I just came back from participating in the inaugural North American Polyglot Symposium, and in this post I'm sharing my experience, feelings and thoughts about the event.
When I decided to pursue languages as a hobby and career back in 2014 I simultaneously made the decision to attend as many language events around the globe as possible.
Of course it's not ALWAYS possible, due to finances, time constraints or other commitments but on the whole if there's an event -I'll do my best to make it.
So far I've taken part in 3 Polyglot Gatherings, 1 Polyglot Conference, 1 Polyglot Workshop and now one Polyglot Symposium.
Note: I'm not a huge fan of the polyglot terminology used, but it is what it is.
I've yet to have a bad time at any of these events.
Every time I feel like I come out of it smarter, more energised to work on my languages and with new friends and contacts.
It's an incredible high to spend so much time with people who just ‘get you.'
I'll get back to the conference at the end of this post, but for now let me just share what else I was up to in North America before the conference.
Coming to Montreal a Little Early
Because my flat lease in Budapest expired at the end of June, and the fact that flights to Canada from Hungary seemed to increase dramatically in price by July, I decided to just pack up all my belongings and go live in Montreal.
Of course I'd still be working as normal, so it wasn't a month long holiday but it was a very interesting experience. After a month in the city I concluded that Montreal is a great multicultural city with lots to offer.
It's clean, the people are very nice and there are lots of things to do and see in the city.
Travelling with all my stuff was a bit annoying, but the alternative of paying an extra month of rent seemed a little bit more annoying.
I also tried Poutine, which was surprisingly tasty. I didn't expect it to be bad, but the flavours actually do work together.
Although it does feel a bit too fat and decadent to have regularly, it was fun to try.
The weather was a bit against me, in the sense that we had about 35 degrees most days with a very high humidity.
As someone who doesn't really own a pair of proper shorts this was borderline unbearable.
I don't think I'd live permanently in Montreal, but I'd definitely enjoy coming back to visit and maybe even learn French.
Roadtrip Around New England
One of the highlights of my trip, apart from the conference itself, was when I rented a car and drove all the way down to Boston to meet up with a friend.
It was an extremely awesome roadtrip with stops at Concord, Walden Pond, Salem, Portland, Denmark and Mt. Washington.
During the trip I was amazed by the beautiful nature of New England and also very impressed with the lobster roll I had in Maine, yummy!
I'm definitely going to be going on more roadtrips in the future as I really love the exploring part of it, you can take a detour off the beaten track and just explore small cities, and observe the beautiful nature and surroundings.
Anyway, you didn't open this post to read about my touristy activities. You wanted to hear about the NAPolyglot Conference, right?
The North American Polyglot Symposium (NAPS)
After the New York Polyglot Conference a lot of interest of hosting a permanent yearly event in North America had been buzzing around, which was exciting for me.
You see, for me the conferences are extra incentives to travel and see different parts of the world.
And North America is just somewhere I don't go regularly without a reason, it's a bit too far!
Anyway, I didn't think the NA conference would come to fruition because we hadn't had any information until a few months from now and I was sure organising a conference of this magnitude would take months and months of planning.
Early in the process I was asked if I was interested in coming to present, and it didn't take me too long to say yes.
I had been walking around with the presentation about depression for a while, but hadn't quite found the conference or opportunity to present it yet.
NAPS was a great opportunity. There'd be lots of my friends to support and it would be a bit of a scoop for the people who had decided to support the conference and me with their presence.
Massive kudos to the main organisers Joey and Tetsu for managing to pull it off, it was a great weekend.
Day 0 – Pre-Conference Lunch and Dinner
Since we had no plans on the Friday, I decided to explore old Montreal with a friend. It wasn't long until we randomly walked into a few familiar faces, who were being guided around a walking tour by volunteer and local Elena.
I ran into Simon from Omniglot and Lindsay from LindsayDoesLanguages along with a few new faces who I had not yet met. We had lunch in a great little restaurant before meeting up with Joey to start another walking tour.
Unfortunately my friend had some business to do and I DESPERATELY needed a haircut. It had grown out of control.
So we said our goodbyes and took off on our different ways to meet up with the others later.
In the evening all the conference speakers and volunteers were invited to a dinner at a Greek restaurant where we had some great food.
We started with a lentil soup, followed by perfectly tender shish kebab with crispy potatoes before ultimately enjoying a piece of cake and a cup of coffee.
It was my first chance to meet one of the legends of the community, and one of my first inspirations for pursuing languages: Mr. Steve Kaufmann.
It didn't take me long to confirm what a nice guy he is.
When the meal was over and the time approached 10.30 I decided to go home. The conference would be starting early and as I left I saw Steve and some of the others leave too.
It wasn't until next day I found out that Steve had not gone home, but instead went to a local language learning meetup, which attracts hundreds of people twice a week, and spoke with people for hours.
What a dedication for a man of his age!
Day 1 – Introduction and Hiking
The conference day was upon us, and in typical fashion it felt a bit like first day of school. There was a buzz of excitement in the registration room and I quickly caught up with friends and met a few new people.
The university is HUGE and we were given some rooms in a building across the road.
It was a great day of interesting talks, catching up with friends and meeting new people.
I always say I go to these events for the people, not necessarily the talks.
I'll pick up the talks that I can understand and find interesting, and then otherwise try to socialise as much as possible on top of that.
After the program had finished there was a little excursion planned. A walking tour of an area of Montreal very close to campus.
We were told it would take 10 minutes to get there.
What we weren't told was that it was up a mountain! So in massive heat about 100 polyglots walked up Mont Royal with no water or proper clothing, many of us awkwardly carrying bags or computer cases.
When we made it to the top it was all worth it though (for a second – more about that later)
Though in what can only be described in an emotional rollercoaster of a trip we were soon trapped in a massive rain storm on the way down the mountain.
So soaked and lost we didn't really know how to get down from the mountain.
Tired of waiting and inaction Chris Huff and I decided to just go down through the forest part. Eventually a group tagged along and before long we were on a road that clearly led down the mountain.
As we were walking on the side of the road a car stopped up ahead and a middle-aged man came towards us. Was he going to yell at us for walking on the road? Was the park manager or something?
Our fears quickly turned to happiness as he asked if we were polyglots!
We quickly responded yes, and it turns out he was a local conference participant who just happened to be driving past when we were on our way down.
He offered us a ride to the restaurant where we'd be meeting up for dinner.
Now came a bit of an ethical dilemma.
The car could fit 4 people and we were at least 10.
I quickly reasoned that since we couldn't fit everyone, we should just let it go by first come first-served and jumped in. Call it a reward for determinism and speed.
I think I even heard someone ridiculously suggest that nobody should get in the car, which is just an insane way of thinking.
Chris, my walking partner had ethical quibbles over the idea that we were somehow leading the other people which is of course nonsense.
- We had no idea where we were going
- We never suggested, asked or told anyone to follow us
- The remainder of the group are adults and can think independently.
Anyway, so with that ethical argument over we drove down the mountain. After like 250 meters we were in the city, when someone in the car suggested we stop to go pick up the rest.
As if they were on a sinking ship, and if we did not turn around they would've died on that mountain.
Our driver, logically asserted, that the restaurant was not far and dropping us off first would be more convenient for everyone.
Needless to say I was endlessly mocked for my supposed lack of ethical compass in this situation. What would you have done?
On a similar note I would not have been angry if someone else from our group had been picked up by a car and I couldn't be.
Anyway we went to this tapas restaurant and decided to do it table-style, simply ordering 24 dishes for our table. I tasted a lot of amazing food, possibly the best tapas I've ever had actually.
The bill came to around $55CAD each so it wasn't even too pricy.
With all the walking, hiking, rain and ethical dilemmas I was well tired by the time we finished dinner and went home to my airbnb.
Not before getting in a lot of steps because we accidentally went to the wrong subway station, though.
When I came home I worked on my presentation for the next day. I had some changes and additions I wanted to make, and so I did not go to sleep until 2.30 am.
Day 2 – The Day of My Talk
I woke up tired, nervous, and possibly a bit late.
Luckily I had arranged with Olly (IWillTeachYouALanguage) to meet me on the Subway platform, so I had to get up and couldn't snooze away.
After our routine stop at Starbucks (I absolutely love that place!) we went to a talk on using social media in language learning by Lindsay Dow (LindsayDoesLanguages).
It was interesting to see how she incorporated so many different social media networks into her regular learning.
After the talk I became a little bit more nervous because my talk was drawing nearer and nearer.
I didn't really watch any more presentations that day, I just sat in a study room going over my own, improving and rehearsing a bit.
My talk – Depression and Language Learning
Update: Listen to the full presentation here: My 2016 NAPS Presentation
I think I was nervous going into the talk because it was such an important and serious topic that I didn't want to mess it up. Also I was, I guess, worried what some people were going to think of me and my story after that.
Once I got going I was flying though and I really enjoyed sharing my story so far.
I won't be sharing too much of the contents of the presentation itself here, because I'll be posting it in full very soon. So stay tuned for that.
One powerful thing that did happen was that a conference participant got up in the Q&A and, with great difficulty, said that he was suffering from this too.
It brought me a bit to tears, because I could feel the pain. The pain that so many people in the western world carry around with them.
To me it's extremely humbling to be able to use my experiences and story to positively affect the lives of others. It's given my life a whole new dimension of meaning.
At the end of the day we met up in a nice park and just hung out until the sun went down, chatting away. I even got in a bit of Hungarian practice with the extremely talented Hungarian-speaker Kyle.
It was a great weekend. I'm actually still buzzing from it.
Summary of my NA Polyglot Symposium 2016 experience
- Well-organised, especially for a first-time event!
- Nice venue for this size of conference
- Great atmosphere and vibe
- Good diversity of speakers and topics
- Great to offer coffee and snacks in the lobby where people socialise anyway
- Passionate organisers and volunteers
- Solid wifi
The not so good
- The days started quite early, considering that the event didn't finish that late. Since most people will have to commute to the venue I'd rather start an hour or two later and stay correspondingly later in the afternoon.
- The lunch breaks could be slightly longer to allow for a good meal experience instead of just grabbing some fastfood. When we went to a place less than 200 meters away we did not make it back in time for the next talk.
- Extra activities lacked information. Although the walking tour was nice it would be good if future excursions have a little more information of where they're going so people can prepare or perhaps arrange alternative ways to the meeting point.
In conclusion I think the event was a fantastic success and I can't believe they pulled it off on such a short notice. I'm sure if they decide to go with it again next year that they'll easily double or triple the number of participants.
Now all I'm left with is the post-conference blues. It sucks. Hanging out with friends and like-minded people is such a high, and it feels cruel to go back to ‘real life' after…
Anyway, did you go to North American Polyglot Symposium 2016? Did you have a good time?
Hope to see you next year!
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.