Every year a group of very special people gather in a different location of the world to share their love for languages. The Polyglot Conference is the place to be for these polyglots, hyperpolyglots, linguists, grammar nerds, forever learners and language lovers hailing from all around the world. I had the chance to fly to Thessaloniki, Greece (this year’s location) last week to attend the event and I can now share seven extremely valuable things I’ve learned.
1 – You can reach proficiency in a language at any age
During his interesting talk, prof. Tim Keeley (University of Fukuoka) covered the link between age and ability to become proficient in a foreign language. A common misconception about learning a foreign language is that age is a critical factor, highlighting that the older we get, the harder it is to learn a language. Apart from the academic and research evidence brought by the speaker against this claim, I can add that I met so many impressive +50 and +60 year-old polyglots at the conference that it’s hard to believe that age can influence our language skills.
These are the talk key messages:
- Age is no obstacle at all to reach proficiency
- Other factors such as motivation, willpower, identity flexibility and ability to mimic play a more prominent role
More material about this topic:
- Read our article Why Age Is Not an Obstacle to Learning Languages
- Read Tim Keeley’s paper A Polyglot’s Perspective on the Age Factor in Foreign Language Acquisition
2 – You do not need a precise reason to learn a foreign language
During the conference I met many amazing polyglots and I noticed that a lot of them made the effort to learn unusual languages such as Farsi, Tagalog, Finnish and Wolof, so I couldn’t help but ask their motivations to learn them!
One of the answers I got often was: “because I simply like the language!” Actually apart from my love for Brazil and Japan, this is the n.1 reason for my interest in Brazilian Portuguese (which I already speak) and Japanese (my next language after German).
So even if it’s important to have a strong motivation to learn a language, you do not need a precise and utilitarian reason to do so.
More material about this topic:
- Watch my multilingual video: Why Learn a Language?
- Read our article: 7 Reasons to Learn a New Language
3 – Translations can be a useful tool to learn a language
Our friend Luca Lampariello brilliantly showed his personal approach for learning a new language using bilingual material. In a nutshell, Luca suggests to bi-directionally translate sentences and dialogues to acquire the vocabulary and grammar of your target language. What I liked is that his method can be also adapted using our apps in which you use flashcards to constantly switch from the original language to the target language and where grammar concepts are acquired observing the two languages in their context.
- review what you have learned every day using the Spaced Repetition System
- use auto conversation by pretending to talk on the phone with someone whenever you want to practice
- train yourself by not only reviewing words from your target (L2) to native language (L1) but also recalling them in the opposite direction (L1->L2)
Tip for MosaLingua users:
- To use this last tip, open the app settings and activate the option, “Change the language direction you’re learning” so the app will ask you to review and recall in both directions.
4 – Protecting and reviving endangered and dead languages results in minorities’ empowerment and well being
- Australia has the record in terms of “linguicides” having killed 283 aboriginal languages.
- His mission of the reviving of dead languages (and protecting endangered ones) has many utilitarian benefits such as preventing minority members from getting depressed or committing crimes.
5 – Every learner can create his utopic language world with his/her favorite language products
- the picture of her impressive library with hundreds of language courses ranging from Albanian to Zulu
- the funeral of paperback dictionaries
- her confession about how a table of contents full of complicated grammar concepts can get her more excited than a dialogue (even if she knows that for many learners it’s the same case)
6 – You can use music to improve your accent
- Getting a perfect pronunciation is possible for everyone, acquiring a native speaker accent is achievable for fewer people
- There is a critical age to acquire a native speaker accent. After 6 year old it’s already less easy. After puberty it becomes really tough because we are less able to hear some sounds
- Singing aloud songs in our target language can help to improve our accent by imitating the rhythm of the language
- Watch my interview with Luca Lampariello : How to Improve Your Accent and Pronunciation – Interview with Luca Lampariello
- Read our articles about pronunciation and accent
7 – No need to live abroad to master a language
I repeat this all the time so it’s no news to me. I learned English, Spanish and Portuguese without living abroad. But it’s always great to meet people who confirm your thoughts!
I met a guy who had a perfect Argentinian accent who has never visited Argentina. He told me that he got his accent by watching Argentinian movies. Then I spoke in Portuguese and Italian with some language lovers who had impressive mastery of these languages. They spoke with an accent very close to a native speaker despite not having lived in Italy or Brazil.
BONUS: How polyglots and language experts start to learn new languages
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