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Something about Polyglots and Languages...

If you were to look up the definition of the word "polyglot" in the dictionary, you would find something along the basis of "A person who knows and is able to use several languages", "A person who is multilingual", "Speaking, writing, written in, or composed of several languages".

If I were to ask how many Duolingo users would consider themselves polyglots, how many would answer "Me!", "I'm a polyglot!", "I know so-and-so language!" "I am fluent in [language]!"?

The truth is, although you may be able to speak a language, yet not know how to say the words along with the correct tone implications, bodily movements, or forceful accents of that language/culture, you are not fluent. You merely know and speak the language, not understanding the core of it.

Do you consider yourself a polyglot? If not, are you trying to become one? I have come across so many Duolingo users that are just learning a language for fun or to find a few words in other languages to tick off their siblings. Believe me, there is nothing wrong or bad with that in the slightest. In fact, for many it is beneficial. But the reason languages stand here today is that they are meant for people to speak and converse with them.

Whole cultures and countries have been built around languages. In Germany, the main language is German. For France, it is French. For Hungary, Hungarian. Russia, Russian. America, American (not really). If countries, cultures, currencies, buildings, and people themselves are dictated by language, doesn't that make language important?

Here then is the ultimate question: If languages are so important, then are you, fellow Duolingo student, studying to fully and completely understand one or more languages, and thus a polyglot?

September 19, 2017



If you can communicate in a language in most day-today situations, you can be considered to "know" a language. If you have at least that level in several languages, you can be considered to be a polyglot. No literacy, enormous vocabulary, or understanding of a wide variety of cultural/dialectal idiosyncrasies (such as idioms, hand gestures, or even sarcasm) needed.

You don't have to know everything there possibly is to know about a language before you can be considered "fluent." Even native speakers can learn new things about their language. That's why they make us native English speakers take English classes in school.

You may be correct that a lot of Duolingo users who think they are polyglots vastly overestimate their abilities in their language(s). It's difficult to know how good you are when you haven't had your abilities really put to the test. But, as with most concepts related to human language, being a "polyglot" is an amorphous concept without a universal clear-cut boundary defining when you are and when you are not.


This is very true. I've considered myself fluent in English for along time, communicate in it daily both for work and privately.

Just recently, we got an exchange student who will live with us for a year. I now realize that there are areas of English that I've never had occasion to use and that very seldom occur in novels. Like for instance what the names of various kitchen utensils are. In practice, all of them answer to "that there thingy" if it's an emergency but most of them have a somewhat more exact name as well.


I'd like to be a polyglot in the sense of being able to read and listen to multiple languages. I don't aim to be a fluent speaker in more languages than I already am (Swedish and English) but I expect the above to at least take me to a level where I will be able to get by as a tourist, meaning I can get people to understand me even if my grammar and pronunciation is not good. I'm not here to become perfect, I'm here to be able to understand.


Being flunet in two, you are already 1 language ahead of me. Good luck with the others! :)


I am not studying to completely understand one. I'm not convinced there is a person who can completely understands a language though, really. But, I get the idea behind what you've written. ^_~

No, my goal is not to become a polyglot.

My own capacity for retention is not robust. So, I've adjusted my goals to be realistic, in order to keep enjoying the process.

In Japanese, my goal is to keep leveling up for now. It is one of Duolingo's shortest courses. So, I won't say "until I reach level 25." I will just keep going as long as it holds my interest.

In case I need Spanish for interpersonal interaction in the future, I will come back and go through the tree again now and then to refresh my memory. But, in between I will let it get a little stale because I have to prioritize where I spend my energy.

American Sign Language is what I need to develop most right now. Each week I hang out with a friend of mine who is hard of hearing and a fluent signer. When they are exhausted from work or if we are in a noisy diner or there is traffic around us while we walk, ASL is much more convenient for us than English. To help me with that, I've just relaunched the Duolingo ASL Facebook group. We're probably going to have our first video chat in about 1 week. And right now I'm hosting a 1 week ASL challenge to help motivate me and also to introduce others to the language. ^_^


By your strict definition, a New Yorker who would not be able to speak like a Texan (with the intonation and body movements/accents) cannot claim to know English. I think your definition is far too stricter than necessary.

If the dictionary simply says "a person who knows and is able to use several languages" then that's what makes a polyglot. Someone who's learned a few words would not skillfully pull that off but with those few words. A polyglot would easily go much further without knowing everything about the language or necessarily getting every tone and accent right.

Languages are important. Generally to the extent that they allow people to communicate and bond and what not. You don't have to know everything about them for them to be useful tools (and most people know barely enough to carry on with their lives).

Edit: I am a polyglot, currently learning German as my fifth language. Four of the other languages I know I can read and write fluently; three of them I can compose poetry, make puns, watch movies and sing songs in.


I think this is a matter of the definition of the word fluent. because based on your interpretation I am not a fluent (although native) English speaker. I will say however you bring up a very interesting paradox in that there are interiors and exteriors of a culture that you will not be able to see the interior until you speak some of the language. I personally think the term fluent doesn't exist but I also don't consider myself a polyglot although I can make my way around in 40+ countries. I learn languages not to call myself fluent but to really engage with people when I travel. hope that answered your question


I agree with the other commenters that if we go by that definition, then no one is a polyglot (and probably no one is even fluent in their own language! If I start to think of the many variations Spanish has just in Spain I would probably have to dedicate my life just to learn them according to that definition to be able to actually be fluent in it).

It's a beautiful goal albeit an impossible one, so I'll stay with the dictionary definition. And yes, according to that definition, I am a polyglot (If my latest certificate exams are any proof of it, I am highly fluent in English, fluent in Italian and in the reading and listening of German and Danish (writing and speaking need some work), and nowadays also recovering what I had forgotten of French)


I don't know where you live, but in my neck of the woods we "converse in a language", not with it. We converse with people.


Thanks, that was kinda interesting to read! I'm a polyglot in English but will probably never become one fluently in Spanish. And don't listen to the nasty comments; Just ignore them! Keep learning and so glad you're also a Christian! :) (Right?)


You can't be "a polyglot in English" since the meaning of polyglot is a speaker of several languages. You can be a polyglot and have English as one of the languages you know, though.


Oh ok; thanks! I gotcha!


I am definitely a polyglot.


I only speak my native language fluently, but my goal is to someday work hard enough that I could call myself a polyglot, in three or four years I plan to be fluent in Spanish, since it will be my major, but it will take even longer before I can call myself a "polyglot" which is my main goal. In Mandarin, for instance, my goal isn't to learn how to write tens of thousands of characters off the top of my head, but rather to be able to understand someone who is speaking it because I would one day like to visit China.

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