Fact-Check & Editorial Responsibility: Kris Broholm
In this post I’m going to dive into the topic of “fake” YouTube Polyglots, to once and for all put this topic to rest.
I often see it debated on platforms such as reddit (r/languagelearning in particular) and usually it generates heated responses from people, mostly against the video creators, but occasionally in their defence too.
Let’s dive in.
What is a “YouTube Polyglot”?
Before we get into the nuts and bolts of this discussion, perhaps it would be a good idea to define exactly what the definition of a YouTube Polyglot is.
To me, we’re dealing with people, who are creating videos in where they speak multiple languages. Some creators feature a handful of languages, while videos have also been made featuring 20+ languages!
It is not always clear what level they speak these languages at, and whether a certain video has been scripted entirely, or they’re speaking “off the cuff”
Additionally, they might use overly exaggerated titles or thumbnails like: “I learned Spanish in a week”
The Elephant in the Room
The biggest problem with this whole debate, is that we’re generalising across a huge amount of people. You can’t just say “YouTube Polyglots” and encompass such a wide variety of language abilities.
There are literally thousands and thousands of language-learning-related channels on YouTube, it’s ridiculous to even begin to generalise them all.
I think it’s perfectly valid to criticise individual creators, especially if they are making exaggerated claims, or are trying to sell products based on their linguistic experience (which may or may not be accurately portrayed in the videos)
However, let’s skip the generalisation. Okay?
What does it mean to Speak a Language, Anyway?
Another issue when considering this argument is that the definition of speaking a language varies quite a lot. Some people add “fluently” to the end of that, to mean that they are at a very high level.
While others may just mean that they can conduct and participate in conversation on an intermediate level.
Often times, the “language police” (i.e people who sit around and criticise the YouTube Polyglots) believe, in their arrogance, that one cannot “pretend” to speak a language unless it is at a mastery level.
This is complete nonsense, of course.
Entertainment vs Education Channels
There is also a huge difference between what channels are setting out to achieve.
There are lots of channels on YouTube created first and foremost to entertain the viewers. This is also one of reasons for being on YouTube in the first place.
Yes, YouTube has lots of educational content, but we have to remember that entertainment, memes, and other light-hearted content is a lot more common.
Examples for languages include: Xiaoma, Wouter Cordunwener, and the late Moses McCormick (Laoshu50500)
Xiaoma walks around filming reactions, typically from Chinese speakers, Wouter tries to speak a little of as many languages as possible, and Moses used to walk around stores and malls trying to speak with as many different native speakers as possible.
In one video, Moses might be speaking in as many as 20+ languages!
Does that mean he’s fluent in that many? Hell no!
But, it was his strategy to learn the basics of many languages, and then he would slowly build on each as he got more practice, and met more people speaking that language.
The point is, these creators are not pretending to be educational channels, nor are they pretending to be super advanced in a large number of languages.
The Benefits of “Entertainment”-Based Channels
This to me is often overlooked.
While entertainment-based channels, as the ones mentioned above, might not provide a lot of depth of study, or accurately portray the typical learning process – they do all provide one huge benefit.
Benny Lewis, the founder of Fluent in 3 Months got a lot of flack back in the day, for inferring that you could get to fluency (whatever your definition of fluent may be) in just 3 months.
In his videos, and blog posts he journaled his missions of learning a variety of different languages.
And while people remained skeptical of his method and his ability, nobody can deny that he was able to motivate and inspire millions of people to explore learning languages for themselves.
And, I feel like that’s the same for many YouTubers today.
They might not be following a conservative or traditional way of learning languages, and you won’t directly learn much by watching them – BUT, showing people actually using languages in the wild is highly motivational.
The Dark & Dubious Side of YouTube Polyglots
This article would not be complete, without some recognition that there will always be people of lesser morals on the internet, and YouTube is no different.
Exaggeration and extraordinary ability bring in views, so there is an incentive for some black sheep to vastly overestimate, or in some cases even completely fake their language skills.
This could be just for views, or they could offer things like coaching, language courses, and other products.
This point goes together with my earlier point of generalisation: By saying “All YouTube Polyglots are fake!” You’re lumping in the truly talented polyglots, with scammers, frauds, and charlatans.
And that’s just unproductive.
My Recommended YouTube Channels
I’d like to give a shoutout to the following channels, because I know these people personally, and can vouch for their linguistic ability.
But, honestly, there are thousands of awesome channels with polyglots out there.
Just do your due diligence.
YouTube is full of highly talented polyglots, as well as highly questionable polyglots, as well as complete frauds and charlatans trying to sell you on their language abilities, even though they possess none.
Let’s stop using the term “YouTube Polyglots” to encompass this entire spread of people, especially when it comes to criticising them.
It’s not productive, and it’s not fair to the genuine YouTubers out there. Plus, some people are not even trying to be “Polyglots” on YouTube. Maybe they're just sharing their love and passion for one or two languages, absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Kris is the founder of Actual Fluency, and has spent the last 8 years becoming an expert in language learning software, methods, and techniques.
Originally from Denmark, he now lives in Portugal and speaks 5+ languages at varying levels. His other interests are Wine, Online Marketing, and Travelling.