 

      well… it possibly could if I changed the country I lived in every few years—and that’s very likely—but then that would be learning languages that I need as opposed to doing it just for the love. 

      You also make great point regarding discipline—which is exactly what Spanish has taught me.  I’ve failed to make much progress with my Japanese this year because I’m so dissatisfied with my level of Spanish. I’ve found it hard to pull away from Spanish to study Japanese because I feel I have unfinished business. 

      Of course, there’s no final destination as a language learner. But I do desire to learn languages to *fluency*, so merely being able to communicate in a language  for me is  half an accomplishment. 

      Discipline and focus are the foundations of successful learning. And I want to cultivate them before I take a stroll in the never-ending forest of language.

    • Kanrei

      I don’t have discipline, but I think I do well with learning languages. I do them daily and I feel quiet happy about, to be able reading Japanese and French books. ^^
      I think there is no need for discipline, if one does it because of fun. ^^

      But about seeing how much time learning a languages consumes, I think it will become less over time, because of more experience in learning languages and also because maybe some languages are similar.

  • Anonymous

    I am a polyglot not because I wanted to be one just for the sake of it but because I wanted to communicate in different languages and travel. The label polyglot came as a result of my passion for cultures, people and travel. As you wrote in your post, the most accomplished language learners are the ones who were enthusiastic about it. Those of us who grew up in bilingual households and in multicultural communities obviously have a huge advantage and maybe became multilingual people as a result of our environments. had my family remained in the former USSR, I may not have developed my language abilities. Who knows? 

    • Thanks for stopping by Susanna. it’s clear that successful multilingualism is closely tied to lifestyle and passion; often a result of both. 

      Have you ever tried to learn a language you just liked but had no reason to learn? Are you able to learn a language just for the sake of it? 

      • Anonymous

        Yes, I can learn a language just for fun. I had no reason to learn Portuguese or Italian. I just liked how they sounded. 

    • Rodrigo

      I grew up in a bilingual home (English and Spanish), but our hometown has little to no diversity–they were composed of mainly Hispanics (Mexicans, particularly) and Caucasians. We hardly, if ever, get any foreigners here. It wasn’t until I moved out several years ago to attend a 4-year University that I truly began to realize my passion for culture and languages. Within those years, I’ve met and made so many new friends from around the world, and I managed to teach myself Portuguese and take several French classes (still doing them today), and I just started teaching myself Italian 2 months ago. I didn’t grow up in a multicultural community…but I am just now starting to wish I did.

      I liked learning these languages because I wanted to communicate with some of these students, as well as just for the sake of learning learning them, though I do want to travel the world someday, so they may come in handy. I didn’t grow up with that lifestyle, it’s something that I had developed a passion for once I moved out and went on to bigger and better things.

  • I love learning Japanese. I don’t really know why but every time I’m around the language it just makes me feel good. To be honest, I’m not learning Japanese to communicate with people either. I’m not much of a social guy be that on the Internet or off so that can’t be a reason for me.

    Japanese is just so intriguing and fun so I’m learning it just to learn it. I don’t ever see myself becoming a polyglot, but if another language makes me feel like Japanese is making me feel right now, then hell I’ll learn it!

    Sure, I have my ups and downs with the language but that’s just human right? You go through phases like that, so don’t start questioning if you’re passionate about it or not, because you are.

    Do what you’re passionate about. Do what you love.

  • Peter Romero

    An interesting post. I’ve always been passionate about foreign languages, and probably bore all of my friends as I prattle endlessly on about them. 🙂 I studied French in high school and became quite good at it quite quickly. But becoming truly (perfectly) fluent in even one foreign language is a lifelong process. I’ve been enjoying the French language for 18 years, and I’ve impressed and even fooled native speakers, but at the same time I’m still amazed at how much I don’t know. I live right in the middle of the U.S. and don’t get to use the language on a daily or even weekly basis. So keeping it fresh is tough, and that last hurdle of native-like fluency taunts me a bit. But I think I’ve accomplished a lot in a very artificial setting… near-native fluency and 98% spoken comprehension while never having lived in (and barely even visited) a Francophone country. A few months in France would probably rocket me to the moon. So there IS hope for those who, like me, are buried in the suburbs and don’t travel much, but dream of speaking fluent Hungarian.

    But you have to want it. A lot. I learned French in a typical U.S. high school classroom where most of my classmates, with the same instruction, didn’t learn it. But I was thinking about French around the clock, translating things in my head, thirsty for more. One really needs to have a passion or some strong motivation to learn anything well, be it languages or music or art or building canoes; otherwise it’s just pursuing a lark. And what I’m not sure of is if one can generate that kind of passion at will. It seems unlikely.

    I have my doubts when I go on the polyglot forums and see so many people who claim to speak 9 languages… really? Fluently? Do they know the word for “kite” or “greenhouse gas” in all 9? Or can they just get the gist of a web page with a little help here and there from Google Translate? 🙂

    Right now I’m in an interesting situation linguistically. For three years I’ve had a nagging desire to learn Swedish, ever since I visited Stockholm. There is absolutely no discernible reason for me to learn Swedish. I ignored it for a year, studied it for two weeks, and then put it away, thinking it was useless. But the desire never quite went away. So I recently pulled it out again and went to work. God might be calling me to do this for some reason. But the truth is that learning a language IS work. The thought of memorizing all these strong verbs is a bit less than pleasant. But I think I want to speak Swedish more than I want to not deal with those verbs. I’m left wondering what purpose it might eventually have… but I’ve seen that God makes use of everything in our lives, so I’m confident that if I manage to learn it, it will eventually be useful in some way.

    On the other end of the spectrum is Spanish. I can read it without having studied much because of the French, and spoken/listening I can get maybe 30%. It would really be useful to me to become fluent in Spanish, living where I do, and it would probably be a lot less work than Swedish, given my knowledge of another Romance language. But I just don’t WANT it the same way. Spanish doesn’t interest me very much (not that it doesn’t have its own beauty… it does). When I try to study it, I get impatient. I’d like to have the end result — a fluent Spanish conversation with my Spanish-speaking friends — but the road is full of drudgery, and so here I sit, not progressing in my broken Spanish.

    • Rose

      I feel exactly the same! I thrived in Spanish class and my Spanish teacher even said that if she could pay for me to go to a Spanish speaking country she would because my passion for learning the language was being wasted just learning it in a classroom setting.

      People do always say “I want to speak another language!” but are quickly daunted once they realise the amount of work it involves. Learning a language (or doing anything well, to be honest) requires a lot of passion. And patience.

      And yes, the people who say they “speak” another language “fluently” can usually only say a few sentences… To me that’s not fluency. Fluency means spontaneity. It means you can be put in almost any conversation and be able to communicate mostly fluently.

      And funnily enough, the way I feel about French is the way you feel about Spanish. 😛

  • New learner of Spanish

    I’ve listened to you on youtube and read some of your posts. You are
    really a remarkable person who seems to want to establish yourself in
    the world, by helping people realise their own potential and its
    commendable.

    Im similar i want to explore the world in many
    different forms myself to gain more knowledge about myself and things
    that exist in and outside our time frame.

    What books have you consumed that has help you on your quest to enlightenment.

    Also i have decided to educate myself in the art of Spanish.   

    What advice could you or someone else give me about the initial steps i take to complete my second language to a native level. 

    Thanks in advance Nick

    • Hi Nick, 

      You’re first question is great but difficult for me to answer without knowing a bit more. I’ve read tons of books and I wouldn’t know where to start. Would you able to tell me your areas of interest? 

       Your second question I can answer now (in short).  

      The first thing I’ll say is to choose a language that you have strong interest in its culture or some other aspect. Learning a language takes time and wanting to do more than just learn a language has helped me through the times where I’ve become frustrated.  In my case I have many Spanish friends and I love reading Spanish. 

      Make sure you have fun – lots of fun. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get something, somethings just take time. If you stick at it you’ll be successful. 

      Get a phrase book and start to learn things that you want to say now. Language is about communication and it’s best if you learn to say the things you can use as soon as possible. This is great for motivation and you’ll be using the language in no time. 

      In the beginning don’t worry about grammar, just be a parrot and remember sentences. 

      Listen to the language  a lot!  In my experience, listening skills take longest to develop, so I advice listening to the language as much as possible. Watch movies with subtitles and listen to music in the language. It’s ok to listen to things you don’t understand  –  this will warm your ear up to the language –  but it’s more effective to listen to things you do understand. 

      Check out: http://www.lingq.com/

      Listen to the polyglot project podcast to find out how really successful language learners learn. You’ll notice that they all have different approaches.  So take everything you hear with a pinch of salt until you’ve tried it and seen success for yourself in their techniques.

      The real *secret* is to experiment and find out what methods work best for you. Somethings will not work for you while other things will work wonders. 

      http://www.davidmansaray.com/tag/polyglot-project-podcast

      There are tons of great courses and people have different tastes. But my favourites are Assimil and Living language.  Teach yourself is also really popular among language learners. 

      Check out forums over at http://how-to-learn-any-language.com you’ll find lots of great advice there.

      I could write so much more –  I’ll probably write a post at some point –  but this is enough to get you started. 

      If you need any more tips let me know. 

      Thanks for stopping by! 

      — David

    • Hi Nick, 

      Your first question is great but difficult for me to answer without knowing a bit more. I’ve read tons of books and I wouldn’t know where to start. Would you able to tell me your areas of interest? 

       Your second question I can answer now (in short).  

      The first thing I’ll say is to choose a language that you have strong interest in its culture or some other aspect. Learning a language takes time and wanting to do more than just learn a language has helped me through the times where I’ve become frustrated.  In my case I have many Spanish friends and I love reading Spanish. 

      Make sure you have fun – lots of fun. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get something, somethings just take time. If you stick at it you’ll be successful. 

      Get a phrase book and start to learn things that you want to say now. Language is about communication and it’s best if you learn to say the things you can use as soon as possible. This is great for motivation and you’ll be using the language in no time. 

      In the beginning don’t worry about grammar, just be a parrot and remember sentences. 

      Listen to the language  a lot!  In my experience, listening skills take longest to develop, so I advice listening to the language as much as possible. Watch movies with subtitles and listen to music in the language. It’s ok to listen to things you don’t understand  –  this will warm your ear up to the language –  but it’s more effective to listen to things you do understand. 

      Check out: http://www.lingq.com/

      Listen to the polyglot project podcast to find out how really successful language learners learn. You’ll notice that they all have different approaches.  So take everything you hear with a pinch of salt until you’ve tried it and seen success for yourself in their techniques.

      The real *secret* is to experiment and find out what methods work best for you. Somethings will not work for you while other things will work wonders. 

      http://www.davidmansaray.com/tag/polyglot-project-podcast

      There are tons of great courses and people have different tastes. But my favourites are Assimil and Living language.  Teach yourself is also really popular among language learners. 

      Check out forums over at http://how-to-learn-any-language.com you’ll find lots of great advice there.

      I could write so much more –  I’ll probably write a post at some point –  but this is enough to get you started. 

      If you need any more tips let me know. 

      Thanks for stopping by! 

      — David

  • nick

    I’ve listened to you on youtube and read some of your posts. You are really a remarkable person who seems to want to establish yourself in the world, by helping people realise their own potential and its commendable. Im similar i want to explore the world in many different forms myself to gain more knowledge about myself and things that exist in and outside our time frame. What books have you consumed that has help you on your quest to enlightenment. Also i have decided to educate myself in the art of Spanish.    What advice could you or someone else give me about the initial steps i take to complete my second language to a native level.  Thanks in advance Nick

  • Hmm, I must have missed this conversation before, but here you’re going on about hard work, a little different than your recent facebook post 🙂

    ‘If you find a job you love you’ll never work again’ – Winston Churchill.

    • Hey Chris, thanks for stopping by. 

      Sorry I didn’t get around to responding to you’re Facebook comment. I might as well do it here. 

      I just scanned over the article and I can only spot ‘hard work’ and I can’t find anywhere where I called language learning ‘hard’.

      As I see it, learning a language is not hard, it just takes a lot of effort. I’ll admit, the word ‘hard’ is not in my vocabulary. I judge things in terms of the time and effort required. 

      I always avoid calling things hard because I think it subconsciously sets an expectation that you might fail, and I think confidence is directly related to how much effort is put into something. That’s just how I see things. But yes, using ‘hard’ in the conventional sense then yes  it’s true that language learning is hard.

      But calling something hard doesn’t do anyone any good as far as I’m concerned.

  • Raul

    Dear David,

    My name is Raul and I am fluent or almost fluent (conversational level) in a good dozen of European languages and I manage to communicate in another dozen or so of non-European languages. Apart of that, I studied Latin, Old Church Slavonic, Sanskrit and Japanese.

    Now, in my opinion someone who is seriously studying languages will become a polyglot by default, given the similarities between members of the same family. [Having studied Latin helped me to synthesize and improve my previous knowledge of French, Italian and Spanish.] Of course, there are geniuses around, learning and speaking over hundred foreign languages or dialects…

    However, the same result can be reached by people living in multiple countries during their life. By living in a country for more than three months anyone with enough INTEREST should be able to acquire enough of the host language to not need anymore interpreters.

    In example, I met thousands of people speaking at a very good level various foreign languages without having ever studied them in school. An exceptionally gifted category are the travelers (like gypsies traveling all around Europe).

    Therefore, my conclusion is as follows:

    wanting to become a polyglot is a very easy reachable dream if based on a real DESIRE to communicate with others!

    Hopefully, the above answers to your question.

    Regards,

    Raul

    • I agree with pretty much everything you said. With enough interest and dedication anyone can become a polyglot.

  • Eric

    I have wanted to be a polyglot since my first years of university. I don’t learn very well in structured environments, but I have learned French and Chinese to a near fluent (so hard to really draw that fluent line sometimes, can I get around China, sure, do I want to be discussing high end philosophical subjects without some sort of reference handy, No, when I get to that point in a language I tell myself it is time to move on, but the question I am asking myself now is what good is that doing me? I also speak a spattering of Russian and just last week I started on Italian which has been a breeze into 2nd-3rd year in 7 days, giving myself a weekend, with the help of French, and I have not had anyone approach me with a job offer. Do I really need to cave in and get a University degree to open up language doors that should be as simple ‘Talking my way in’?

    Did a google search for polyglot and came up with this, thought perhaps people would see my statement and have some advice for how I should proceed. More languages or more aptitude?

    • Eric

      Probably wouldn’t hurt to edit my posts and make sure my English is on the ball before talking about other languages though. lol /facepalm.

  • Allan

    I am certainly no polyglot, but I do not think that being a polyglot is a lifestyle choice. I think that considering it as such distracts from any the usage of language in the first place. Frederick the great knew some 10 languages. I doubt he considered himself a professional polyglot

  • Yanni

    My personal take on this issue is that there are polyglots and polyglots… 4 languages v.s. 12 languages. There is a huge difference. Language learning is a good hobby to have as it is 1) useful, 2) fun – most of the time, 3) trains you brain, 4) focuses the mind on a fairly measurable goal (e.g. the C2 exam) 5) exercises will power and self-control (a sort of meditation in dealing with distractions – i.e. a very transferable skill) and 6) mastering a language is something nobody can ever take away from you (your job/business can be taken away, so can you health, and given what just happened in Cyprus, so can your bank account!!). 4 languages over 4 decades, is an achievable goal, and one that will keep you interesting and youthful up to your more mature days. The key is to take it easy… Don’t rush. A language per decade is fine. Why push it? To hell with neurotic behaviors dude! Let’s enjoy the process! Life is not a competition, it’s a ride, we’re just tourists. Without love, anything we do is pointless. Process over destination, as you nicely say somewhere else on you website. And yeah it’s more difficult to learn as you get older, but there are so many people I know who have learned languages after 55, that the excuse is no longer valid!

    That’s all for now,

    Yanni, the Spanish learning Greek!

  • Bálint B.

    Dear David, although my personal views about the issue are not as strong as the ones you can see among these comments or on LingQ, I would still like to let you know that I’ve just published a post on my blog as an interpretation of this article. I really hate advertising on others’ websites but here is the link: polyglot.cu.cc Despite my effort, it is more than possible that I have completely misunderstood your messages. In this case, I would be very grateful if you could write a comment or contact me privately with the aim of presenting your authentic opinion to my readers. Thank you!

  • ScorpioJeff

    Think of a polyglot like a pro basketball player. To become a pro takes not only dedication and hard-work, but a genuine love for what is being done. The pro basketball player who practices every free chance s/he has may be seen as putting in a lot of hard work, but to the player him/herself, s/he is simply doing something s/he loves – the work isn’t hard at all. Also, many people learn languages out of necessity. I’d like to qualify this word “necessity.” Let’s say you move to a place such as Bangladesh. Naturally, you could get by using English, but if “just getting by” doesn’t appeal to you, then learning Bengali would be a necessity.

    For my part, I fell in love with languages starting with some French songs we learned in fourth grade. I went out and got some books and found learning French to be incredibly easy and fun for me. After sometime I saw some German and thought it looked like a cool language and set to learning German, and though it was nowhere near as easy as French, I just fell in love with it.

    During university, I worked at a Federal Express that had many people who could speak only Spanish. From them and a little self-study, I learned at least passable conversational Spanish. Also during university, I studied Latin as I was a double major in German and Theology. After university, life took me to Thailand, where I’ve been living for the past 4+ years. As someone who would rather use language than gestures, I’ve learned (and am still learning) Thai.

    I’ve also dabbled in several languages and have found that some click and some don’t. Also, some languages that were impossible for me to remember a single word in (Thai and Hungarian for example), became alive when I was in the country (sadly I’ve forgotten just about all the Hungarian I ever knew).

    Swedish I learned from having a penpal – and though my written/spoken Swedish has gone down horribly, I can still read it relatively comfortably.

    As it is now, I have a wife from the Philippines and we have a daughter, so I will eventually get to learning Tagalog – at least enough to speak with the family 🙂 Additionally, I’m trying now to learn some Burmese, because with Burma opening up, I firmly believe knowing Burmese will be advantageous in the future.

    So what’s my point here? It’s simply that no dream is misguided. If you love learning languages – do it. Whether you learn one more language or twenty, the important thing is that you are having fun and the “hard-work” others see you put in is to you nothing more than doing a hobby you love.

  • kiwi93

    Hello. I love languages. But, my life doesn’t revolve around them. I am an Enginnering student, so, I know what hard work is. I spend a couple of hours a day revising the things (language related) I’ve learnt. My life revolves around Mathematics and physics. So, learning a language is an “artisitic escape” for me (I can’t paint, sing or dance!). My dream isn’t to become a polyglot, but, to learn new things. My advise is, try to learn one language at a time. By the time you’ve mastered it, you’ve gained new skills. You know “how to learn” a language, you’ll see patterns, and it’ll be easier. If you know you can handle it, take two languages that are completely different but from the same family – such as German and Swedish, or Spanish and German. If the two languages are too similar you’ll often mix things up. Finally, if you want to learn new languages do it because you love it, not because you want to brag about it. Good Luck.

  • Mohamed

    language is all about practicing. I am a native Arabic speaker. I learnt both English and French at school. It felt good then to be trilingual and greed for changing the prefix started, why not quadri-lingual, centi-lingual … becoming a polyglot. I started learning Spanish, German and chinese together. I was doing great and started to speak another three languages but then…wait !
    what was that for ? a while after spending some years in medical school I found out that I am not using any languages except English and Arabic. other languages are a luxuary I forget because I don’t practice and I lose command because I don’t have the time for them…

  • lamorenita

    Hi David, your subscribe list isn’t active

    • Thanks for letting me know! I’ll get it sorted ASAP!

      David

  • tim

    do what u gotta do period..

  • Is anyone here on Duolingo? I just discovered it maybe six months ago but it is a serious addiction. I’m still on my first language, but if I ever do finish my wishlist, I’ll have learned atleast five or six languages. What a rush!!!

  • Sophia

    I’ve never wanted to be a polyglot. However, I have always wanted to learn a second language. So, I’ve actually started learning German. Hopefully in 12-18months of an hour or two everyday I should be fairly reasonable. I’ve started with the Assimil course. Good luck to everyone else learning a language or two. 😛

  • Kanrei

    For me language learning is a hobby, so I don’t feel like doing hard work. I don’t know at which level you can say you are a polyglot, but I feel happy, when I can understand a lot of different languages. (I think after one year of practice daily, one can starts to read some easy books, like for children or teens)
    I also can’t concentrate to long on one subject, so doing two languages or more at one time, won’t be less effective. Because maybe after a hour or two I can’t concentrate anymore on one language, I switch then and feel kinda refreshed, because of using a different languages. (It feels like it use different parts of my brain. O_o)
    And don’t worry, the more languages you can, the easier language learning will become. One reason is, you have experience with learning languages, the other is, maybe other languages are similar to some languages you already learnt, so you feel easier on the words or grammar then. (After learning some Japanese, Korean felt much easier, because of similar Grammar and Chinese loanwords)
    Ok, I myself never thought, i wanted to be a polyglot, I just wanted to learn Japanese, that I can understand anime and manga, and somehow I started to get obsessed with languages, because I wondered, how are other languages and maybe this and that languages would also be useful, for getting interesting material to read, not translated into English or German.
    I think language learning is one of the less things, I need to worry, that I just daydream. I tend to procrastinate other stuff more… (Maybe I even use language learning as activity for procrastinating other stuff..)

  • Guest

    I know Portuguese, Spanish and English and I´m 24. The thing is, if you want to learn a language, you need to have a real interest in it and its culture, that way your brain will devour everything about it.

  • greg parch

    I speak Portuguese, Spanish and English and I´m 24. The thing is, if you want to learn a language, you need to have a real interest in it and its culture, that way your brain will devour everything about it.

  • Jenny

    I never even knew the word polyglot existed until I started searching for the idea of learning more than one language at once. Like all Canadians I learned some french all through primary school. I have Italian as my heritage so I picked up some growing up and I’m trying to become fluent in that as well as perfecting my french. And I’m in LOVE with Japan, so learning the language in order to visit or work/live in Japan one day is a must for me.

    Then I thought, what other languages could I learn? German? Spanish? I wanted to learn more! Then I found this great site though, which has so much information and good advice. http://www.thepolyglotdream.com/

    I’m glad I now have David’s site to add to my collection. I want to concentrate just on those three languages I started out with, for the good reason that two are already familiar to me, and one I’m in love with, and they are all culturally interesting to me. French because its a part of my Canadian heritage, Italian because its a part of my familial heritage, and Japan because its a country I’m in love with and want to be a part of. If that makes sense? Learn what you love and want to be a part of.

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