Despite blogging about languages for over a decade and interviewing dozens of polyglots for The Language Mastery Show and my Master Japanese book, I realized earlier this year that I had not yet attended any of the polyglot events around the world, including the Polyglot Gathering, the Polyglot Conference, or LangFest. When I honestly asked myself why, I realized that the answer was fear. Fear of being judged. Fear of not belonging. Fear of being thought a fraud. I told myself, “A true polyglot speaks 5 or more languages fluently. I only speak a few.”
After finally mustering the courage to attend a polyglot event—the 2019 Polyglot Gathering in Bratislava—I now realize just how ridiculous I had been and how much potential fun, fulfillment, and connection I have missed out on all these years. In an effort to spare you from the same self-limiting beliefs, here are five reasons why you should attend a polyglot event even if you don’t consider yourself a polyglot.
1) Polyglot events are open to everyone regardless of ability
The only prerequisite to attend a polyglot event is a love of languages. That’s it. I met people in Bratislava of all ability levels, from those who speak 20+ languages to those who are just starting their first foreign language. In fact, I think the least experienced language learners get the most benefit from polyglot events since they can learn how to do things right the first time, instead of making the mistakes that so many of us make when learning a language.
2) There is no official language count to be considered a “polyglot”
Not only are polyglot events open to those of all language levels, but it’s important to know that there is no official number of languages one must speak to be considered a “polyglot.” According to Dictionary.com, a polyglot is defined simply as:
“a person who speaks, writes, or reads a number of languages”
Note the lack of a specific number here. Now that I think about it, I have no idea where I got the “five languages” threshold into my head.
Likewise, we should appreciate the fact that there is no clear dividing line between polyglots and non-polyglots. At the first talk I attended at the Polyglot Gathering, Richard Simcott (who speaks dozens of languages and once used 14 in a single day for professional purposes!) looked back on his life of languages to ascertain if there was a clear dividing line marking his transition into polyglottery. He wasn’t able to find one. Instead, he believes that being a polyglot is more a matter of attitude, interest, and identity than the number of foreign languages you understand, speak, read, or write.
3) You will learn how to learn
The Polyglot Gathering was packed full of fascinating talks, and it was often difficult to decide which session to attend competing options were scheduled during the same hour. Despite having studied linguistics in university, read dozens of books on language learning, and written a few of my own, I was blown away by how much I learned and humbled by how much I don’t yet know. I returned home with pages and pages of notes in my Bullet Journal and lots of exciting new methods and materials to try.
4) Being around other language lovers normalizes the obsession
Spending your time and energy learning multiple languages instead of pursuing more common pursuits (e.g. watching sportsball), can feel lonely and isolating at times. Attending a polyglot event proves that you are not the only one obsessed with languages. Being around so many other language learners helps normalize the behavior and help you feel less alone.
5) You will make lots of new friends
One of the hard truths I’ve learned in my 20s and 30s is how difficult it can be to make new friends once one is out of school and people get busier and busier with careers, children, etc. Moving from country to country and state to state has made this even more difficult. Fortunately, polyglot events provide an ideal environment to meet new like minded folks regardless of one’s age or address. In just a few short days, I bonded with an entire new group friends and strengthened loose ties into strong connections. This alone was worth the registration fee and airplane ticket.
Don’t make the same mistake I did. No matter how many languages you speak (and what level), I strongly encourage you to attend at least one polyglot event. Here are links to a few of the biggest:
- LangFest: Aug. 23–25, 2019 | Montreal, Canada
- The Polyglot Conference: Oct. 18–20, 2019 | Fukuoka, Japan
- The Polyglot Gathering: May 26–May 30, 2020 | Teresin, Poland
- The First Annual Polyglot Cruise: April 18–25, 2020 | Barcelona, Spain
Hope to see you at one or more of these amazing events!