Last week, I was inspired by languages, language learners and cultural aspects connected to languages.
I was at a gathering for language enthusiasts. The polyglot gathering. 458 people joined to meet up with like-minded people and learn about everything related to languages.
People who learn languages are in general open to others. At least when it comes to culture. Therefore, lots of the talks were not only inspiring to language enthusiasts but could be applied in a much broader sense. To open the minds of people.
With 99 talks to choose between, there was much to be learned.
I attended 23 talks (2 less than what was possible) and all 6 social evening events. Luckily, all of the talks will be released on YouTube at some point, so I – and you all – can watch and rewatch the best ones.
There were lots of good experiences. Fiel Sahir gave us insight into Asian culture and origin. Zsolt Balai showed us the future of language learning with virtual reality. And Kelvin Jackson and Phillip Newton gave a linguistic and cultural view on Klingon which would’ve made the list if I hadn’t been wearing my peerifying glasses.
Without further ado, here comes my list.
#5 The making of a hyper-polyglot
Tim Keeley, professor of cross-cultural management at Kyushu Sangyo University, gave us some inside into his 40-year journey of traveling the world and learning languages.
His first goal was to manage the large languages of the world. But later on, he started picking up smaller ones too. Currently working on languages in the Tibetan family.
Through this journey he also shared with us his philosophy of not counting languages or relying too much on how much time you spend on them. Instead he focuses on the languages that are interesting for him at present or in near future.
How well you speak a language depends on your background, your current surroundings and your mindset at the moment of speaking.
How it peerifies the world
An especially interesting aspect of Tim Keeley’s story was how much of an impression it makes on speakers of a small language when someone else puts great effort into learning it.
I experience this to some extend when people are learning Danish. It’s mostly not necessary and there are so few people speaking it that it seems very honoring that anyone would try. I can only imagine how much bigger the effect would be if there were less than 100.000 speakers or even just a couple of hundreds.
This, to me, exemplifies how much people appreciate if anyone tries to reach out to them. Tries to understand their world. It can be language. But it can just as well be culture, work methods, or something else.
#4 Ten things polyglots do differently
Lýdia Machová, the woman behind LanguageMentoring.com, shared her insides to what makes polyglots extraordinary.
It’s not something they are born with. And it’s surely also not some secret method.
In fact, Lýdia listed about 8 different polyglots who use vastly different methods. This was interesting in itself since it gave an overview into different methods that you could then look up yourself afterwards if one of them intrigued you.
Instead, polyglots do a few things differently. The main point was that people who master many languages really want to learn a new language and put in the work themselves. They do not sit back and wait for someone to teach them.
How it peerifies the world
People are very different. Also in how they learn. But most people can learn many languages. Or many other things.
When we approach any task knowing that effort makes the difference, we have the opportunity to make a difference for ourselves and others.
Any skill – be it mastering a language, a musical instrument, a sport, etc. – takes lots of practice. But when we try, we can reach out and be part of a new community. For instance one that speaks a foreign language.
#3 Multilingual Concert by jomo
Jean-Marc Leclercq aka jomo played a lengthy concert on the first official night of the gathering. Not only was it performed in many languages but it also featured musical traditions from many parts of the world.
He was accompanied by cajón and the towards the end also by clarinet.
I was amazed by how much good energy came out from the stage and also from the polyglot audience. We danced, sung and had a blast of a time. Enjoying Greek and Russian folk music, American twist and an Esperanto version of La Bamba.
Music unites. No matter the language. This concert clearly showcased this. It wasn’t the only time during the gathering that I was reminded of it. Second time was when a surprising number of participant joined the uplifting workshop of singing in Swedish dialects.
How it peerifies the world
Music, dancing and singing is a good way to cross some barriers. Some very easy folk dances can be copied by those who know them and turn individuals into a united crowd.
I can’t count how many times we joined hands in a circle of happy feelings celebrating the differences of the world of music Click To Tweet.
By listening, singing, playing and dancing we can discover a little part of a foreign world and thus get closer to each other.
#2 “Don’t say ‘quite’!” and “The Joy of Phrasal Verbs”
Tim Morley had prepared 2 mini-talks for the occasion. In the first part of this session, he pointed us to the fact that the word “quite” is understood differently. Both by different people (mainly Brits and Americans) and in combination with different words.
He did it in a fun, interactive way making the audience shout to him whether ‘quite’ made the adjective at hand stronger or weaker. And clearly, we didn’t agree.
The second part of the talk centered on phrasal verbs. Get, set, put, etc. You can combine these in many ways to give new meanings. Like to put up with me. Put me up. And put out for me. All different meanings.
Phrasal verbs are used a lot by native speakers but are difficult to non-native speakers. So using them a lot (correctly) makes you sound native. And using them with non-natives makes the chance of being misunderstood very high.
How it peerifies the world
These two short talks were yet another eye-opener to how much we can miscommunicate if we don’t have the same background.
Here, it’s about having different native languages. Even just a different version of the same language.
But the same phenomenon is seen in projects in scientific research or at work where people of different educational background work together: It’s possible that one word exists within several fields with a different meaning. Without the involved people knowing about it.
We also see this phenomenon clearly between scientists and lay people. A list of seemingly familiar words can be used vastly differently by scientists versus lay people.
When you interact with people who do not have the same background as you. Let it be cultural, language or education. Be aware that what you find normal isn’t necessarily normal for the other person.
#1 “Can Knowing Some K’iche’ Save Your Life and Make You Rich? (Probably Not, But Why Take Chances?)” and “An Introduction to Nootka, a Highly-Endangered Canadian Language”
Okay, these are two talks. And not at all of the same character. But they do share a topic: Endangered languages. And I just couldn’t choose which one was better.
I’m not much of a conservationist. Or at least I wasn’t. I don’t even think it’s bad that my own native tongue will disappear. I mean, I do get a bit nostalgic, but I don’t actually think we need that many languages.
What we do need, however, is variety.
As demonstrated in another good talk about Hungarian and Finnish, European languages are mostly very similar (except for those two language that are approximately as far from each other as English and Polish and way farther from the rest of the European languages). But if you dig a bit deeper into the pool of world languages, you’ll find completely different features.
Like with K’iche’ and Nootka.
Both talks were amazing in each their way. Dave Prine was fun and energetic while Brian Loo Soon Hua was methodic and very convincing in his sound production.
My mind was blown with the set of unique characteristics of each language. And they each jumped to the top part of my language learning wish list.
How they peerify the world?
Knowing that there are vastly different ways of communicating out there gives us a perspective on how to understand each other.
I personally believe that having a broad knowledge on how different languages are constructed can help me understand what communication is really about. When a new language that I explore turns out to have a feature I haven’t seen before, it pulls my attention towards the unsaid things in communication which is so difficult to transfer to another language or culture.
Being aware of the differences is always the key to communication. And learning about K'iche and Nootka didn't just give me an enormous intellectual satisfaction Click To Tweet but it also made my world a little larger.
What did I miss?
I obviously missed a lot of good talks. Though I mostly didn’t doubt on which one to choose.
I would’ve liked to hear Steve Kaufman talk about how many words we need to learn. Mostly because I later found out that his answer was around 15000 instead of the 1000-2000 that people usually come up with.
And I would’ve liked to have attended the Scandinavian talk with Karl-Erik Wångstedt, Irena Dahl og Kristoffer Broholm where they focused on the differences between the Scandinavian languages.
If you were there, which talks did you like the most? What inspired you? And which ones should we watch on YouTube?