Trip Report: Polyglot Conference Reykjavik 2017

It's been a few days since I came home from Reykjavik Iceland after participating in the 5th annual Polyglot Conference, and today I'd like to share the experience from the point of view of an experienced conference-goer.

What is the Polyglot Conference

The polyglot conference was the first international gathering of language learning enthusiasts, multilinguals, and of course — polyglots.

The inaugural event took place in Budapest in 2013 and since then there's been a Conference every year in different locations.

  • 2013: Budapest, Hungary
  • 2014: Novi Sad, Serbia
  • 2015: New York City, USA
  • 2016: Thessaloniki, Greece
  • 2017: Reykjavik, Iceland
  • Next (2018): Ljubljana, Slovenia

I've been fortunate enough to take part in 3 of these now, and I hope to make it to many more in the future.

At the conference it's possible to socialise with like-minded people, listen to interesting presentations about relevant topics, meet some of the companies in the community, and of course practice some of your languages.

And much more!

People have widely different reasons for going to the conference, and so in this post I'll be sharing my personal reasons, and also share a few comments on the experience as a whole.

Why events like the Polyglot Conference are important to me

When I took part in my first polyglot event, the Polyglot Gathering of 2014 I had no idea what to expect.

Here I was, completely new to the community and to the idea that language learning was, in fact, a hobby enjoyed by so many people around the globe.

Meeting so many amazing and friendly learners in Berlin was a completely life-changing experience. It gave me the confirmation I needed to pursue language learning going forward.

I'm sure without that first Polyglot Gathering you would not be reading this blog post from me today. That's how powerful these events are.

What I do at the Polyglot Conference and similar events

I have a slight confession to make.

At polyglot events I very rarely listen to presentations. The longer the event is the more likely I am to see a few presentations, but in general they are not my priority at all.

At this event I only saw one single presentation. With 2 full days and 2 separate tracks this is quite a feat.

The reason I don't go to many presentations is that my main priority for the events is to spend time with my friends, many of whom I've come to know at the polyglot events themselves.

I also like to meet new people from around the world.

Granted, there are breaks and social events before, during, and after the events usually but with hundreds of participants I never have enough time to socialise at these events.

One thing I definitely do NOT go to polyglot events for is language practice. There are loads of opportunities but I generally speak English most of the time.

This is because I want to have the deepest conversations with my friends and network. Yes, I could probably stutter through a mistake-riddled basic conversation in Russian – but what would be the point of that?

I'd much rather practice my languages with a tutor or exchange partner outside the events, instead of wasting precious event time and having less deeper conversations with my friends. Your aims might be different and that's totally fine.

I'm curious to know what your goals are for going to these events, are you going for the presentations, socialising, language practice, or something else entirely?

This Year's Conference: My Experience

I had an absolute blast this year, much like the previous years I've attended the conference. Socialised with lots of friends old and new, and enjoyed lots of social activities after the event.

The venue (The Harpa Building) was absolutely gorgeous, situated right on the water in downtown Reykjavik.

It seems like Alex and Richard have developed a bit of a preference for glass buildings near the sea, as last year's conference in Greece took place in a very similar looking building.

I was excited to see a presentation by Daniel Tammet. I clearly remember watching his first documentary: “The Boy With The Incredible Brain” and being absolutely amazed by his cognitive power, especially when it comes to maths and recall.

After his talk I was able to just meet him outside, and of course, ask him to be on the podcast which he wouldn't rule out the possibility of.

In the presentation he shared his experiences about learning Icelandic in just a week, and aided by his teacher shared some of his ways of learning languages which I found really interesting.

The point that stood out was the importance of emotion when learning languages. As Daniel put it, the more vivid the emotion you can attach to your learning the easier it will be to remember.

Daniel also shared that he saw words as colours, which also made it easier for him to remember them later on.

Now, of course Daniel has been diagnosed with savant syndrome so his learning experience may not be exactly applicable to the rest of us, but I still think that these small tips might be helpful for anyone.

Unfortunately, as per my previous comments about my conference aims I did not see any other presentations except for the opening and closing ceremonies, this is totally fine. This years topics were not that interesting for me, so I don't regret not going to any more talks.

Besides, if there are any truly epic talks I can always watch them later on YouTube.

I'm really amazed at how easy the organisers make it look. They hardly even appear stressed, and the event is just functioning flawlessly.

I have to thank and congratulate the organisers: Alex Rawlings, Richard Simcott and this year Alexander Arguelles for an event well-organised. Thanks guys.

My thoughts about Reykjavik and Iceland

Iceland was particularly grey the 4 days I was there. In fact, when I landed there was a fog so thick that I wasn't able to see beyond the airport grounds when I disembarked from the plane.

It was mild, not too cold, not too windy but unfortunately it was also very cloudy so I was not able to get any look at the legendary northern lights.

My immediate reaction to Iceland is that it's a very nice place. People seem friendly and approachable and they have no problem speaking English to help you.

I was curious if anyone on the island spoke Danish, but I felt a little awkward asking people about it. When I finally mustered up the courage to ask I ran into people who either did not speak it at all, or foreigners from all over Europe working there.

So I guess that's one mission for next time – find an Icelandic person who speaks Danish!

One final note about Reykjavik is that it's exceptionally expensive. I was rarely able to eat any meal out for less than $25. Basic filter coffee at the venue was around $5 just to give you a comparison.

A single room with 2 beds on Airbnb was also quite a lot, hitting almost $200 for the 4 nights I was there. Compared to hotels a good deal I suppose, but for just a room quite a walk from the center it was on the higher side compared to the rest of Europe.

For the foodies

For some reason I turn into a bit of a foodie when I travel, and Iceland was no exception.

I won't mention all my meals here but three definitely stand out.

Breakfast at Bergsson Mathús

Recently I've become a massive sucker for Avocado on toast, and this Icelandic version with some of the freshest salmon was no disappointment.

The only problem was the price, which came in at $25 for the food and a black coffee.

Fish and Chips at Fish and Chips Iceland

Fish and chips is one of my favourite comfort foods here in the UK, and I was thrilled to try and authentic Icelandic version.

The fish was incredibly fresh and the batter very well-made. Plus it was reasonably cheap! less than £15.

After the conference I went out for a great dinner in the company of people you might know: Simon from Omniglot, Olly from IWTYAL, Mark from Radiolingua and Lydia from LanguageMentoring.

We went to this pizzaria kind of place, which at first glance appeared to have relatively affordable prices.

Trying to save a bit of money I picked a cheap pizza, but when I tried to order it the waiter asked me what I'd like as a main course.

After a brief second of confusion I realised my mistake. I had confused the STARTER pizzas with the REAL pizzas – which were on the reverse side of the menu.

You know it's an expensive country when the price of a starter pizza is $16!

Anyway I opted for this lovely pasta dish, which was incredibly tasty.

Exploring Iceland

I had planned to stay an extra full day in Iceland after the conference to explore and do touristy things with my Airbnb roommate (Olly from IWillTeachYouALanguage) and one of my friends from Sweden.

As I work for a rental car comparison website the decision to hire a car for the day was trivial.

Since the days are quite short it was imperative we picked up the car as early as possible.

So, by 8am when it was all dark and gloomy outside we set off for the Thrifty Office in East Reykjavik to pick up our 4×4.

The service in the office was amazing, provided by local employee Thor (I think his name was…) who clearly and succinctly explained everything before giving us the keys to a red Mazda.

A quick stop at the Subway across the street, and we were off to do some sight seeing.

First stop – Thingvellir

Where the North American and European tectonic plates meet and the home of the original icelandic parliament from before the year 1000. It was a vast landscape of majestic beauty and although it was raining slightly the visibility wasn't bad at all.

Second Stop – Gullfoss (The Golden Falls)

An amazing sight. I'll let the picture speak for itself here.

Third Stop – Geysir

I was quite unimpressed with the Geysirs, to be honest. Yes there was a little one that erupted every few minutes, but apart from that the main attraction in this area seemed to be the gift shop.

With a lot of faffing around, lunch, coffee and so on we we're slowly running out of daylight. Sun sets at 5:20 and it's dark by 6pm.

Fourth Stop – Secret Waterfall

This was mildly annoying. Hailed as a MUST see by one of my colleagues, I was deeply unimpressed by this. The surrounding area was quite pretty, but a very visible waterfall 200 meters away seemed to offer way more than this secret waterfall.

Here my Swedish friend also took ages to play with the drone, so hopefully the footage below makes up for the delay 😀

Fifth and final stop -Dyrhólaey lighthouse

We originally hoped to go to Skagafoss and Seljalandsfoss – another two impressive waterfalls, but time was now seriously running short. It was all but dark, and with Google Maps announcing a 30 minute drive to our next destination it seemed that we'd not be able to make it.

A quick decision was made to go straight for the Dyrhólaey lighthouse, near the black beaches, as we'd already seen a few waterfalls on the day.

When we got to the old lighthouse up a hill it was incredibly dark, but in some way that actually enhanced the experience.

Yes, we couldn't scout across the sea and Icelandic landscape, but the darkness contributed a certain mythical component to the trip and it also made it hard to judge exactly how far down we were looking from the top.

The trip home to Reykjavik was over 2 hours, which was extremely terrifying behind the wheel. The roads were narrow, there were one-lane bridges and everything around you was just pitch black.

After a quick stop in KFC (£11 meal) we were home. More than 12 hours after we had set out in the morning.

All in all it was an epic trip, and I'm pretty happy knowing that there is still plenty for me to see and explore, should I ever make it back to Iceland.

Next year's destination: Slovenia

As I'm now working a full-time job with limited holiday allowance, it will become a struggle for me to attend every event going forward – sadly.

This means that I'm not 100% sure I will make it to Slovenia yet.

Since I missed Langfest in Montreal this year I really want to try and make an effort to go back there, as I had an absolute blast the first time I was there in 2016.

The Polyglot Gathering (in Bratislava) is my must-attend event of the year, as it's the one where most of my dear friends and contacts come, and the event stretches over more days which makes it slightly less stressful with more opportunities to socialise.

This unfortunately means that the conference is third on the list, and depending on my holiday allowance may or may not be dropped. I'd love to go, don't get me wrong, but I think my family back home would also be disappointed if I didn't choose to come visit them.

Slovenia as a destination is super interesting though, a country not often heard much about and from a few google searches seemingly bursting with amazing beauty and nature.

And it should be cheaper than Reykjavik! 😀

In conclusion I had a fantastic trip and I can highly recommend Iceland to anyone.

Hope you enjoyed my little trip report!

My previous trip reports

Polyglot Gathering Berlin 2014 (my life-changing gathering in 10 parts)

Polyglot Gathering Berlin 2015 Trip Report

Polyglot Gathering Berlin 2016 Airport Thoughts

LangFest 2016 Trip Report (NAPS)

Polyglot Conference 2015 Trip Report (Part 1)

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  • dandiprat says:

    I did not realize that when I go to my first such event — Langfest 2018 — not going to the talks would be an option. I’ll have to think about that. I’m not very good at socializing, but maybe it’d be different at a polyglot event. I’m not planning to go there for language practice. There are plenty of places much closer where I could probably get better practice with the languages I’m studying.

    • dandiprat says:

      And I’m pretty sure that even if I won $500 million in the lottery I probably wouldn’t be able to go to three polyglot events in one year. There are just too many commitments.

  • Great report, Kris, thanks. Loved all your insights, though I was slightly shocked that you only attended one talk 😉 Only joking….But I do try and attend everything I can and (for some reason) feel a bit guilty if I miss a slot (which I didn’t this time). Just shows how different we all are! 🙂 I was also very impressed with how smooth and stress-free the event was. Must be a massive amount of work to organise. I was mainly in Iceland the week before the event and had some beautiful blue skies. It’s the luck of the draw with the weather. Where’s the drone footage you mentioned?

  • Kerstin says:

    Thanks for sharing this! I visited Iceland with a friend last year and we did a Golden Circle bus tour…I was so impressed and loved the landscapes so much. What a beautiful country. Great to read about your experience. I am super excited about Ljubljana – have always wanted to go.

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