The word Polyglot has a certain ring to it, don’t you think? Polyglot, polyglot, polyglot… try saying that while three sheets to the wind! I imagine as a certified polyglot you’d automatically have a certain je ne sais quoi about you. A mysteriously edgy air if you will. It would open up wondrous new experiences around the world previously unknown to the monolingual brethren among us. People would want to be near you just so they could hear you yell swear words in twenty different languages. Want to know the Norwegian word for ‘crap’, just ask the polyglot sitting at our table who we just happen to be friends with because, well because that’s just how we roll, you know… we’re cool like that.
I imagine polyglots wearing berets and sipping on café lattes in obscure hard-to-find holes-in-the-wall. But apparently, this is not the case. Polyglots are all around us, they have infiltrated the travel mainstream and they are just like you and me. However, becoming a polyglot doesn’t just happen. You don’t wake up one morning and think “oh I might learn a couple of languages before breakfast”. It takes time, but it doesn’t take forever if you know the tricks of the trade. You don’t have to be born with the polyglot gene to learn several languages, so here are some tips from top multi-linguists on how to learn dialects quicker and more logically than the average punter!
How To Learn Languages Fast
Cognates (Common Words) Are Your Friend
Tim Ferris of the Four Hour Work Week, the master of all things efficiency-related, says that the first thing you must do when learning a new language is to ‘deconstruct’ it to see how similar it is to your native tongue. Grammatically speaking, the closer the language is to yours, the faster you will pick it up. For example, English speakers will find Chinese higher on the difficulty-scale than, say, Spanish, German and French because the English language essentially ‘borrows’ a lot of word derivatives from its Greek and Latin roots. Make a list of cognates and learn these before you do anything else.
NOTE: Unfortunately this approach does nothing for learning Finnish, every poor bastard will find Finnish hard to learn. (Seriously people, WTF is up with Finnish?).
Interact Daily With Your Chosen Language
Being abroad in a foreign country and being immersed in a language is not the same thing. I for one know a lot of expats who have lived overseas for years and hardly picked-up the language. Contrary to popular belief, if you’re living in a foreign country there isn’t something in the water which will magically make you learn languages more quickly that if you were living at home; you must actively engage with the language every single day if your brain is going to have any luck remembering the nuances. Ferris offers some tips for ‘at-home immersion’:
“To hear the language consistently spoken, you can check out TuneIn.com for a vast selection of live-streamed radio from your country of choice. The app (free) also has a list of streamed radio stations ordered by language.
To watch the language consistently, see what’s trending on Youtube in that country right now.
To read the language consistently, in addition to their native news sites, you can find cool blogs and other popular sites on Alexa’s ranking of top sites per country.”
Always Practice The Keywords
There are about 100 core words used over and over in the daily communications of each vernacular. Make a list of these words and ensure you practice them everyday. Understanding specific keywords in a sentence will provide a healthy base and will help you when the time comes to stringing a sentence together yourself.
Repetition And Understanding Is Key
Alexander Arguelles, one of the most famous language-learners alive today, with over fifty languages under his linguistic belt, promotes the ‘scriptorium technique’, where budding learners must write the language while simultaneously speaking it.
He says that in order to do this properly, one should “read a sentence aloud; say each word aloud again as you write it; and then read the sentence aloud as you have written it. The whole purpose of this exercise is to force yourself to slow down and pay attention to detail. This is the stage at which you should check all unknowns in the dictionary.
And When Wrote Repetition Isn’t Enough…
While it’s fair to say that prolonged exposure to words and sounds effectively ‘burns’ them into your brain like the proverbial tattoo, there comes a point in every young language-learners life when you will simply have a mind-fart and forget a word you’ve have heard a hundred times before. Ferris suggests that a way to minimise experiences like this is to expand your vocabulary using mnemonics. He says that if you create a mnemonic for a target word, it will help glue the word to your memory more effectively. “Basically, you tell yourself a funny, silly, or otherwise memorable story to associate with a particular word. You can come up with the mnemonic yourself, but a wonderful (and free) resource that I highly recommend is memrise.com.”