how can you become a polyglot
➡  Polyglots 📆 17 October 2023 ✍️  Konrad Jerzak vel Dobosz

When I read the book “How I Learned Eight Languages” by Polish journalist Zygmunt Broniarek for the first time at the age of seventeen, I wholeheartedly desired to become a polyglot just like him. I created my first list of languages I wanted to learn on a page of my notebook. However, I didn’t yet fully understand what lay ahead. It seemed to me that being a polyglot simply meant learning new languages. At that time, I was unaware of the sacrifices and changes it would entail.

One day, I was having a conversation with Luca Lampariello, a perpetually smiling Italian who is proficient in twelve languages, and with whose cooperation our book “How to Learn Languages” emerged. I asked him one of those questions that I often hear from people who find themselves in exactly the same place as I did about twenty years ago: “Luca, how can one become a polyglot?”

Luca responded in a way that intrigued me greatly:

“The difficulty lies not in how to become a polyglot, but in how to remain one.”

Anyone can learn a few languages. However, maintaining the ability to speak in ten or twenty languages can be quite a challenge. To do this, you need to completely re-organize your life.

Being a polyglot is, in a sense, a way of life, creating the circumstances and environment that will not only help us learn new languages but also use the ones we’ve learned before. It also involves changing our habits and overcoming barriers we couldn’t handle before.

Tony Robbins once said very aptly, “If you want to achieve success, find someone who has achieved what you want to achieve, and then start copying their actions to get the same results.” If you want to become a polyglot, take a look at what other polyglots are doing and try to do the same.

So, what are polyglots like?

Two weeks ago, while flying to Rio de Janeiro, I immersed myself in reading the book “Cómo aprender cualquier idioma (sin morir en el intento)” [How to Learn Any Language (Without Dying in the Attempt)], written by the polyglot Siskia Lagomarsino, who lives in Mexico. 

In one of the chapters, I found a very interesting summary that can be an excellent starting point for you on the path to becoming a polyglot. Siskia Lagomarsino has gathered five essential traits that she practically found in every polyglot she met personally. To become a polyglot, you should do exactly what they do. 

So, what awaits us?

5 traits that every polyglot has:

1. They can organize their time.

Learning languages almost requires giving up almost all of your free time. If someone thinks that spending two or three hours a week in a classroom will take them somewhere, it would be better if they devoted themselves to another hobby that will yield results with less effort and in less time.

2. They have developed their own habits for self-study.

Well, they manage their calendar to find time for language learning but have also chosen the study methods that have proven most effective for them. Also, they try to adapt these methods to their new language goals.

3. They are self-critical.

The polyglot analyzes the language as if it were a map of some terrain, allowing them to know where the traps, shifting sands, and other communication hazards are located. As a result, they try to avoid them as much as possible within their abilities. However, they are aware that they cannot completely avoid them. The polyglot has enough self-criticism to be able to “fill in the gaps” where their communication skills prove insufficient. They use various strategies and are aware of their mistakes in order to correct them later. 

4. They are only slightly afraid of being laughed at.

It must be said aloud: on the treacherous path to communicating in another language, it is impossible to avoid making mistakes. And, as a result, we will certainly expose ourselves to ridicule. However, the polyglot has not only learned how to rid himself of this fear but also how to use mistakes to his advantage.

5. They love to read.

You can’t learn a language if you don’t read anything in it. Period.

I can’t speak for everyone, but what often characterizes a polyglot is how many hours they’ve dedicated to their learning, something anyone who’s unfamiliar with this “hobby” might consider excessive. (The most intolerant might even say it’s a complete waste of time). 

In some cases, those hours are spent reading and writing in the target language, while in others, it’s devoted to repeating grammatical patterns, reviewing flashcards, and using other learning materials. 

Of course, the type of activity varies depending on the individual learner, but the common thread is the dedication with which they pursue each task. You could also call this dedication “madness.”

In the end, we’ll find that a touch of madness is necessary to learn another language, and it doesn’t always require talent. We’ll never learn a language the way we acquired our mother tongue. I assure you, dear reader, that train has already left the station, and the only certainty is that it won’t be coming back. We can step off the platform and slowly follow the paths leading us toward our target language, or we can sit and wait, hoping another train might happen to come by.

Source: “Cómo aprender cualquier idioma (sin morir en el intento)” by Siskia Lagomarsino.

Article originally published at in Polish. You can find it here.

Konrad Jerzak vel Dobosz

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