Polyglots

So the Linguist made a multi-lingual podcast, and then pointed to a video of a man who is claimed to speak 58 languages getting humiliated on tv.  YouTube then suggested I watch this Peruvian kid (part one, part two), which shows him studying with native speakers.  There are more videos and podcasts out there of polyglots, but I think I’ve lost interest.

How do you count a language?  At what point do you say “I speak X language?”  I, for example, speak Chinese every day, but no one would really accuse me of being a Chinese speaker.  I studied Italian 15 years ago, and at one point, it was my best second language.  I’m nowhere near that good anymore;  do I still “speak”Italian?  How do monolinguals verify claims that somebody speaks many languages?

I’ve always maintained that there is no special gift or talent involved in speaking more than one language, it’s all about motivation, exposure, and most of all, practice.  Some people do it smarter than others, but that usually has more to do with experience and/or belief than with actual talent.  I think everyone can learn as many languages as they have to.

For goodness sakes, humans can learn to echolocate.    We might not all learn how to be virtuoso pianists or quantum physicists, but we can all certainly learn a little Spanish.

5 thoughts on “Polyglots

  1. Judged on the number of languages in which I can either ask for a beer or induce a woman to slap me, I’m a polyglot.

    That video of the guy getting roasted was pretty funnier. Even funnier — the question the Chinese guy asked (being one of the few bits I actually understood) was “what’s the only man-made structure you can see from the moon?” I see the video was made by 1997, though, before even China’s own astronauts debunked the claim that you could see the Great Wall from orbit.

    I would have peed my pants if the guy had answered “smog.” 🙂

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  2. My question is, how do you get over the …. self consciousness? The knowledge that as you are trying to speak, you know you’re totally screwing it up, but you’re going to do it anyway. Okay maybe not YOU, but for the rest of us?

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  3. @paradise_found, you just have to go out there and do it. Anything uncomfortable gets easier with repetition. I’m sure most strippers feel strange the first time they take their clothes off on stage, but they get over it — you will too 🙂

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  4. Hello, am blog hopping from SpanishPod … I too am a polyglot in terms of how many languages I can ask for a beer (want to exchange phrases? *g*)

    I’ve been learning languages for years now but when quizzed if I am a true ‘polyglot’ tend to give a conservative response–‘proficient to some level, but not fluent’. I say this because in a classroom setting I do fine but on the street or in fast-paced natural conversations I fumble. It’s only when I can bring my own in a heated debate (complete with wit, deliberately bad puns, word play and some lyric rap) that I will know I am ever ‘fluent’ in another language 😉

    Paradise_found, I find that a good way of getting over self-consciousness is just getting out there and doing it. I discovered that even if native speakers of various languages wouldn’t let me cave and speak English, my attempts at speaking their language meant that they were a lot more patient and very happy that I was making an effort to get to know their culture.

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