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Polyglot or `Polynot'

Discussion in 'Modern foreign languages' started by funambule, Feb 5, 2016.

  1. funambule

    funambule New commenter

  2. minka1

    minka1 Occasional commenter

    Perhaps teachers should set the example for kids. How many mfl teachers are polyglots? How many teachers are so interested in language learning that they continue to take on new languages throughout their lives. Or do most stop at 2 mfl. Their main mfl and then the second which they must learn to a sufficient level so as to enter their profession. Shouldn't teachers challenge themselves to be not just polyglots but hyperglots. Always studying a newlanguage
    Vladimir likes this.
  3. minka1

    minka1 Occasional commenter

    (God this site is so difficult to post on)
    Perhaps always learning a new language would make teachers empathise with what their students are going thru. And if the students know you are going thru the same challenges they are going thru would they not be inspired. How many teachers have many Punjabi, Hindi or Bengali speaking students in their class but the teacher is not able to have a little conversation with them in their native tongue.
    Vladimir likes this.
  4. Vladimir

    Vladimir Senior commenter

    I couldn't agree with you more and have been thinking the same thing on and off, but have put off posting because I doubt people would like what I have to say. Now I can blame it all on you, so here goes...

    The vast majority study a couple of easy languages at university, almost invariably French, because that's what they have done since the ago of eleven, and then a second language to make a pair, usually Spanish or German or in some rare cases Italian. Easy stuff. Lots of cognates and plenty of literature and social studies modules to rack up the grade points.

    Then they go into teaching and sit on their laurels with their French and German, teach one or both for years, and then retire. I have noticed resistance on here to learning and teaching Chinese in schools as well as other languages. I have a theory this is because, to remain as language teachers, they think they will have to learn these new languages, but have become stagnant and lazy as language learners (and to be fair, probably busy mothers) so resist the change as a defence mechanism. The result is that everyone does French and no-one really wants to.
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 10, 2016
  5. Vladimir

    Vladimir Senior commenter

    Yes, it is. It got trolled by Kippers and spammed by a bunch of Koreans over Christmas so now it has got locked down like a bunker.

    Have you noticed how all polyglots are male? It's odd considering how languages are traditionally regarded as a subject for girls rather than boys. Maybe that holds the key to the conundrum.
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 10, 2016
  6. Vladimir

    Vladimir Senior commenter

    Seriously! Look at this non-exhaustive list of polyglots:

    Alexander Arguelles
    Moses McCormick
    Amorey Gethin
    Erik Gunnemark
    Ziad Fazah
    Steve Kaufman
    Benny Lewis, The Irish Polyglot
    Neils Iversen
    Christophe Clugston
    Richard Simcott
    Giuseppe Mezzofanti
    Luca Lampariello
    Timothy Doner
    Powell Janulus...

    ...the list could go on and on!

    And weighing in for the ladies:

    Kato Lomb (sadly, deceased)

    It's like cooking. There are many female cooks, just as there are language teachers, but all the great chefs are men! Just like all the polyglots, apart from the exception that proves the rule.

    I have spoken!
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2016
  7. minka1

    minka1 Occasional commenter

  8. Dodros

    Dodros Star commenter

    For me, there's a bit of a problem with words like "multilingual" or "polyglot". How much of another language do you have to know before you qualify as a "polyglot"? I have this image of a person switching effortlessly in mid-sentence from one language to another, with perfect pronunciation and impeccable command of the subjunctive mood in both languages, while discussing quantum physics.

    In the video, however, Shakira's ability to sing "La Marseillaise" is considered a sufficient qualification for her to be a French speaker. I've worked with German-English bilingual secondary school students whose pronunciation of either language can't be faulted, but who had enornous spelling difficuties in either or both English and German. The latter is even more the case with children who are fluent speakers of Asian languages but are unable to read and write them. Can a person who speaks several languages but can't write them be described as "polyglot"?

    During my own secondary education, I studied French, German, Latin and Russian. I wouldn't consider myself a "pentaglot" (including English) just because in the 1960s I did five years of French and Latin and two years of German (to GCE O-level), then two years of French and German to GCE A-level with a year's worth of evening classes in Russian. Three university years of French and German on an equal footing brought both languages up to first degree level. I can say that these classes gave me a good grounding in each language's grammar system, but I can also say that none of them, even the higher education ones, made me a fluent speaker of any of the languages. That only happened when I spent extended periods outside formal classes and in the target-language country, using my French and German as a necessary skill to get through the day.

    As a retiree, I have more time now to pursue my own leisure interests. I choose to do so using my various levels of knowledge of French, German, Latin and Russian to access, and engage with, other languages, not for their own sake, but because the online texts I am interested in are written in such languages. For example, I am planning to write an article some day about the teaching of foreign languages to people with Down syndrome (DS) because I have a research interest in foreign language learners with special educational needs. There's little or nothing written on the subject in English, because too many adults in the Anglo-Saxon world assume that teaching another language to anybody with DS is not worth the bother. In non-English-speaking countries, however, people often see things differently and consider that everybody, without exception, has the right and the duty to learn another language because employability in adult life so much depends on it. Two key articles in my current research into MFL learners with DS are written in Dutch and Russian. I've never studied Dutch and my Russian just amounts to a year of evening classes from back in the 1960s. I've still managed to get by when reading signs and notices during visits to Amsterdam and Moscow and the incentive of finding out what the Dutch and the Russian articles had to say led me to use the services of Google Translate to produce a very rough rendering of the pieces into English. I then ploughed through each sentence and when I found something incomprehensible, I just looked up each word in Wiktionary to find out what tense a verb was in the original or what case ending an adjective or noun had. Everything eventually fell into place because (a) I had learnt how a few other languages worked and (b) I had a good knowledge of the subject matter of the text, having studied plenty of professional literature in English, French and German about MFL teaching to students with SEN.

    So let's remember that "accessing and engaging with" other languages doesn't have to mean hours of self-study or attending classes and passing exams in all four communication skills. Most polyglots in the world haven't become so through school or university but by living and working close to speakers of other languages. They've learned what they need to "get by". In my case, I've simply pursued my curiosity across certain languages which I didn't seek to speak or to become qualified in. Of course, if you want to do the latter, do it for a good reason. When Spanish grew in importance in my school's MFL department and eventually eclipsed German, the long-standing members only qualified in French and German didn't "rest on their laurels" but took themselves off to evening classes in Spanish, studying the language in their spare time until they reached A-level standard. I would have done the same in their position if I hadn't retired from schoolteaching at the age of 61.
  9. Vladimir

    Vladimir Senior commenter

    Nope! Not convinced! If men could have babies they'd be better at that too.

    Keep looking!

    (You'll have to click on the quoted post to see my full reply)
  10. Vladimir

    Vladimir Senior commenter

    Missed one, due to different format. Yes, she fits the bill. Another exception to the rule.

    Keep trying.
  11. minka1

    minka1 Occasional commenter

    If the exception proves the rule perhaps it was not a very good rule in the first place.
    Landofla likes this.
  12. Vladimir

    Vladimir Senior commenter

    Oh, no, you don't! You're not running off now you've got me thinking about this issue. And anyway, the rule thing is just a turn of phrase. That being said, I aim to prove my point. Remember what Sun Tzu said?

    I think it might come down to the idea that men and women are just wired differently, as in the old Mars/Venus thing. Maybe that comes through our roles as primitives, and even though we've evolved as a species, those original functions are still playing out in different ways. Man, the hunter, needs to be strong, determined and exhibit laser-like focus. Some may call it a strong will, others stubborness, but that resolve drives the modern man through language after language.

    It is, I believe, scientifically asserted that men are unable to multi-task, but women do it all the time. It's an integral part of the way a woman thinks. Maybe this comes down to primitive functions and the need to multi-task for survival. But what's the point of such a skill in modern times if it's wasted on trivia like 'That's a nice dress!','Does he still love me now I'm getting older?' and 'Does my bum look big in these jeans?'. Seriously, it bothers me how much time women can spend looking at clothes and how easily they are drawn into buying hundreds of expensive bottles of rubbish to rub on their skin, spray on their hair, and what's with the eyebrow thing? Why shave off your eyebrows and then draw them back in? The mind boggles!

    So what's all this got to do with being a polyglot? Simply that there may be grounds to suggest the way men and women differ in their thinking might affect their ability to learn multiple languages. Why just be satisfied with French and German when there are so many interesting languages out there to discover?

    I think it's time we checked out the competition and met some male polyglots. These are not just polyglots, but hyperpolyglots, all with 10+ languages and counting.
  13. Vladimir

    Vladimir Senior commenter

    Introducing Alexander Sabino Argüelles

  14. Vladimir

    Vladimir Senior commenter

    Richard Simcott

  15. Vladimir

    Vladimir Senior commenter

    Moses McCormick

  16. Vladimir

    Vladimir Senior commenter

    Luca Lampariello

  17. Vladimir

    Vladimir Senior commenter

    Steve Kaufmann

  18. Vladimir

    Vladimir Senior commenter

    Tim Doner

  19. Vladimir

    Vladimir Senior commenter

    Benny Lewis

  20. Vladimir

    Vladimir Senior commenter

    Christophe Clugston


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