Becoming a polyglot takes hard work, dedication and a whole lot of immersion. In this article, we share some do's and don'ts of how to become to polyglot to fast track your way to this much-desired title.
To become a polyglot, you'll need to immerse yourself in a language, whether it be through radio, music or tv and film. Choosing languages from similar families and creating a learning schedule will make your journey a lot easier too.
How to Become a Polyglot: Immerse Yourself
When you hear the word “immersion,” travel might come to mind first. In the age of coronavirus, however, international travel is neither a very feasible nor advisable option. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways you can immerse yourself in a language without needing to cross borders to do so. Best of all, these techniques can apply to learning one language or many. For potential polyglots, the sky is the limit!
Television and Film
It’s a well-known fact among fans of international sensation BTS, that the group’s leader, RM, taught himself English. His method of choice? Bingeing the American sitcom Friends.
Consuming television or film in another language is an excellent way to familiarise yourself with that language. In RM’s case, he watched the show first with subtitles in his native Korean, then with English subtitles, and then with none. Each of these three steps encourages a fundamental of learning a language:
- Watching with subtitles in your native language helps you learn phrases and vocabulary in a natural context.
- Watching with subtitles in your target language helps connect the words you hear to the words you see.
- Watching without subtitles helps encourage overall listening comprehension.
The beauty of the Internet is that you have access to shows from all over the world. Watching shows and films from a variety of genres will expose you to different accents, dialects, and vocabulary. You can use this method for just about any language you choose!
Music and Radio
The saying goes, “music transcends language,” but have you ever given a thought to how music can teach you a language? Music is often used as a mnemonic device in all manner of education, not just in language learning. Why do you think we’re taught so many little ditties as children? Children’s songs are an excellent place to start learning and remembering basic vocabulary. You can modify those same melodies with whatever words you wish as you begin building up to more and more difficult vocabulary, too.
Even if nursery rhymes aren’t for you, listening to the radio in another language can be just as beneficial. You could apply the same method of watching television shows with subtitles as you follow along to song lyrics. You could listen to talk shows just to get a feel for different native speakers sound. The possibilities are endless.
Think about how much you read every single day—product labels, street signs, social media. The list goes on and on. Encouraging yourself to read in another language goes so far! It’s not just about reading literature, either. Although reading the same book in multiple languages is one tried-and-tested option, it’s far from your only choice.
Try changing the language on your mobile phone settings. The next time you want to try a new recipe, look it up in your target language and follow that instead. Go to your local international market and read the labels on imported products. When looking up new words, use a dictionary that gives you definitions in the target language and not your native tongue. Familiarising yourself with a language in this manner helps give you a better understanding of it.
Five Dos and Don’ts of Learning Multiple Languages
1. Do stick to a single language family—at least at first.
Choosing to focus on languages that are similar to each other can make it easier to learn them faster. French and Spanish, for example, share similar sentence structures, vocabulary, and conjugation rules. Learning French and then Spanish will be a lot easier than, say, learning French and then Chinese.
The important thing is finding out how you learn best, and sticking within one language family to help hone those learning skills. Once you get those down, you’ll be better equipped to branch off into new language territory.
2. Do prepare to feel like an idiot.
Learning a language is learning to communicate from scratch. You’re going to feel stupid when you can’t find the words to explain yourself—and that’s okay. Not being able to communicate is frustrating!
Prepare to cut yourself some slack when you struggle, especially in the beginning. Keep making mistakes, and learn from them. If you have to describe something in a roundabout way to get your point across, do it! The important thing is to persevere through the frustration and keep going.
3. Do use your new language(s) to work into another.
Imagine your language skills as a ladder. Your native language is the first rung, your second language is the second rung, and so forth. As you progress into multiple languages, try to use your current language to build up the next. Many non-native English speakers do this when learning new languages, as courses are often taught exclusively in English.
Let’s say you’re currently learning Spanish and you want to learn Italian next. You would want to try translating between those two languages instead of between English and Italian. By not relying on your native tongue, you’re reinforcing your Spanish even as you start to learn Italian. You wouldn’t jump from the ground straight to the third rung on a ladder, after all!
4. Don’t try to learn multiple languages at once.
If you try and learn multiple languages simultaneously, chances are you’ll just end up confusing yourself. Learning another language is already difficult enough without throwing in the added complication of keeping multiple sets of rules and vocabulary straight.
Focus on quality over quantity. You’ll learn a language more completely and reduce situations where you feel silly for mixing things up. Then, once you’ve gotten a better command of it, you can move on to the next language with more confidence.
5. Don’t forget to practice the languages you’ve learned.
There’s no point in learning a language just to forget it when you start the next one. Make time to practice the languages you’ve learned. You could attend a church sermon conducted in another language, or write in a journal dedicated to your second language. Find ways to mix up your usage so that you keep up with those skills you spent so much time learning. If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it!
Our Final Thoughts on How To Become a Polyglot
The most important thing about becoming a polyglot is your motivation behind it. Learning a language is hard. It can take anywhere from six months to two years on average to become conversational in a single language.
Aspiring polyglots have to do this over and over again for every language they learn.
It will take perseverance, and you'll have to motivate yourself through the inevitable slumps you'll hit. You will have moments where you mix up your words, or pronounce something the wrong way and embarrass yourself.
But the freedom afforded to you from being a polyglot, and the immense satisfaction you get from those moments where words just click…those things are priceless.
Those things alone make all the effort worth it.
Ori Starling is a writer, editor, and translator based out of the United States. Their interest in languages began over 25 years ago, teaching themselves Spanish at a young age from tapes so that they could speak with family. Since then, they've studied Korean, Mandarin, and Japanese, with plans to continue their lifelong language learning journey.