What is a Polyglot
A polyglot is a person who learns language to the point of high level of fluency. There have been famous and non famous polyglots in history. There was Cardinal Mezzofanti who learned some 38 languages, by studying morning to evening his whole life. On the other hand my grandmother Anna Wolonick for example was fluent in five languages but never studied any languages formally, she simply lived in Eastern Europe during her teens.
The word Polyglot comes from the the Ancient Greek language word πολύγλωττος (poluglōttos, ‘many-tongued, polyglot’), from πολύς (polus, ‘many’) + γλῶττα (glōtta, ‘tongue, language’). In English we also talk about someone who is multilingual. But I think polyglot has a different feel. For me the word is more about natural ability and talent.
Does Polyglotism exist?
Since I have taught and learned languages, I have not meet any real Polyglots. I have heard of many people claiming to know people who have a gift for languages, but all I have known is people who study hard and work day and night to learn these languages.
I have also seen multilingualism with people raised in Europe and living between two or three language zones. These people are bilingual, trilingual or multilingual not because of a gift but because their brains as children were stretched by the exposure to several languages.
How to become a Polyglot
- Choose one language and get to the intermediate level – Once you learn one language others will be much easier.
- To learn a language fast use the flashcard approach. Find the most important words in the language. The vocabulary is a different list in every languages. Next, find the most important two-hundred 200 verbs. Verbs are the soul of a language and you need this to understand the action of the sentence. Learn these with flashcards until you know them by heart. This flashcard approach is the best approach to learn a language.
- With toil, suffering and lament, work through a very good book on grammar. It can not be one of these phrase books or introduction to the language books, it needs to be a real language book with drills and exercises on every page. You need thousands of language patterns to test and make mistakes before you begin to understand the grammar. Understanding comes after you do the quizzes and make mistakes not in some theoretical language school class. No one can teach you a language. It is all self learning. No one likes this advice but you need to do it.
- At this point if you can not fall in love with a native speaker, try making online friends or at least chat with someone online.
- Read books that you like in the language, I like fairy-tales and fantasy books. Books are better than movies as it is an active not a passive activity.
There is a lot written on the web about how to be a polyglott, but the reality is polyglotism is about hard work. Try my flashcard approach above for three months and you should make very good progress with your first language. Then try another language, some people I know like this polylinguistic learning approach, that is simultaneous learning of several languages.