Multiple-languages Language Multiple-languages Culture: «How to become a polyglot»

From Polyglot Club WIKI

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One may want to be a polyglot, but has no idea about what to do.

I think it's time to provide some help.

This page is updated irregularly.

Motivation[edit | edit source]

Why do you want to learn languages? It's a basic question, but it determines your level.

  • If you mainly feel bored and want to do something in the spare time, then you can be a beginner forever. You don't want to endeavour, you just want to kill the time. Thus, you can't make real progress.
  • If you mainly want to get a better job, then you can have useful skills, but nothing more. You have a goal, so you can make progress, but you are just interested in practical things, you just consider a language as a tool, so you will not dig into the languages and explore the cultures of the speakers.
  • If you are mainly forced by your parents, relatives, etc. then I feel very sorry for that. I don't know how much progress you can make because it's mainly determined by your attitude. I can never approve to force others to do this. There are many ways to attract people to learn languages. Coercing is not attractive at all, so it's the worst thing to do.
  • If you mainly want to touch the whole world, to make friends, and become a world citizen, and can spend time on it seriously, then you may be qualified to be a nice polyglot.

Choice of Languages[edit | edit source]

Which languages do you want to learn?

  • You may want to learn the easiest ones, which may have a close relationship with your native language; you also may want to learn the hardest ones, to challenge yourself.
  • You may want to learn the well-known ones, which have much influence around the world; you may also want to learn the rarely-known ones, to discover distinctive cultures.

It is all up to you.

You can try Esperanto and/or other constructed languages because they are usually made to be simple to be easy to learn. By learning an easy language, you can clearly understand which steps you should take to learn a new language. This helps you to learn a difficult language. From simple to complex, it's a universal rule.

If you want to learn a language that is not popular as a target language, you should know that the materials are relatively hard to find. You will likely have to pay for it. You even have to learn another language before learning the language you want to learn, because the speakers of the firstly learned language have more knowledge of it, or that language is very similar to your target language. For example, if you want to learn Dungan, you will need to learn Chinese or Russian first; if you want to learn Bosnian, you can learn Serbian or Croatian first. But these languages usually have a lot of loanwords, which means that if you know the languages being borrowed, you can learn the vocabulary of them very quickly.

Free or Paid[edit | edit source]

Do you want to spend money on learning languages?

You should know the limitations of free resources:

  1. They may not be very reliable. And it is harder to find out its errors if you have only one material.
  2. You will lack practice, especially on speaking. Not all native speakers can be qualified as teachers. You can chat online, but without payment, no individual and no group can keep you practising and point out all your mistakes.

Many people become upset and quit it on their endless ineffective ways. It is clear that if you pay and pay the right ones, you will save a lot of time, and even save your determination.

But if you learn easy languages such as Esperanto, there is no much difference between the free and the paid.

Methods and Experiences[edit | edit source]

You need to be both the coach and the athlete, especially when you don't rely on paid services.

You may have heard this type of tone: you will succeed as long as you work hard. This is a trap. You also need good methods. Some people can act as a coach, take care about how you should learn, for a price. But if you choose to do it on your own, you will gain more, if you are insightful.

As a coach, your methods of learning should suit your own habit and be effective. You can find other people's methods and choose which suit you. If you are sure the method is wrong, abandon it and choose another one. When you find something hard, and there is no experience for you to learn from, you can do it by rote, or find a way on your own. And if you like, share your experience with others, even if that method failed. Do not rely on “word of the day” illusion. If you are really interested in learning languages, you shouldn't learn only one word or two each day. Also, you should watch yourself, don't goof off.

As an athlete, you should do enough exercise. Having suitable methods is an aspect, having enough experiences is the other. An athlete can practise an action over and over again, every day. It's same with learning languages. You should get the hang of a language by practising over and over again.

Perspective[edit | edit source]

Maybe changing the viewpoint can be better.

Many people carry the traits of their native languages when learning a new one. It may be fresh if you do this: assume that you didn't know any language. That is to say, forget how to express in your native language temporarily. Read the text in your native language, then pretend to have forgotten your native language.

You will wonder how you can express your thoughts. If you can reach here, you have changed your perspective successfully. Yes, it is an urgent demand for using languages, instead of a duty to complete a school assignment. You desire to express, but you are assumed not to be able to express in any language, so you have got to accept the new one thoroughly.

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Resources[edit | edit source]

If you have good tools, you will progress faster.


Essential terms[edit | edit source]

These words are for language learning.


Understand their meanings, then you won't encounter unfamiliar terms from time to time and be frustrated.

Pronunciation[edit | edit source]

You will surely face this problem first. As you are going to be a polyglot, you need to get to know the International Phonetic Alphabet. IPA is not very hard to learn if you know oral cavity well.


Vocabulary[edit | edit source]

If you do not have the determination of spending time on memorising vocabulary, you are very likely unable to learn a language well.

You must overcome the frustration of forgetting most of the words you just learned. Don't expect to memorise them once and for all, be prepared to review every word you met many times later.

Remember that your confidence will grow following the growth of your vocabulary.

Vocabulary are not one-to-one correspondent. A word may have several meanings, and there is often no corresponding word in another language with the exact meanings as that one. Even if two words in two languages have the same meaning(s), their usages and frequencies are not all the same.

You will want to know how many words you need to know. There is an article about this.

You may want to try to memorise a 8k-word dictionary. That should be done after having a good command of the most frequently used words. With these words, you can start your reading practice and build your confidence.

Etymology[edit | edit source]

Some materials teach you to memorise words with some interesting homonyms in your native language. Maybe it is effective, but it also has a side effect: when using words, you can't get rid of that funny stuff in your mind.

You should pay attention to word roots instead. This is orthodox of memorising words. You will know how a word is assembled, and how to assemble in this language's style.

Wiktionary has “Etymology” for many words in several languages. If you still can't find them, try to cut the word up and search.

There is already a list of English roots of Greek and Latin origin.

Definition[edit | edit source]

There are several words with similar meanings. Which one to choose?

You should understand the difference of “translation” and “definition”. Translation is for knowing the meaning of a word, a phrase or a sentence, while definition is for understanding the word and avoiding any ambiguity. Here is an example:

The translation of 水 is “water, liquid, river, aquatic” (Google Translate), while one of the definitions of water is “a transparent, odorless, tasteless liquid, a compound of hydrogen and oxygen, H2O, freezing at 32°F or 0°C and boiling at 212°F or 100°C, that in a more or less impure state constitutes rain, oceans, lakes, rivers, etc.: it contains 11.188 percent hydrogen and 88.812 percent oxygen, by weight. ” (

It would be very boring to search for the definition of every word. The best way is learning it through a large amount of reading with searching for the definition as a supplement.

Adpositions[edit | edit source]

Adpositions are easy to know and hard to master. Beginners of learning English are usually confused especially about the use of “on”, “in”, “at”. In this case, consulting dictionaries is the best way. It should be more than one dictionary. You may find more than 10 meanings of such a word, but don't upset, because words with so many meanings are few.

Dictionary definition is not enough at all. You can write down the meanings of the adpositions and see which two or more words have the similar meaning, and pay more attention to these cases.

Collocation[edit | edit source]

Collocation requires as much attention paid to as vocabulary. A sentence with a wrong collocation is just like a wrongly buttoned shirt.

Again, a large amount of reading with searching for the definition as a supplement is the best method for it.

Numbers[edit | edit source]

When you learn numbers, you only know the rule of reading numbers, instead of knowing each word of numbers. It's because the numbers are too many, you can't practice each of them. So you need more practice to get the hang of the rules of reading them.

Sentence structure[edit | edit source]

You should provide words of needed parts of speech, in the correct order, to express your idea. That is to say, you should get to know the structure of the sentences. You can say you really know what a sentence means only when you know which part is playing which role. To reach this, you can get to know “parse tree”, then try to draw them, and induce the rules of sentence structure of a language.

But notice that there are exceptions due to custom, such as “that thing is easy to do” should be “that thing is easy to be done”. Though being irregular, they are still accepted, just because they are not making much confusion.

Reading[edit | edit source]

When you are reading, you may want to read every word. But you should read faster and faster. Your elementary school teacher may want you read word by word, with voice or not, but it will be more and more inappropriate when you are becoming a teenager. You should view the text line by line. This also applies to learning a new language.

Of course, you should get all the important information of a text, speed is secondary.

That is not to say that you should not read aloud. Reading aloud makes the impression of the language deeper. You should practise both ways.

Another thing to notice is that there are a lot of material on the Internet to read, but not all of them are grammatically correct. Don't expect native speakers always speak correctly. For English, there are also a lot of non-native speakers making all kinds of mistakes on the Internet. As a result, choosing the right material to read is important.

Listening[edit | edit source]

For practising listening, you should have enough knowledge of the pronunciation, vocabulary, sentence structure, reading comprehension. Thus listening should be after other practices.

Make sure you have enough vocabulary and know the sentence structure. When you find somewhere you can't understand and you don't have the transcript, follow these steps:

  1. Slow down the recording
  2. Recognize each syllable
  3. Recognize each word

If you still failed, try some similar phonemes (with different places of articulation and less likely with different manners of articulation), such as [m] for your recognized [n], [t] for your recognized [ʔ].

If you want to listen to music, be aware that not every song's lyrics are grammatically correct, not every singer's pronunciation is standard.

Special rules[edit | edit source]

There may be special rules in a language, which takes much time to be mastered but can be avoided in other languages. This makes learners upset. In fact, when parents are teaching their children, it is also annoying both of them, until the children get used to it. This is indeed a tragedy of the human.

Keep calm and carry on.

Reality[edit | edit source]

You may have got a nice score in an exam, but it doesn't mean that you can wield it as you wish. Many people feel confident until they go abroad. They just don't know how to express instantly and precisely when it's in diverse situations in real life.

There are people working on learning languages through virtual reality, but for now money is required.

Other Subjects[edit | edit source]

You may have learned the geography and history of a country, but you still don't totally understand the culture of it, especially the modern culture.

You will need to learn other subjects like sociology and psychology. After learning these subjects, you will even find that you have a new understanding of your own country.

AUTHOR[edit | edit source]



GrimPixel, Vincent and Marianthi

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