How to Become a Polyglot?

If you’re reading this post, you are probably asking yourself, “How to become a polyglot?”. You’ve seen others learning several languages with ease and without mixing them up.

As I described in my post Why I’ve become a polyglot, I never thought that I would become a polyglot. But I became a one, and it just took me about two years.

During my language learning journey, I’ve met many other polyglots. I have spoken with them about their approach. I’ve learned from their experience, and I gathered everything I know in this post. I want to give you advice on how to become a polyglot.

I believe that you can learn several languages with ease even when you feel like the American character in the comic below.

How to become a polyglot illustration itchyfeet

The basics

Let’s start with the basics on how to become a polyglot.

How to select your languages?

Some polyglots are not only struggling with the question, “How to become a polyglot?”

They are also struggling with the question, “What languages do I have to learn?”

There must be one language you’ve always wanted to speak, but you couldn’t explain why. That’s the easiest language to start with. And I’m sure there are at least two languages you’ll find useful to speak.

After having learned these three languages, you’ll be able to speak at least four languages (including your mother tongue) and you can call yourself a polyglot.

Don’t be too strict about being a ‘polyglot’

Officially,  a polyglot is someone who has reached a high proficiency in at least four languages. However, to become one, you don’t necessarily have to reach level C2. You don’t have to take a language exam. Nobody will ask you your level or for your certificate.

Nowadays, many polyglots are just able to speak at least four languages fluently. Even when you don’t agree with this, I believe that fluency must be your first milestone. You can always improve yourself later.

Learn the things you need to learn

A language has many different words. However,  you only need to know about 2,000-4,000 words to have a conversation with a native speaker. When you are a beginner, start learning the words you know you’ll use. For example, focus on:

  • introducing yourself
  • talking about yourself, hobbies, and interests
  • learning to speak about the topics you need to talk about like your job or studies. I also described them in How to Make a Plan to Learn a Language

After being able to express yourself, you can extend your vocabulary in a foreign language.

Learn how to describe

When you are learning and speaking several languages, sometimes you will forget some words. That’s normal. It also happens to me. You need to learn how to describe the things you want to say. This is one of the most important things you should keep in mind if you are wondering how to become a polyglot.

When you can explain things you don’t know the word of, you can talk without having to learn many words in any language. Once, I forgot the word ‘wheel’ in Spanish and I described it as, “las cosas redondas de las bicicletas” (the round things on bicycles).

The coolest thing is, native speakers will always summarize what you mean in their own words by saying, “Do you mean …?”. They do that automatically, and you’ll learn from them.

Take your time

If you don’t have any experience with learning a language, you may spend about two years learning your first non-native language. Don’t be scared. That’s normal, and it proves that you are human.

After your first non-native language, you will know how to learn, what techniques and resources work for you. This experience will help you learn your next target languages faster. Someone who has experience with learning languages can learn his next language in 1-3 months.

Don’t rush. Just take your time and enjoy the journey.

Focus on one language until you’re fluent

Most people try to focus on multiple different languages at the same time.  You can do that when the languages are not similar (like Chinese and Russian).

In order to avoid confusing languages, it’s better to focus on one language first when the languages are similar (like Spanish and Portuguese). When you’re fluent and feel like you’ve reached a stable level, you can consider learning your next language.

Practice every day

Learning a language is like bodybuilding. If you go to the gym once a month, you won’t see any results. If you go to the gym once a week, you won’t see so many results either.

You have to practice every day.

The approaches

Now you know the basics, I can describe the approaches. Those are the way other polyglots are learning different languages. These approaches do exist and are being used by other polyglots, but I came up with the names for these approaches myself.

The “learning a language via another language” approach

Some polyglots are learning a language because its vocabulary/grammar is similar to that of their target language. The main rule here is to the easiest language within a language family. 

For example, if you want to become a polyglot who speaks Spanish and French, you can first learn Esperanto. Its vocabulary is similar to that of many romance languages and the grammar isn’t hard to learn.

The “learn the closest language within a language family” approach

With this approach, you can make a plan and define in what order you want to learn your target languages. For example, if you are a native English speaker and want to learn Swedish, German and Dutch, you can learn them in the order Dutch-German-Swedish. Because Dutch and German are the closest to English.

How to find the language family of a language?

You can go to Wikipedia and type in the language you want to learn. It will show you to what language family the language belongs.  Or you can take a look at some language family trees like this one. It’s made by Minna Sundberg, the creator of the webcomic Stand Still. Stay Silent. Click to enlarge.

language family tree on how to become a polyglot

The “travelers’ approach”

If you like traveling and want to spend the next couple of years of your life traveling, you should definitely use this approach.

The travelers’ approach on how to become a polyglot is the most effective way. If you can stay for three months in another country, go outside, speak with people outside, you’ll learn the language fast. But you should avoid speaking your native language. First time I heard about this approach was in the video below.

The “make the languages part of your life/career” approach

This approach is for anyone who wants to learn several languages and make those languages part of their lives. Nothing is worse than learning a language and forgetting them because you don’t use them. Think about how you can use this language in your job. If you are wondering how I’m thinking about how to make languages part of my life, you can read my story here.

Combine the approaches and create your own

Each approach is useful. You can combine these approaches and create your own approach that fits your life.

Surround yourself with other polyglots

Learning with other polyglots is more fun than learning alone and it will help you stay motivated. Maybe you don’t know anybody who is interested in learning languages. But you can find them on social media. You can follow me or my followers.

How to become a polyglot? Tell me your approach!

Now, I’m curious about your approach and what languages you want to learn. Please let me know in the comments!

Oh, and if you are scrolling down, don’t forget to subscribe to my blog. I want to share more tips to help you learn languages faster. With the right approach and the best tips, you’ll become a polyglot like me!


Featured image ‘How to Become a Polyglot’ via Stocksnap

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