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Are polyglots at times overrated ?

  Tags: Polyglot
 Language Learning Forum : Polyglots Post Reply
27 messages over 4 pages: 13 4  Next >>
Senior Member
United Kingdom
Joined 2650 days ago

120 posts - 357 votes 

 Message 9 of 27
13 December 2013 at 3:58pm | IP Logged 
renaissancemedi wrote:
Certainly some of them, in some languages, are very advanced.
But the term "polyglot" is generally used as a status title (not by the polyglots
themselves, some seem modest). That always irks me.

I like the more old fashioned ideal of a person learned in languages, who uses them in
very real settings, or to advance their education and knowledge in other things they
enjoy. The cosmoplitan person who feels at ease with most people and in most places,
who likes books, or travel or whatever. Not the person who learns languages in order to
brag about it.

I am sure there are people out there we have never heared of, who are simply amazing.

God yes, I agree quite strongly with both you and Iguanamon about content. You know
given your name I'm surprised you like such a Renaissance ideal. I've also tried to
post about few such "polyglots" before. Ostler is an obvious one, Holford-Strevens has
I swear almost legendary statements - its not so much that he knows between 25-40
languages well, but well enough to edit for the world's most discerning academic
press on a wide variety of topics.
Seriously the man is a monster of intellect. I
know a professor from the US who can actually pinpoint where your accent is from in a
variety of tongues. Some people are insane.

I'd like to think I learn languages primarily for the sake of it or to access
information but I admit I'm not the best in that I largely pick modern languages for
research purposes only. And, alas, I'm not very at ease with people outside of sports
and I'm sure most people I've met think me anti-social.

That's not to denigrate online Polyglots or anything, I do think due to their high
visibility they're a somewhat integral part of this community but I honestly don't get
the adoration they often seem to get.
2 persons have voted this message useful

Super Polyglot
Joined 5109 days ago

9078 posts - 16471 votes 
Speaks: Danish*, French, English, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Swedish, Esperanto, Romanian, Catalan
Studies: Afrikaans, Greek, Norwegian, Russian, Serbian, Icelandic, Latin, Irish, Lowland Scots, Indonesian, Polish, Croatian
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 Message 10 of 27
13 December 2013 at 4:09pm | IP Logged 
Not guilty. I have made 10-15 minute videos in around twenty languages - including some I don't speak yet, and they contain lots of errors so I can't be blamed for lack of courage. I stopped doing those videos because it took too much of my study time to make them (especially those where I had to learn a lot of things by heart which I might want to say in a weak language), and even more time if you include the time spent on editing afterwards. Besides I also had a project where I would speak about my paintings in the relevant languages, but hardly anybody bothered to watch those videos so there was no point in continuing the series. All in all I didn't find video making funny enough to warrant all the trouble.

Are polyglots in general overrated? Well, some speak their languages better than others (and I'm not in the 'best speakers' category), but the question is whether people who concentrate on two or three languages are better at those than the polyglots are at their best two or three languages. Some speak mostly about language learning because that's their main interest (and they are good at it), and some make most of their videos in English because they get more viewers that way. But you can't know what they use their languages for in their daily life.

Personally I try to include some of my other interests in the things I write in my Multiconfused Log her at HTLAL, but I can't cover everything I do or everything I watch on TV or read on the internet. Right now I'm reading a book about the paleontology of man. I can't see myself making a video about that subject in Dutch, and if I did nobody would watch it. But writing a couple of words about it doesn't take much time so that's what I do instead.

Edited by Iversen on 13 December 2013 at 5:02pm

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Senior Member
Joined 3836 days ago

2704 posts - 5424 votes 
Speaks: French*, English, Spanish
Studies: Polish

 Message 11 of 27
13 December 2013 at 4:12pm | IP Logged 
I don't think that our Youtube polyglots are really overrated. If you judge them by how well they sound in their
respective languages, some are quite good (like Luca and Richard) and some are so-so (Benny and Moses). But I
think that we must accept the fact that these people are making or attempting to make a living in language
learning. They have different strategies. Benny and Moses go for a wide range of languages to a rlatively low level
and the people like Luca and Richard concentrate on a few languages to a very high level.

But we must keep in mind the fundamental difference between speaking a language as a goal in itself and speaking
a language for specific purposes. I am sure that there are very many multilingual people we never hear about who
use their languages in their jobs. It would never occur to them to make a Youtube video of them talking in their
languages. Why would you want to do that?
5 persons have voted this message useful

Super Polyglot
Winner TAC 2012
Senior Member
Joined 3113 days ago

5310 posts - 9398 votes 
Speaks: Dutch*, English, Swedish, French, Russian, German, Italian, Norwegian, Mandarin, Romanian, Afrikaans
Studies: Greek, Modern Hebrew, Spanish, Portuguese, Czech, Korean, Esperanto, Finnish

 Message 12 of 27
13 December 2013 at 4:49pm | IP Logged 
I don't speak anything but Dutch and English at a high enough fluency level that it
would be really impressive, although recently I have been working on complex French
topics. I simply put the languages on the left as speaks because, guess what, I can and
have had conversations in them. I have had to speak Russian at 5 am to my friend to
understand whether she had called a taxi to the train station. I have had to speak
Russian on no hours of sleep to make sure a one-year-old kid was kept busy on a train
so that she didn't cry or run away or do other strange things. That COUNTS. Did I make
mistakes? For sure I did.

The reason I have French on the left doesn't have anything to do with my Youtube videos
or Soundcloud accent practicing. It's got to do with the fact that I had to explain to
a French guy that my girlfriend had broken up with me while I was completely stressed
out about my job and living alone abroad.

That is what counts. Like EMK, I vary up and down in my levels depending on whether I
am completely stressed, at ease, have just had 10 hours of reading practice, and so on
and so forth. I sometimes have days where it all comes together and days where it all
falls apart. In my better languages, that means that even when I am stressed or tired,
I can converse and indicate what I want and how I feel.

There is a reason I program my classes early in the morning usually. Why? Because
that's when I don't yet optimally function. The test of your French is not how many
words you know or how many things you can memorize. I had excellent grades when I took
French at school and remembered all of the vocabulary. But that's not it. That's not
how it works. And when I actually had to use French, I WTFed when people talked. But
that's what I want to avoid when speaking French. That you can wake me up at 3 am and
that I can still give you flawless French. Impressing me requires the language to be

So I don't care. All the polyglots are excellent and impressive learners (so is Benny
because what he does to survive in foreign countries is actually a very good strategy.
Don't care about evaluating his exact level). What counts isn't how many certificates
they have (although they give an indication). It's about real use with real people in
real life situations.

As long as I can use them there, then my skills are not overrated as a polyglot because
that's what you need them for.
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Senior Member
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Speaks: English, Finnish*, Italian, Spanish, German, Swedish
Studies: Russian, Estonian, Sámi, Latin

 Message 13 of 27
14 December 2013 at 12:16pm | IP Logged 
tarvos wrote:
Impressing me requires the language to be automatic.

Good point. I think Youtube videos are for the most part a misrepresentation of one's actual real life skills because - at least in the case of polyglots - they are not improvised and fail to take into consideration another important factor: dialogue and interaction. I personally admire Richard, Solfrid Cristin and Luca for being brave enough to interview one another in multiple languages on a variety of topics and put these videos online for the whole world to see. That shows their real level, and I have to say that I was impressed when I first saw the videos. Those guys do deserve some admiration for their achievements.

I think the motivation for language studies is irrelevant in this respect. Either you can speak many languages at a fairly high level or you can't. If you have studied them just to show off, then it's your problem and you'd better be good at them. I'd rather use my time to study something that I find interesting AND useful for practical purposes.
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Senior Member
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Speaks: Portuguese*, French, EnglishC2, GermanB1, Italian, Spanish
Studies: Sanskrit, Arabic (classical)

 Message 14 of 27
15 December 2013 at 2:46pm | IP Logged 
I think sometimes HTLAL is overrated, too.

There was a moment when I thought seriously of leaving. I saw people say casual things, drawn from their lives, just to be disputed by having academic papers thrown at them.

Right now, things seem to have gone back to normal: knowledge is imparted, not shoved down your... thread.

It reminds me of a scene from The Big Bang Theory:
Leonard: "How do you know these things?"
Penny: "I go outside and I talk to people!"

Some academics should hear those words. Yes, definitely.

EDIT: Sorry, I don't comment polyglots on youtube as a whole because, as everything on the net, there's all sorts.

Edited by Luso on 15 December 2013 at 3:12pm

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tanya b
Senior Member
United States
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159 posts - 518 votes 
Speaks: Russian

 Message 15 of 27
15 December 2013 at 8:22pm | IP Logged 
No, even mediocre polyglots are not over-rated. The investmemt of time, energy and sometimes money to reach that goal shouldn't be dismissed.

I recently found out that I am a polyglot because I am fluent in 3 languages. According to one poster here, only 3 languages qualifies you as a polyglot, so the bar has been lowered significantly if I'm in that category.

But it is a skill that is almost completely ignored by the mass-media. Here in the US I have NEVER even heard the word "polyglot" mentioned. Ask most Americans what a polyglot is, and they are mystified. Most probably think it's some kind of suctioned sea creature or a device that a plumber would use.

Until I found this forum I never realized that polyglottery itself is such a touchy subject and that passions would run so high on what most would consider trivial issues. If this was a forum about breakfast cereal or narrow-gauge railroads, it would probably be the same way.

What's so funny is that the polyglot/wannabe polyglot community is such a small sliver of humanity, that if it disappeared, it would be 5 years before anyone else noticed it was gone.
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Senior Member
United States
Joined 2775 days ago

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Speaks: English*, German
Studies: Polish, Ukrainian, Afrikaans

 Message 16 of 27
15 December 2013 at 10:43pm | IP Logged 
I don't think I would say any of them are overrated. I really can't judge anybody's level except German and Polish, and just based on that, I would say their levels in those languages tend to be represented pretty accurately. I did notice the common English/French/Spanish combination, but I don't think that actually means anything more than a) those are the most widely spoken languages in the internet polyglot community b) those are the languages they know the best and/or c) those are their favorite languages to use. Maybe I think this way because I grew up in such a heavily monolingual society, where it isn't common to learn many languages, but I do think that regardless of location, learning any language to a level where you can have genuine relationships (which does not mean it's anywhere near perfect or even "advanced") is worthy of admiration, especially if you manage to do it outside of a country where the languages are spoken.

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